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.
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’!