My first few weeks at the Naz Foundation (India) Trust felt oddly comforting. I still wasn’t used to the extensive kindness (especially as it relates to food) that people in India had extended to me (read: different than my experience in Boston and NYC). Accepting offers for chai, and thus making conversation when my language skills were sub-par became a task, but one I was excited to take on.
Given my lackluster language skills, I was surprised when – although it was majorly conducted in Hindi – I was able to deduce that a major topic of conversation at Naz’s staff retreat was centred on boys’ development. At first I thought I had heard the speaker wrong. But no, I was correct — one of Naz’s next focus areas is educating boys on gender equity, in a program similar to GOAL by using sports as a tool for development. Considering GOAL – Naz’s flagship education program for adolescents on health and empowerment – is a girl-centric program, I was a bit confused. But as time went on, I had to un-learn my pre-conceived notions about what it meant to focus on boys’ development in a place already heavily dominated by patriarchy.
The development of male youth is intertwined in that of female youth. As NGOs focus on girls gaining empowerment, while pushing to make their space in society and the labour market, programs often ignore the fact that there is still an entire population of people who may not desire to help make that space. Women can – and have – done it alone for centuries, but progress is hindered when allies are absent. In the fight for female liberation globally, we have neglected to educate boys and young men on how to aid in the fight. Boys and men’s adherence to social norms is harmful to them as well. The unfair advantage that they are born with is only exacerbated by roles that men often take on as a financial provider. By doing so, there is an implicit expectation that decisions will – in large part – be made by them, because they are the main financial contributor. This phenomenon worsens when we examine the fact that women are routinely kept out of the labor market.
I decided to ask people outside of my workplace about their experiences; anyone I could reasonably get a hold of who could speak about their first-hand experiences as an Indian male, and coping with societal expectations. Although I’m sure the friends of roommates, young professionals, and family of friends from back home were exhausted by my questions at a certain point, I was able to gather a few key takeaways and feelings that they harbored:
- Lack of education around what should constitute as female liberation is largely to blame. And when the education is there, social ideals can still hold the structure in place.
- Female empowerment has – in some circles – become synonymous with a Western phenomenon, and is “another example of Western nations trying to impose their ideology (on us),” to quote.
- Due to the extreme economic disparity and religious divisions that exist in India, it is even more difficult to get people to corral around one issue such as women’s rights. There is national pride, but people often say that India is a land of diversity, with many different cultural groups. That is very true, but that has meant in-fighting among those groups.
I’ve only just begun to skim the surface, but it’s a worthwhile conversation to have of what role boys play in India in girls’ and women’s advocacy.