The Centre for Social Research’s two day conference served as a congregation platform for civil society organizations, legal implementers and activists working on socio-political issues of gender in India.From its genesis in 1850, the Indian gender movement has evolved. The abolition of Sati graduated to women’s political involvement in the Indian independence movement. Post-independence, there was a definite shift towards welfare-based approach and now there has been a call-to-action for women empowerment from the perspective of rights-based approach. It is in the pursuit of bolstering women empowerment as a human right; that the Centre for Social Research initiated the all-inclusive gender approach towards the same. “Engaging Men and Boys in Fight against Violence” (henceforth referred to as #AllGenders), was a conference which resonated the social reality of empowered men making way for women to empower themselves. The inaugural session of the conference set the tone for the discourse. It was articulated that women empowerment should be in tandem with iconoclastic actions for redefining masculinity. There were discussions on areas of patriarchal powerhouses and how indoctrinated socio-cultural values and normalized violence are, leading to fertile grounds for creating gender stereotypes.
Post the inaugural session, Mr. Satish Kumar spoke how social campaigns create momentum for mass movement. Mr. Kumar is the Additional Director of the New Delhi based Centre for Health and Social Justice and has an experience of over 32 years in the field. His areas of expertise are men and gender equality. Mr. Kumar is actively involved in social movements of Sahayog, Sutra, MASVAW (Men’s Action for Stopping Violence against Women), FEM and MenEngage. At the #AllGenders conference, Mr. Kumar stated that while working on gender based issues at the community level, the organization must be careful not to drive in a sense of identity crisis in men who are raised with a patriarchal mindset. The key to bringing in holistic women empowerment is to ensure that men realize they have a constructive role in the same.
The next speaker at the Conference was Ms. Bimla Chandrasekaran who made a pertinent point that both – the abused and the abuser are damaged in the process of committing violence against women and also being at the receiving end of it. Ms. Chandrasekaran is the Director of Madurai based Ekta Foundation which was established in the year 1990 for creating a gender just society. The Foundation works with community members of all age groups and also with educational institutions to bring about positive behavioral change. Ms. Chandrasekaran’s areas of institutional expertise are gender mainstreaming, gender and governance, gender and human rights, violence against women and protection and promotion of girl child rights. At the #AllGenders conference, Ms. Chandrasekaran stated that men should transit from being perpetrators of violence against women to protecting the dignity of women’s lives.
Mr. Harish Sadani was next to take on the podium and speak on engaging men effectively in the gender movement. Mr. Sadani is not only the co-founder of Mumbai based organization, MAVA (Men against Violence and Abuse) but also recipient of prestigious awards like Maharashtra Foundation Award (2010), Karamveer Puraskar (2010) andmost recently the receiver of the Muktaa Sanman (2014).At the #AllGenderS conference, Mr. Sadani elaborated how patriarchy harms men in the process of damaging women. He made a case for men to perceive feminism, not as a Samaritan act but as a liberation movement for both the genders. Feminism would relieve men of living in the restrictive mould of patriarchy and operating out of it. Mr. Sadani is of the opinion that culturally relevant and customized techniques should be employed in societal engraining of the feminist ideology; something that Ms. Chandrasekaran had also voted for as a preceding speaker. As a concluding message, Mr. Sadani emphatically pronounced, “Don’t only tell the men what’s wrong; also tell them what is right.”
Ms. Joy Grace Syiem concluded the pre-lunch session by a rather startling fact that matrilineal society also has gender inequities. Ms. Syiem is an alumnae of the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute based in Italy. Currently, she is working as a Programme Manager at the Shillong based North East Network. At the #AllGenders conference, Ms. Syiem earnestly expressed her concern over the North-Eastern women’s social reality and how the culture of silence around violence against women, should change.
The first panel of the #AllGenders conference not only resonated the spirit of engaging men and boys for an inclusive gender movement in India; but also gave constructive feedback on how to about the same. The next blog would be a continuation of the conference proceedings and would also summarize the key points of the inaugural and the launch session.
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