Promoting attitudes for gender equality - A step at a time

31 March 2018
Working with men and boys for gender equity
Working with men and boys for gender equality

When 15 year old Vishal Verma attended an interactive dialogue session with other boys his age, on the subject of unpacking gender stereotypes and tackling discrimination, he did not anticipate the changes he would later initiate and experience. Vishal still goes about doing the same things he earlier did, like attending school, playing with friends and returning home to finish his homework, albeit for one slight yet significant activity. He has now found someone to help his mother and sister in the household chores, like doing the dishes or sweeping the house. That’s himself!

Changes within the house also extend outside, where Vishal says he and his friends are now more comfortable in speaking and interacting with other girls and that they have been mindful about ensuring that their neighourhood provides a safe space for girls to freely access and navigate. 

In order to actively involve men and boys in the advocacy for gender equality and empowerment of girls, UNFPA in collaboration with its local partner Sneha organized dialogue sessions with young boys in Thane, Maharashtra. This initiative was part of UNFPA’s larger work on empowerment of adolescent girls that reaches out to over 2000 girls in Thane’s slum communities. Creating a supportive environment for girls through constructive engagement with men and boys is a critical strategy of UNFPA girls’ empowerment pogrammes.

Ensuring boys’ interest in the subject required creative engagement.  “At first, I thought that this would be boring and a waste of my time but eventually decided to give it a try”, Vishal said. During the first session, boys were asked about different roles of boys and girls, and how they behave with siblings or friends of the opposite sex. Curious to understand gender-roles and their own behavior, they attended the next meeting as well, where they discussed issues related to masculinity.

“It was announced that there will be a theater workshop for all of us which interested me and my friends, so my friends and I continued to attend meetings” said Vishal, brimming with excitement.

The boys also learnt about preventing harassment of girls. “During the sessions, we learned to view harassment from girls’ perspective and considered how girls felt when harassed”. “Girls will  feel just the same way as we will, if we were harassed or bullied”, said Vishal, clearly showing signs of empathy. Participants in the dialogue sessions also discussed about changing the bystander role and actively intervening to prevent violence. “We discussed and learned that it will be helpful to raise an alarm if we were to see a girl being teased or harassed in our community”

In later meetings, Vishal and his friends underwent theater workshops and developed a play titled “No Means No” on the issue of consent. They performed this play in the community a few times and were appreciated by young and old alike “I now realize that girls trust me more and I have made more friends who respect me”

Vishal now makes a consistent effort to share work at home to so that his sister can get time like him for study and leisure.  He also recently taught his mother to sign her name.