‘Gender’ and ‘Women’ are not Synonymous

As an AIF Fellow, I was placed with the Women’s Empowerment Desk (WED) at the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) for my Fellowship project. However, the name ‘Women’s Empowerment Desk’ is a misnomer as it is the empowerment of all genders that the WED team is working towards. Although this misconception that any kind of gender work or women’s work are interchangeable is a common occurrence in this field, the implications of that was presented quite starkly to me during my time at CTA.

One of the major goals of my Fellowship project was to conduct a Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) research study within the Tibetan community in India. The overall aim of this study was to assess the status of SGBV inclusive of the thoughts, attitudes, perceptions and prevalence of SGBV within the Tibetan community in India.

To do the same a survey on the topic was prepared, designed for both male and female participants. The target sample of the study was 1500 community members divided equally between men and women. Field officers were recruited to conduct the survey for the community members and were given a virtual orientation (due to the pandemic) for the same.

One of the questions that came up during the orientation of the field officers was: why were the questions directed towards men as well since women were more likely to be the victims of gender based violence?

The key words to answer this question were in the question itself.

Women were ‘most likely’ or ‘majorly’ the victims or survivors of SGBV, however, that did not exclude men altogether from being victims too. It is just as important to understand and record SGBV cases of men as for women for the overall prevention and redressal of SGBV.

Moreover, women or girls are not survivors in a vacuum. Maximum perpetrators of SGBV cases are men, therefore their inclusion in the discussion of gender-based violence is extremely important for its elimination from the root.

Because the same sexism that hurts women hurts men
Gender based violence is an all-gender pervasive issue. Picture credits: Igmur.com

It is not just in the space of SGBV rather in all gender related work that this misconception exists. For instance, be it Gender Sensitization sessions or Gender Mainstreaming, one of the most regular and repeated opinions is the idea of women’s safety and while this is an extremely important aspect of the gender work it is not unidimensional. Awareness generation about women’s rights, their equal status in society, the harmful impact of male privilege amongst all community members (not just women) are just as significant as putting safety measures in place.

Also, just as women’s safety is duly considered the safety of men and other genders should also be represented in the discussion. The kind of dangers or safety issues might be different for each gender however, that does not negate the fact they also require precautions in place for their safety.

Just as inclusion of women in previously male dominated spaces is essential, inclusion of men in the gender space and discussions is crucial for a holistic understanding of gender and all its implications. The idea is to not pit any gender against the other, but rather to recognize the stereotypes and burdens of each gender and create a more gender equal world for all.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate the same response that I had given during the Public Seminar of my AIF Fellowship project’s presentation on the SGBV research study. On being asked if men can be victims of sexism too like women, I answered, ‘not all men do not mean no men’!

Trishla is serving as an American India Foundation (AI)F Clinton Fellow with the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. For her fellowship project, she is developing guidelines and policies, tools, and implementation strategies for gender mainstreaming across programs to strengthen the capacity of the Women's Empowerment Desk within the Central Tibetan Administration. Trishla has always been passionate about gender, justice and affecting change. As a student of History, she learnt the value of interpretation and thought processes which aids her in any social or other change she aims to bring about. Her internships with the CSR department of Tata Steel (for underprivileged children), NGO Kolkata Sanved (empowering victims of abuse through Dance Movement Therapy) and other development organizations encouraged her to pursue Human Rights for her higher education. Her dissertation was an experimental intervention which focused on bridging the gap between the theory and practice of gender equality through making ‘Gender’ a subject taught in schools. She also interned with the British Red Cross in London to understand the nuances of women-led sponsorship in international development. She worked at UNOPS Sri Lanka as the Partnerships Intern for a year wherein she not only gained international exposure but also experience in project conception and management across sectors with gender mainstreaming an important aspect of her learnings. The AIF Clinton Fellowship gives her a unique opportunity to understand gender at a grassroot level as well as to formulate scalable strategies for attaining gender equality. Her ultimate aim is to work in the development sector to make the laws, policies and theories of gender equality and Human Rights accessible and applicable to all by means of education and other practicable change-making solutions. In her free time, Trishla loves to read and sometimes write quirky feminist rants for her blog, travel, dance and enjoy her mother’s cakes whenever possible.

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