Ten lessons about working with men on gender equality in India

25 June 2018

With no less than two decades experience working with men and boys to bring them on board for efforts towards gender equality, Abhijit Das has learned some valuable lessons. In this blog, Das, who is the Co-Chair of MenEngage Alliance, shares some of these lessons that he and his colleagues have learned from working in the northern half of India – extending from east to west across 8 of the country’s states.

1. Gender equality is not a competition

It is vital to be clear: gender equality is not a tussle between women and men for superiority, a position that men occupy at this point due to patriarchy. Because gender equality work aims to reverse the status quo, we need to be clear that equality is not a competition.

2. Develop understanding of power and privilege

Patriarchy has historically created privileges for men and boys, creating asymmetry in power and privilege between women and men, as well as people of diverse gender identities. To undo that we do not need a new competition for power, we need a new understanding of how power and privilege have created this asymmetry, and amplify our efforts ‘power-with’ for equality and justice.

3. Share an understanding of privilege with other men

Men and boys need to understand their privileges and the power that has accrued to them as ‘men’, but this is not done most effectively confronting them or blaming them. They become defensive, feel cornered and often miss the point.

4. Recognize all intersections of oppression

The idea of social justice transcends gender discrimination, and encompasses all forms of social, economic and cultural hierarchies which result in increased vulnerability and inequalities in power and privileges, and further entrench inequalities and injustice, creating unjust conditions for some humans compared to others. To achieve equality and social justice, it is not useful to get into competitive victimhood, but understand the interplay of different and multiple social hierarchies which create an intersectional interface of privilege, power and disadvantages.

5. Fight for equality of opportunities and capacity

Social justice is not about material equality for all individuals, but equality of opportunity to live dignified, productive, healthy human lives. Each individual should have opportunities and capacities to make choices in their own interest, without harming the interest of others.

6. Social justice is equally about obligations

Social justice is not just about the consciousness of rights or claims, from others and from systems. It is also about obligations, to others personally, socially and institutionally. This means both taking space and making space. This consciousness applies to all men, women, and people of diverse gender identities, as well as the privileged and the oppressed.

7. Gender equality is embedded in relationships as well as the structures around them

Our deepest relationships are those which are unconditional, reciprocal, respectful as well as fulfilling and fun. These characteristics usually apply to peer-relationships between friends but can easily apply to relations between father and daughter, brother and sister, husband and wife, sexual partners and so on. Increasing equality of relationships can become a huge reinforcement for gender equality.

8. Make use of moral outrage

Before exploring gender relationships it is useful to create a sense of ‘moral outrage’ among men and boys around an area of gender discrimination or violence. This outrage creates a situation where men and boys examine the social interplay of gender relationships in their own lives- without necessarily feeling defensive or cornered.

9. Any intimate relationship can become a starting point for gender equality

Gender equality can start with sharing housework, having conversations, spending time together, having fun. These efforts can be met with resistance and/or ridicule. Having male peers engage in these changes together is important for sharing, reflection and encouragement of each other. This also deepens peer relationship among friends and creates a social solidarity, to dismantle the structural dimensions of gender inequalities and patriarchy.

10. Social change can happen through collective action

Collective action is a way towards social equality and justice, along with improved relationships at home and among friends. It creates a powerful vehicle for social transformation. It does not require all men and boys to be part of the exercise, but as social norms change, all men and boys are affected and face the pressure to change.

 

Dr Abhijit Das is Director of the Centre for Health and Social Justice, Clinical Assistant Professor at the Department of Global Health, University of Washington, and Co-Chair of MenEngage Global Alliance. He has been a member of various Government committees and is currently member of the Advisory Group on Community Action of the National Health Mission, and Core Group on Health of the National Human Rights Commission, Government of India. He is also a member of the Civil Society Advisory Group of UNWOMEN in India.

His areas of interest include Health and Human Rights; Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Population Policies, Men, Masculinities and Gender Equality; Health Equity; Health Governance and Accountability; Decentralized Planning and Monitoring; Evaluation of Complex Social and Health Interventions.