If the goal of an initiative is to build a world with gender equality or to create a safer world for women, most people would automatically assume that the initiative would involve working with women survivors of violence or empowering women to be independent agents in their lives. Many government institutions and non-governmental organizations are working in the space of violence and crimes against women and most of the interventions usually include working with survivors and extending support to the victims through immediate assistance and rehabilitation in the form of support by the police, legal or medical support, financial assistance or mental health assistance like counselling. All of these efforts are inherently post-facto i.e. after the violence or crime has already taken place.
Various organizations and government initiatives also exist at the community level to monitor the safety of women and children, to prepare them for appropriate response and action during unfavorable circumstances and to connect women to crisis intervention services. Another type of support is the responsibility to empower women through financial independence, employment and education opportunities or building their collective strength though initiatives like Self-Help Groups.
So, what’s missing?
Creating a safer and more equitable world for women, somehow involves efforts to empower women and assist them when they need it. But what about the fact that violence against women is still a part of this world at an extensive scale? The UN Women Global Database on Violence Against Women states that violence against women and girls is one of the most systematic and widespread human rights violations. According to World Health Organization, on behalf of the United Nations Inter-Agency Working Group on Violence Against Women Estimation and Data 2021, an estimated 736 million women—almost one in three—have been subjected to physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once in their life (30 per cent of women aged 15 and older) globally. Current or former husbands or intimate partners are perpetrators of most violence against women.
Since men are responsible for most of the cases of violence against women and girls, there is a greater need to work on this issue from the perspective of potential perpetrators, so that crimes of violence against women can be reduced or prevented from happening in the first place. There is a requirement of ex-ante interventions in this context. Several studies by Sexual Violence Research Initiative have highlighted the importance of community initiatives and group education of men and boys. Promoting healthy sexuality and non-violent masculinity through sustained education interventions is important for lasting change. The report ‘Tackling Violence Against Women: A Study of State Intervention Measures’ by Bhartiya Stree Shakti has recommended raising awareness of the issue of violence against women, and educating boys and men to view women as valuable partners.
As a Banyan Impact Fellow, I’m working with Turn Your Concern Into Action ‘TYCIA’ Foundation which is a Non-Government Organisation registered in 2011 working in the domain of Education, Livelihoods, Prison Reform, Gender Justice and Disaster Relief. I’ll be working at the intersection of Prison Reform and Gender Justice through Project Second Chance and Project Unlearn respectively. My main responsibility is to design, launch and conduct the Unlearn Fellowship, which is an initiative that will work in this space by aiming to change the mindset of boys and young men in the 16-25 year age group. The Unlearn Fellowship will train five young women to be leaders in the social sector by building them as agents of change who will conduct workshops and training sessions with vulnerable boys and young men in communities with higher crime rates and vulnerable populations like boys in juvenile homes, Child Care Institutions, prisons and government-aided schools in New Delhi.
Social Media Promotion
I’m wearing many hats while managing this project and one of them is contributing to social media handles for my organization. I’m creating content to promote the Unlearn Fellowship for the purpose of creating awareness, spreading the message of the work being done and to simultaneously welcome applications from prospective women leaders. The theme of this blog has been highlighted in two such posts created by me. These posts were published on all social media platforms of the organization like Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Why Should We Work With Young Boys and Men?
There are multiple reasons to target young, adolescent minds as beneficiaries, the most important of which will be addressed below –
- Adolescence is a time when behavioral problems can emerge or worsen, creating consequences that stick long into adulthood (Paus, Keshavan, & Giedd, 2008). To work on long-term positive mindset change, focusing on children is crucial since this is the time when they are most receptive to dialogue for a change in their perspective. Modifying the beliefs and mindset of children is much easier than that of adults because adults are already set in their opinions and beliefs.
- According to The United Nations Multi-Country Study on Men and Violence in Asia and the Pacific, rape perpetration starts very early in life for a significant proportion of men and in some surveyed sites, 15% of men who had raped did so for the first time when they were younger than 15. The 18-25 year old age group is a time when young men are straddling the balancing line between childhood and adulthood. There is a higher possibility of these young men coming face to face with difficult situations for the first time, which may require them to exercise their judgement. During these years, they are most vulnerable to peer pressure and giving in to the societal demands of conventional thought, especially if examples of positive masculinity are not present around them.
- Shaping the mindset of boys and young men can shape the thought process of future generations. Not only will these men take decisions in the society for the years and decades to come, they will also be responsible for building the values of future generations of men. If they are aware and sensitized, they will take more responsible decisions in the situations that they face and they will initiate the process of long-term, multi-generational transformation.
Educating men and boys is the path that has been identified in order to find a sustainable solution to the problem of violence and crimes against women. Structural inequalities and harmful gender norms underlie violence against women. Men’s violence against women is about men’s power and control over them and there is a need to address this structural imbalance. Both at a personal and at a structural level, following steps can be taken –
- Attempting to change social norms which widely accept the violence and subordination of women. This can be done through community conversations and mobilization.
- Promoting non-violent positive masculinity based on respect and equality. This can be done through better male role models and educational interventions.
- Addressing child abuse and promoting healthy families through parenting programs and campaigns.
- Working with young boys to check early signs of sexual violence preparation. Proper sex education and psychosocial support can help in this aspect.
- Promoting healthy sexuality for men to check male sexual entitlement through information and awareness services.
- Ending impunity for men who rape through legal consequences, established through monitoring systems, capacity building so that survivors can seek support and comprehensive training of law enforcement.
- Developing interventions according to specific patterns of violence through support for research and data collection and capacity building.
Unlearn Fellowship aims to work through community engagement, awareness creation, gender sensitization, transforming young women into social leaders through fieldwork and training as facilitators in order to work with vulnerable communities to reduce gender based violence in the future. Working on this issue from this perspective is a unique opportunity and my short term goal is to successfully launch the pilot program of this fellowship with passionate fellows. My vision is to build a sustainable long term intervention in the form of an annual Unlearn Fellowship, for an enduring social impact.
- “Endling Violence Against Women.” Global Database on Violence against Women. UN Women.
- World Health Organization, on behalf of the United Nations Inter-Agency Working Group on Violence Against Women Estimation and Data (2021).
- Fulu, Emma, et al. Why Do Some Men Use Violence Against Women and How Can We Prevent It? Quantitative Findings from the United Nations Multi-Country Study on Men and Violence in Asia and the Pacific. UNDP, UNFPA, UN Women and UNV. Sep, 2013.
- ‘Tackling Violence Against Women: A Study of State Intervention Measures.’ Bhartiya Stree Shakti, funded by Ministry of Women and Child Development. March, 2017.
- Paus, Tomas & Keshavan, Matcheri & Giedd, Jay. (2009). Why do many psychiatric disorders emerge during adolescence? Nature reviews. Neuroscience. 9. 947-57.