This month we speak to Bimla Chandrasekhar, Founder and Director of Ekta Resource Centre for Women and member of Forum to Engage Men (FEM), the country network of MenEngage Alliance in India.
‘Meet a member’ is a regular feature in the global MenEngage Alliance newsletter. Click here to subscribe to the newsletter. The newsletter has been developed together with the global Communications Working Group. It aims to be a small snapshot into ‘men and masculinities’ work around the world and across MenEngage Alliance.
What do you work on?
I am the founder and director of Ekta, which means unity. We work with students and non student youth, children in schools and women in communities and other workplaces. My specific focus has been on strengthening women’s leadership and participation in governance, and creating awareness on the legal rights of women and girls.
Another important area of my work is to sensitize men and boys to the impact of gender stereotypes on both women and men and how gender equality benefits all. We encourage men and boys to actively participate and to take a pledge to challenge hegemonic masculinities and support women survivors of gender based violence. We aim to help men and boys to understand that violence is not inevitable, and not a solution to any problem. Rather it is a problem in itself.
How did you get involved in this work?
As a child, I was uncomfortable with the do’s and dont’s for girls and boys. After completing my education and beginning my career, I had the chance to meet female colleagues who shared similar experiences of discrimination. I realized that this is not only happening to me but to all women. The quest to understand more about the cause of such discrimination took me to different seminars, discussions and readings on related topics. I got connected to the women’s movement and other social movements.
I also had an opportunity to work and interact with male friends who were very supportive of work to prevent gender based violence. I then came to know about Men Against Violence and Abuse (MAVA), and the White Ribbon Campaign. Later, we became part of the process of working with men and boys and joined Forum to Engage Men, which is the MenEngage-affiliated network in India.
What keeps you motivated in this work?
Working with women on gender based violence issues is a continuing process with many ups and downs. Working with children and youth can also be challenging at times. But it provides the energy to continue. Listening to their stories of changes in the family and among their peers motivates me to spend more time with them, and to engage more intensely in this process.
Who inspires you?
My great inspiration is Kamla Bhasin. She was a feminist activist, poet, author and social scientist—and, above all, a champion for gender equality. Her books on Understanding Gender, Exploring Masculinities, and What is Patriarchy? have strengthened gender equality perspectives, and inspired many to engage in this work.
I also find inspiration in the work of revolutionary Tamil poet “Bharatiyar”, who encouraged women to come out of their bondage and explore their full potential.
What do you hope we can achieve together as an Alliance that we cannot do as individual organizations?
Coming together and learning from each other to create social change is a rewarding process. Patriarchy as a system was created and is sustained through a collective mindset. To challenge it, it is crucial to promote a critical mass to create a new order that stands for equality and justice for all. As an alliance, we can strengthen our perspectives through peer learning and sharing, and improve the quality of our individual work. Working collectively also helps to upscale and reach out to diverse groups. Together, our voices will become loud enough to be heard by the decision makers at various levels.
Can you share some work you are proud to have done?
I can share this short video on gender-based violence.
Is there a part of the MenEngage Core Principles that resonates with you?
“We stand for women’s rights and gender justice” As a feminist organization we work consistently on prevention of gender based violence. At EKTA, we think it is crucial to recognize that women and girls continue to face significant gender injustices and human rights violations around the world. And that there is an urgent need to come together to address this injustice and bring in transformative change.
Secondly the principle ‘We work to disrupt and end patriarchy’ is also key. The accumulated impact of this oppressive system is very visible in the lives of women, girls, gender non- conforming and other socially vulnerable groups. Women’s movements are constantly challenging and confronting the unequal gender power relations, privileges granted to men and boys and sanctions imposed on women and girls. Such challenges continues in the sphere of socio- economic and political processes.
Finally, can you think of an inspiring quote to share?
“There are no paths. Paths are made by walking” — Antonio Machado