The Uncommon Man

January 29, 2009

Men's Involvement in the Gender Justice Movement

Dialogue Meet on 'Men's Involvement in Gender Justice Movement'

14th December, 2008

Organized by : Men Against Violence and Abuse (MAVA) & SwissAid India

Venue: Conference Hall, All India Institute of Local Self Government, Mumbai
Opening Remarks

The Meet began with HS welcoming the participants on behalf of MAVA and SwissAid India. This was followed by a round of introductions by each participant.

In his opening remarks, HS laid out the broad purpose of the Meet. The gathering was part of MAVA's efforts to spread awareness regarding men's involvement on issues pertaining to gender equality and gender justice. During the course of it's work over the past several years, of working with men on gender issues, MAVA has observed that the women's organizations working on these issues have concentrated on empowering women and have never addressed 'Men' as a group. This approach insulates men from the process of transformation and keeps them embedded in their patriarchal mould.

The present Meet was being held with the objective to –

· Update on approaches and methodologies for eliciting men's involvement in gender issues.
· Understand the difficulties and challenges in involving men in gender issues.
· Current Status of 'men's movement' globally and in India.
· Future strategies for joint efforts between Women's and Men's Movements.

A major reason for calling participation from organizations, both men's and women's, working at grassroots level – academicians and activists - was to share their experiences and difficulties in working with men and to know their concerns and fears, if any.

It is also important to have clarity about the objectives of the gender justice movement. What is the kind of world that we are dreaming of? We are living in a patriarchal world. So do we want to change it to a matriarchal world? Or are we looking at a more gender-just society? And if the later is the case, how do we propose to move towards it unless we engage with men?

Men's movement is always seen as 'complementing' the women's movement. We feel tackling men on gender issues, is not a 'complementary' but should be one of the core programs of the gender justice movement.

A similar concern has been felt at various points of time by the other Social Justice Movements eg. In case of the Dalit Movement, we need to look at how the Dalit movement tackled the issue of participation from the non-dalits. What was their nature of engagement with non-dalits? Similarly, other kinds of Social Justice movements need to be looked into. Perhaps, there would be a few things that gender justice movement can learn from them.

A paper prepared by Dr. Ravindra R.P. of MAVA giving the organization's views on the subject was read out. The paper outlined various problems that are likely to be faced while working with men such as –

(1) Lack of interest shown by men and low EQ
(2) Inadequate response
(3) Excessive emphasis by men on short term economic returns
(4) Men being generally viewed as lazy, inconsistent and inefficient
(5) Also there are likely to be certain differences in ideologies and perspectives

The paper also pointed out, that Patriarchy has provided a distorted vision of the world and our respective roles in it. And while Patriarchy has a 'male' face imprinted on it, even men are making an effort to reinterpret and rebuild the world through destruction of patriarchal values and structures. It is, therefore, possible to work together with women's movements on this ground while at the same time respecting some differences in views, perspectives and issues. Some of the common grounds on which men's and women's movements can come together could be –

(1) Gender-Sensitization of young boys and adolescents
(2) Problems in Relationships for different groups of men
(3) Issues of VRS, CRS and other retired men
(4) Consciousness-raising about Violence against Women (VAW) and how to combat it
(5) Violence – it's genesis and structural models that generate and perpetuate it

After the paper reading, there was an open discussion on various issues outlined by HS and in the paper by RP.

During the course of the discussions the following issues were discussed :

Awareness of Patriarchy Among Men

There are several problems in involving men in gender justice related issues. One major problem was lack of consciousness of Patriarchy and issues relating to it. Further, adding to the problem of lack of awareness are other issues such as –

· Reluctance of men to get themselves acquainted with gender issues. One objection has been that men carry a lot of negative attitudes on gender issues. Their modes of expression on gender issues are often limited to misconceived notions of male sexuality and to bad words invoking the sexuality of women. And it was found in one of MAVA's studies with college students in Pune district that these misconceptions largely shaped their understanding of their own individual sexuality.
· There are no programs targeted at increasing the awareness of 'Common Man' on Patriarchy and issues related to it. We come across programs for specific groups such as Police, Judges, Doctors, etc. But there is no program that reaches out to the larger audience of 'Common Man' in general.
· In short, there is dearth of safe spaces for men to voice their concerns on gender and masculinity related issues.

MD agreed that they had also seen in one of the studies conducted by Stree Mukti Sanghatana that women are more aware of the patriarchal system than men. Also the awareness among women comes at an early age. When they interviewed men about their awareness of patriarchal system, it was even seen that they carry wrong notions of what is patriarchy. They had given examples such as – protecting a woman from goons, etc as their awareness of patriarchy.

According to CD, the patriarchal framework needs to be expounded on various forums. We have seen that in many instances, even girls do not understand the complexity of the patriarchal issues. Even women, especially mothers do not accept the existence of this problem. However, according to her it is difficult to approach the 'Common Man, directly though some projects like Jignyasa have made an attempt. But, mobilization on a large scale has its own difficulties. Organizations working on gender issues prefer to work with professional groups as they are easier to approach and further, groups like Police or Judges have an important responsibility to perform in the society and which is also more visible.

VP agreed that even while working with University students they encountered a lot of problems when they made attempts to gender sensitize students, especially male students. Eg. On the issue of objectification of men – while actors like John Abraham etc. have been objectified, men do not raise a hue and cry about it. Such issues are difficult to explain. Or issues like women beating their husbands?

According to MK, there were also issues of wrong or misconceived notions of masculinity. For example, men being treated as a monolithic entity without recognizing the internal differences or masculinity always being portrayed as having negative connotations. Further, it is also important to realize that the issue of 'models of masculinity' is not a simple issue of individual choice but is a more complex and structural in nature and, therefore, needs to be addressed by way of a systemic change.

Problems in Involving Men

A major problem while working with boys and men that is often noticed is that it is difficult to get men interested in issues of Patriarchy.

The foundation of men's movement is weak. For example, long-term benefits of a gender-just society cannot be conveyed convincingly to men. In cases where MAVA worked with college-boys, initial interest had to be created by taking up issues such as health and HIV and then slowly direct the discussion to gender issues. But it is difficult to sustain the interest for very long. It is, therefore, important to keep experimenting with different groups of men.

According to AP, other dimensions of masculinity – such as the State, Institutions, etc. also need to be addressed. This would provide a much wider scope for gender issues which will be useful while working with men.

Absence of Right Forums

One aspect of the problem is that while we complain of a lack of interest among men for such programs, on the other hand no proper forums are available for those few men who genuinely desire to express and seek to address their concerns on various issues such as notions of masculinity. MAVA has come across men who approach women's counseling centers on these issues.

According to HS, men have been facing abuse in 3 different ways – Abuse of (i) men by men (ii) men by women (small percentage) (iii) men by the system. Laws are framed keeping in mind Women as a disadvantaged group. But there is no place where men can go for redressal in case of such abuses.

KI emphasized that it is essential for men to communicate. Also they need to learn how to communicate. According to KI, assassination is an extreme form of censorship. Violence is in many ways similar. Violence, in general and specifically against Women, begins when all communication stops.

Importance of Involving other Actors in Movements

An analogy to men's involvement in the women's movement can be the involvement of non-dalits in the dalit movement. We should understand that men's attitudes, and not men, are at the core of the problem.

JM gave an example where, while working with the Police force they noticed that when women's issues are related to dalit issues, there is a far greater degree of understanding and empathy among the officers from those castes.

Also while tackling marital problems, it was found that it often helps the cause when you involve the husbands in the discussion. It was seen that many of them responded positively when they were being engaged and were able to see the other side of the story.

This was also demonstrated through the work of MASUM where a village sarpanch (male) was involved in an effort to give women of the family equal rights in the property along with men. Striking a dialogue with men is central to the issue.

Gender Issues and Police

JM had been working with the Police force on gender-related crimes. Her observation was that a lot of sensitization is required when it comes to gender issues. The general attitude is that – there are so many laws protecting women, why do you need any more? And that women rather than men are women's enemies. Many a times while pleading in court of law, lawyers have to tackle insensitive remarks and sometimes blatant biased view among judges.

Efforts to Engage with Men

While efforts to engage with men and involve them in the process constructing a gender-just society have been rare, some efforts are being made for quite some time -- both at national and international level. It would be interesting to take a review of some of these initiatives and learn from them what their experience has been and what challenges they have faced while working with men.

KD who has been researching on Men's Organizations in India gave a quick review work being done in this field. There are several initiatives in the West such as Men For Change or White Ribbon Campaign that focus on sensitization of men on Gender issues. He pointed out that in India organizations like MAVA, Samyak, Purush Uvach are some of the prominent men's organizations working on gender justice related issues. In North India, the 'Gali Band' campaign has been able to generate good response. Several Women's Organizations like MASUM, Nari Samata Manch and Stree Mukti Sanghtana through its 'Jignyasa' project have been working with young men for creating awareness on gender issues. Participants also mentioned about other organizations like 'Tathapi' and 'Men's Action to Stop Violence Against Women' (MASVAW) from Lucknow that are working with men.

AP who represented Samyak Trust and Forum to Engage Men (FEM), a recent network working with men on gender issues, shared his work and experiences and the challenges they encountered while working with men.

Samyak works with groups of boys in colleges around Pune. Samyak's objectives are

· to try and understand the notions of masculinity and sexuality among adolescent boys
· to target 'unreached men' – defined as men who have not been included in any professional groups for gender sensitization exercise.

Among these, Samyak is working with diverse groups such as those associated with milk and credit co-operatives, trainers in micro-credit and agricultural societies, groups of gondhali population in Maharashtra, some nomadic and denotified tribes, etc. Its work is predominantly in Western Maharashtra and Marathwada regions of Maharashtra.

FEM is part of a larger network by the name 'Men Engage' which works at the international level. FEM was born out of a section of Indian activists working on gender-justice initiatives among men who had attended the conference of South Asia chapter of Men Engage held in Nepal. Representatives of various men's organizations like Ravi Jeena of Sahayog, Rajiv Narayan, Bimla Chandrashekhar, etc. who had attended this conference came together and formed FEM.

The broad structure was to seed and facilitate the task of spreading awareness among men on gender issues in our own respective territories independently and in as many multiple ways and nodes as possible and use FEM as a forum for exchange of ideas and learnings. FEM is currently active in areas of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat. More recently, people from Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam, Orissa, etc. are joining in. We are a diverse group comprising of students, academicians, activists, etc. FEM in Maharashtra is active in Latur, Osmanabad, Mumbai and parts of Vidarbha.

Some of the key challenges that AP mentioned during the course of their work in Samyak and FEM while striking a dialogue with men on gender issues were as under:

· It is difficult to give a strong rationale to attract men to gender issues. The main problem while dealing with men is that they do not perceive any need to get involved in this debate. We need to convince them as to what they would gain in concrete terms by engaging themselves in this debate and that is very difficult. It is difficult to find a language to reach men.
· The changed economic realities post globalization has implications on stress levels in men as also on their concept of masculinity. These need to be understood and tackled.
· A more disheartening fact is that in case of men who have learnt a politically correct language, it is difficult to trace if there is a difference between what a man says and the way he behaves in his personal life. There is also a danger where men start rationalizing their behavior.
· Further, there are 2 distinct stages of transformation we come across while working with men. First is the stage of making men aware of the issues involved in gender justice, making them aware of the right modes of behavior, right language and the rationale behind it. The second stage is implementing this learning in day-to-day life situations and achieving an effective change in behavior patterns on a sustained basis. This is the more difficult part.
· In this context, we are trying to evolve innovative ways to reach out to larger groups of men. We realize that there is also an urgent need to collaborate with other social justice movements on gender issues.

AP also stressed on the importance of a dialogue and involvement with women's movements on the issue of involvement of men. We need to explore the possibilities that women's organizations see of working together with men on gender justice issues. How do we bring learning from women's movement while working with men? According to AP, apparently there seem to be some concerns in working together and men's groups like MAVA and Samyak would be eager to know them and make genuine efforts to resolve those concerns. Do women's organizations see working together as leading to conflict of spaces? Will talking about men's involvement dilute the focus on women's 'real' issues which are perhaps much more severe? These are some of the issues that can be discussed openly in forums like the present one.

MC represented MASUM, an organization essentially works on gender justice issues among women. However, MASUM has made efforts to open a dialogue with men through some of their programs. MC shared their experience with the participants.

MASUM, in one of the programs tried involving men in their anti-alcoholism program. An attempt was made to initiate a dialogue with men through this program on gender related issues. MASUM tried to link the de-addiction drive among men with helping the woman in her chores. The men participating came out with innovative ideas such as – in the evenings, when the craving for alcohol is the strongest they should keep themselves occupied in some activity like fetching the wife from her place of work, or helping the wife in her household work etc. According to MC, they found that the scope of these suggestions was simple but genuine.

In another program, MASUM worked with 9th standard students. The Maharashtra Government has introduced a subject at High School level by name Mulya Sanskar (Awareness of Cultural Values). This forum was used to conduct various activities with students which had 'Gender Justice Awareness' as a common theme. It involved lectures, stories, games, songs and similar activities.

However, one short-coming, according to MC, that was noticed while working with this group was that there was no way in which they could track further development of these students. As such it becomes difficult to scientifically document the effects of these programs and to design and carry out follow-up exercises if required. Also, while working with men a common complaint we heard from men was that they had several other tensions in life. So to get involved in awareness programs on patriarchy and gender justice was low on priority.

MAVA, too, has been actively working with men for past 15 years. HS shared his experience of working with a group of college students in Pune district on Gender- Sensitization. Some of the key experiences were –

· The level of awareness among young boys regarding issues on gender and sexuality was alarmingly low.
· In many instances, boys wanted to know more about these issues but there was no resource available. It is quite natural in such instances if these boys rely on resources that are of questionable credibility or grow up sharing prevailing misconceptions among the peers. Boys narrated instances where they were forced to watch blue films by peers. In many instances, boys told us how traumatized they were when they first saw a blue film.
· A strong need was felt for creating forums where young boys can discuss their concerns of sexuality (including healthy man-woman relationships) in a healthy and open environment. Unfortunately, discussions on sexuality are often held within the framework of HIV and AIDS. There is a need to also discuss sexuality in a more positive framework.

One experiment that MAVA tried was a symposium titled, 'Naata tujha ni majha' (Relationship of Mine and Yours) wherein college boys and girls were invited to talk on one relationship in their life with a person of opposite sex. It was heartening to see a number of boys participate and explore their relationships with their grand-mothers, mothers, sisters, female friends, etc. in a very sensitive manner. This could be a good starting point to talk about healthy relationships and other gender justice issues.

Ganesh, who was part of the innovative 'Yuva Maitri' program conducted by HS, continues to help HS in spreading awareness on gender issues among college students (male). He highlighted some interesting issues from his experience while working with college youths –

· Students read in textbooks about the women's rights issues, etc. But unless somebody explains these things in the light of their day-to-day lives, all this remains purely theoretical and is quite often forgotten.
· College students don't like to discuss concepts like equality, etc. primarily because they are considered very bookish. So instead of having discussions we try to design specific tasks in our groups eg. One task could be not to utter abusive word a particular month. Awareness can be built through such small tasks.

MK gave a brief review of international organizations working with men on gender justice issues. Internationally, there have been groups like NOMAS (National Organization of Men Against Sexism) that have been active for quite some time. In the west, the men's movement is fairly crystallized and is tackling issues, some of which we in India are yet to address. Eg. The issue of conscription, violence against men or the fact that there is a bias against men in cases relating to custody of children, etc. There have been other shades to the debate such as that of mytho-poetic men (explained in the book 'Iron John' by Robert Bland) where a pre-modern idea of a more wholesome masculinity is put forth and the argument is that industrialization has resulted in fragmentation of this ideal masculinity thereby leading to problems. An interesting case is also that of Warren Farrell, a feminist turned men's rights activist. However, overall impact of all these groups is very limited.

HS also gave examples from developing countries of groups such as 'Rozan' active in Pakistan who are working in the area of sensitizing policemen on gender issues. Also organizations such a 'Fathers Incorporated' in Jamaica that are trying to challenge established stereotypes of fatherhood.

Reaching Out

CR raised an important issue of the need for women's organizations to reach out to other similar social justice movements. Patriarchy in its various manifestations is linked with other forms of unjust systems such as Caste. It would be interesting to study the response of women's organizations in such instances eg. In the Mathura Rape Case in Maharashtra where a tribal woman was a victim.

According to VP, every organization saw the Mathura case in a different perspective and no attempt at striking a common front against injustice was made by the organizations involved. Marxists saw it as an issue of class conflict. Certain other organizations saw it as a caste and tribal injustice related issue. As a result, the leftists were happy when there was a decision to shift the burden of proof on men in cases of custodial rape and where a low caste / class woman was involved. Whereas feminists demanded that in all cases the burden of proof should be on the man. The leftists opposed this stand fearing that this will be used to victimize men from low caste / class.

In this context CD suggested an interesting book by Sheila Robotham titled, 'Beyond Fragments'. The key issue discussed there was the possibility of all social justice movements coming together on a single platform. It was a strong argument against the Autonomous Women's Movement. There is no denying the fact that it is important to reach out to other groups.

MK pointed out that the issue of 'Reaching Out' had two angles. One was the issue of forming a solidarity with other Social Justice Movements. The other angle was reaching out to men's movement.

It was interesting to note that the Conference of Autonomous Women's Movement at Kolkata held recently, as a matter of policy, did not allow men any entry in the Conference. Surprisingly, this is not a practice adopted by the Movement internationally. The previous conference held at Beijing did not have such restrictions. And this raised further issues. For example, even men with alternate sexuality were kept out. And it so happened that the Lesbians had common issues with them and were not happy at this exclusion. But the larger issue is – what is the rationale behind excluding men completely from the dialogue?

According to VP, the Autonomous Women's Movement these days focuses exclusively on sexuality issues. After the Babri Masjid issue, other shades of feminists have moved out of the Autonomous Women's Movement and have busied themselves with other issues.

CD gave an interesting example of striking a solidarity with other social justice initiatives which was reported recently from Canada. In an instance, various social justice groups came together to protest against lumbering of trees. There were feminist groups along with other groups of various kinds comprising of men as well as women. The interplay of gender issues at such a place was interesting. It was noticed that gender conflicts prevail even in such situations.

Similar issues crop up in cases where gender justice movements try to forge solidarity with other social justice movements, say for example the Dalit Movement. An interesting read is also article by S.Anandhi, J.Jeyaranjan and Rajan Krishnan titled 'Work, Caste and Competing Masculinities' (published in Economic and Political Weekly dated 26 October, 2002) and the whole logic of – if they rape our women we will rape their women. Masculinity among Dalit men is at times more assertive though the influence of Babasaheb Ambedkar and Buddhist religion is having a calming influence and has markedly reduced violent retaliations.

According to VP, violence cannot be justified under any pretext. So if an upper caste woman commits a violent act on a Dalit man, Gender Justice organizations should undoubtedly support the man. This should in no way create a conflict with their basic stand on Gender issues.

Gender Stereotypes in Media

The media also needs to be tackled and sensitized on this issue. There is a continuous endorsement of patriarchal stereotypes in the media. No alternative models of masculinity are offered.

Another interesting example was that of 'Fathers' Incorporated' from Jamaica which seeks to redefine stereotypes of fatherhood. They conducted an interesting study where boys were asked to write an essay on 'father'. Interestingly all boys had very similar ideas of a father being a strict disciplinarian, controller, etc. The group then tried to break these stereotypes by introducing to them alternate models of fatherhood. Examples were given from among lay people, which enabled the boys to relate to the alternate concepts being introduced.

In this context, it would also be interesting to examine the stereotypes of ideal motherhood promoted by some of the women's organizations.

We need to explore innovative methods such as Breakthrough TV's 'Bell Bajao' ad Campaign (to stop domestic violence) that communicates directly with the common audiences and in a very simple and effective manner. Similar avenues need to be explored. We need to learn to use the media more effectively. The children and the youths are continuously bombarded by the media with images of patriarchy and its version of masculinity. We need to try and counter that by increasing the visibility of gender justice issues including alternate role models that we want to promote.

According to HS, we also need to explore existing structures like the way MASUM did in their school project.

Gender Studies in Academic Institutions

According to HS, some feminist scholars such as Dr. Vidyut Bhagwat have been suggesting that masculinity should be included as one of the topics in Gender studies courses taught in universities. It has been noticed that male students are generally not attracted to a course that is titled as 'women's studies'. There is an urgent need to rename these as 'gender studies'. Delhi University has recently introduced a special course on masculinity. Such efforts should be made by other universities as well.

MK pointed out that some Universities even have problems with the name 'Gender Studies'. When a request is made to rename the 'Women's Studies' course as Gender Studies there seems to be a lot of resistance. Is it a fear of any reactionary political agenda being pursued? Or is it the fear of losing the jobs and about the faculty positions in these institutions?

According to VP, it all depended on what one considered as a central question. If 'power' is considered as a central question, 'Gender Studies' becomes a valid name as we then address a wider range of issues. But if patriarchy is considered a central issue to be addressed, then there is a resistance. And the differences on this issue are only in academic institutions and not seen in activist organizations.

CD gave an example of the problem they faced when they were to name a post-graduate course in TISS. After a lot of debate they decided to name the course as 'Gender and Women's Studies'. The message they wanted to convey was that the course will discuss Gender with a Woman's perspective.

Gaali Band

One very common form of violence that men commit is verbal abuse. And most of these verbal abuses used are sexuality related. MASVAW conducted Gaali Band program among adolescent boys in Gorakhpur. The boys were asked to write all the bad words they can think of. Then they were asked if they knew the meaning of these words. Most of the boys didn't know the meaning. What was most surprising was when they were asked where they learnt these words, we were told that common sources were teachers, parents and even from women including mothers. Gender based abusive words are a common phenomenon. Even boys at young age (as young as 8 years old) freely use such abusive words. There was an instance wherein a young girl student from Mumbai lamented that she had to use such words on account of peer pressure and fears rejection if she doesn't.

To this, some experts suggested that platforms should be created where boys begin expressing spontaneously on sexuality related matters even if it is through abusive expressions. It is our responsibility to guide the discussion and channelize as to where we want it to go. Psychiatrist Dr. Anand Nadkarni had in one of his writings suggested that colloquial understanding of sexuality will often have to be the starting point while interacting with such groups.

UP gave an example when, in an agitation related to the Khairlanji violence, the activists were caught by the Police. They were shocked to find lady constables abusing women with abuses that were degrading the women. They had to explain the constables that by doing so they were degrading their own womanhood.

CR gave the example of the videos on sites like You-tube related to Mumbai terror attacks. There were videos from India and Pakistan. The depressing fact was that both sides were using gender-based abusive words in connection to nationality. This is also an example of connections between masculinity and nationality referred to earlier and how it thrives on symbols of abuse of womanhood.

AP informed that their organizations have taken up the 'Shivi Band Andolan' in parts of Pune on a pilot basis. They have seen good response in the initial phase.

VP suggested that we should explore the possibility of scaling up this movement with involvement of other progressive organizations. We need to explore the possibility of using the TV spots available for social causes, etc. Sex education should also include a session on making the children aware of the gender violence involved in these abusive words.

According to HS this could perhaps be a common ground for coming together of men's and women's organizations. We should take up advocacy at higher levels to upscale the 'Shivi Band Andolan' in a major way and also effectively use the media for this purpose.

Commercial Sex Workers and Dance Bar Debate

PD highlighted the plight of Commercial Sex Workers and the attitudes of patriarchal society towards them. Sex Workers face a lot of problems as police as well as judges have strong patriarchal biases. A sex worker is often not even allowed to speak in the court of law. Police often refuse to even lodge a complaint from a sex worker.

The 'good woman' vs 'bad woman' dichotomy comes into play where a good woman is symbolized by the 'pativrata' who fits herself into the patriarchal value system. On the other hand, the prostitute or a bar-dancer or a woman who openly expresses her sexuality is vilified as the 'bad woman'. This is especially the case with women from disadvantaged sections. The issue of 'good woman' vs 'bad woman' is also often linked to caste issues. Poverty is given as a reason for legitimizing women getting into professions like sex-workers or bar-dancers. Several other related issues such as sexuality of women widowed at an early age, adverse sex ratio in most of the states in India also need to be addressed in this context.

UP informed that the at the Autonomous Movement Conference held in Kolkata, dominant issue discussed was that of Sex Workers and Bar girls. The overall emphasis seemed to be to justify and glorify the professions in some way. An attempt was made to argue it as a 'profession of choice' and nothing to be ashamed about. But when we interviewed the Sex workers, they were not very sure whether they wanted to see their profession in this manner. There was confusion all around.

HS emphasized that the argument in such cases that they do it for livelihood and should therefore be legitimized is very debatable. Most of the sex-workers have said that it is not out of choice. It is also a pointer to the fact that the society does not create adequate options for these girls.

There was a study by SNDT and other women's groups, wherein it was found that the Dance Bar Girls interviewed felt that they were better-off in this profession than the earlier ones that they were into. But questions were raised about the whole methodology of that study. Eg. The bar-girls were interviewed within the bar premises during intervals between their dance sessions. It is difficult to expect them to say the truth in such circumstances where the bar owner is likely to know what they say. Due to these and some other serious flaws, the credibility of the study was questioned.

VP agreed that the above study did put the professors at SNDT in a difficult spot. Students asked if SNDT professors would advise bar-dancing as a profession to their students in the career counseling sessions. Civil Society representatives like us need to take a more responsible stand on such issues else our credibility would be at risk.

And it is wrong to expect these girls to be happy being rehabilitated as maid-servants. We need to realize that rehabilitation in real sense should mean giving opportunity for every girl to move ahead in life as per her capabilities. We should ensure that all possible options are open for her and let her make a free choice of her future depending upon her inclinations and capabilities.

According to HS, one strong opinion is that the livelihood question and attempts to legitimize the profession was thrust upon NGOs by funding agencies, who were looking at pushing the issue of AIDS control through this channel. While VP agreed to this, she also pointed out the fact that organization and unionization of these groups as commercial sex workers has resulted in decriminalization of the profession.

It was further pointed out by MD that we always ask why women turn to these professions. But do we ask why men go to sex-workers? In a workshop that Stree Mukti Sanghatana had conducted with men they were told that it is for getting educated on sex prior to marriage. Jagori had also done a study as to why men go to sex workers. There were variety of reasons reflecting need for open discussion on sexuality and related matters.

According to VP, the attitudes in society towards sex-workers also need to be worked with. A senior bureaucrat once remarked that as a city needs its gutters, the society needs brothels. One argument given is that if the brothels are not there in a society, there will be an alarming increase in incidence of rape. Attitudes and conceptions like these among responsible members of the society need to be tackled.

It was, however, felt that the Government of Maharashtra's ban on the dance bars was one opportunity for the women's organizations to rally together and present a united stand. But unfortunately various groups were already polarized on the dance bar issue and so a real dialogue between them was not possible.

Dilemma of Women's Movement

It was expressed by a noted women's activist Manisha Gupte, in another forum, that women's activists did not see the true sense of men's involvement over the last several years. No real structural change can happen without men's involvement. It is therefore important for us to know how women's movements see the issue of engagement with men. Their concerns and fears also need to be discussed openly on forums like this. Do they see it as leading to conflict of spaces? What possibilities do they see of working together with men on gender justice issues? Will talking about men's involvement dilute the focus on women's 'real' issues which are perhaps much more severe?

MD agreed that Women's organizations are at present falling short of resources in tackling women's issues. If they widen their scope to 'gender' issues, it will certainly dilute their focus. Among other things, they also need additional volunteers and it is getting increasingly difficult to find them.

According to VP, the feminist movement is also facing serious problem of burnout. There is increasing tendency among women to use the gains from women's movement for claiming parasitic privileges and seeking support of women's organizations.

SK, therefore, felt that women's organizations need to narrow down their focus and think of common grounds to work with men's organizations. One common area could be Violence of Language. Men's and women's groups should come together to tackle violence in language, family and in society at large.

Men Against Gender Justice

Gender justice organizations are facing a backlash from men's groups advocating patriarchal values and established models of masculinity. MAVA had recently received an e-mail from one such organization which labeled MAVA as an organization of 'Eunuchs against Violence and Abuse'. CR informed that there have been such extensive and organized e-mail campaigns against social justice organizations involved in diverse issues.

According to MK, organizations such as Save Family International are very organized and are trying to hijack the agenda of gender justice. Organizations such as Purush Hakka Saunrakshan Samiti have lawyers and academicians as active office-bearers. Some of them have also been fielding women as supporters. Apparently, they are advocating for a National Policy on Men's Issues.

These organizations have access to extensive data which they use selectively to justify their arguments. HS informed that in some of the forums when MAVA had tried to question the validity of their data, they were badly exposed. One of their main targets for attack is Sec. 498A of IPC. In one of these forums, MAVA and women's groups had cumulative data for 10 years on 498A. It was found that only in 0.06% cases, 498A was used. So the argument made by organizations like Purush Hakka Saunrakshan Samiti and Save Family International stood exposed.

According to VP, the backlash is stronger in North India not only against gender justice organizations but even against human rights activists.

Concluding Remarks

HS, in his concluding remarks, re-emphasized the need for men's and women's organization to work together. He stated that we often use the term 'perpetrators' of gender injustice to generalize men. This would be a wrong attitude. We, among ourselves, should not have a power struggle in our aim towards a gender just society. There are also a few areas where organizations working on the issue of gender justice should recognize and introspect on their failures and act upon it.

From the day's discussion, following key aspects emerged that require continued efforts from organizations working in the field of Gender Justice –

(i) Women's groups should continue their work with women but simultaneously also take note of the issue of opening a dialogue with men on the cause of gender justice. We should try and involve the other gender equally wherever there is a possibility and explore opportunities for working together.
(ii) Women's liberation movement had all kinds of forums where women could talk freely and in complete confidentiality and be sure of being treated as human beings. We need to create similar forums for men. In this task, there is a lot that women's organizations can contribute by way of their own experience in the past.
(iii) Creating maximum visibility for spreading awareness of patriarchal issues and also alternate images of masculinity. The present media only portrays the patriarchal (hegemonic) model of masculinity. Organizations working on gender justice issues have failed to create visibility to their cause. Further, we need to give examples that are not iconic but from common life that people can relate to.
(iv) We need to create forums for having healthy discussions on sexuality and not just in the HIV and AIDS framework.
(v) It also emerged from today's discussion that there could be concrete areas where men's and women's organizations can work together such as the 'Shivi Band Andolan'.

On behalf of MAVA, HS thanked SwissAid India which had extended financial assistance to the Meet and has been a source of continuous support to MAVA, not only in terms of finance but also with other inputs from time to time.

The Meet ended with a vote of thanks to all participants for their constructive participation in the discussion.

Documented by Chetan Chitre

Posted by Aaron Buford at January 29, 2009 02:31 PM


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