Addressing the root cause of Gender-Violence

 

BY HARISH  SADANI

While lakhs of citizens have recently raised outcry over the death of a 23-year girl brutally gang-raped in Delhi, at least 4 to 5 cases of various forms of violence against girls / women are being reported daily from several other cities and towns across the country. A significant number of youths organized protest demonstrations, demanded stronger punishments for male offenders, through various media.

While all this might help in drawing attention to the seriousness of the issue of gender-based violence, the question is what is being done to address the root cause of the issue?


If Men (their attitudes) are 'part of the problem', can we address the problem effectively without involving Men as a 'part of the solution'? In our vision of a gender-just society where there would be peaceful co-existence of both Men and Women, does a person belonging to the 'oppressor' gender have a role? Is yes, what would be that role?

It's not just recently, but over the years that Gender issues (including Gender-based Violence) in India have been seen largely as ‘‘women’s issues’ by all concerned – majority of policy-makers, women's groups, funding agencies and the media. This approach insulates men from the process of transformation, reinforcing masculine stereotype and furthering gender divide.

If we all agree that Gender is a social construct, that Men are not born violent and aggressive, but it is the faulty socialization and upbringing that promotes macho image of men, then do we find alternatives to this model of Masculinity around? There may be umpteen examples of 'women' as role-models for growing-up girls, but there is a woeful dearth of positive role models among men, who can assert a gender-sensitive society and can engage adolescent boys and young men in the discourse. We have had examples of how sportsmen like Roger Federrer who have expressed on what 'healthy relationships' mean to them personally, but did we hear any such sportsman in India talking on gender matters as an individual? We did see Actor Amir Khan weeping and talking about violence against women as a social issue on his talk show as a professional, but did we hear him or any other youth icon taking 'personal' stand on the issue?

The situation necessitates efforts that address how men can analyze perceptions of masculinity and create appropriate alternatives. For that, men should feel the need to do so. Men can self-introspect on the existing dominant model of masculinity, when they are able to relate to the issue, when they know what are the 'costs' of increasing violence on women to them individually and socially. If Men are involved in any intervention that seeks to stop or prevent violence against girls / women, it may help in making the lives of women safer and healthier, but what it is going to give them per se?  Unless this is answered seriously, we will not come up with any meaningful strategy of engaging men in the long-term.

Paradigm shift in looking as 'women's' issues as 'gender' issues, which are equally men's issues is not going to be an easy affair. With all our society's subsystems – whether it is the family, religion, governance or the media,  reinforcing the patriarchal, male-dominated attitudes, it is definitely going to be a process, facing periodic threats, hiccups and setbacks.

Apart from addressing 'Men as a group', it calls for simultaneous interventions with different 'groups of Men' – whether it's addressing men in the police not just as law-enforcing agents but also as Men, similarly reaching out to Men in the corporate and healthcare sectors, male parliamentarians and bureaucrats, male journalists, religious leaders, school and college teachers and administrators. Having a one or two gender-sensitization program for the men in these sectors (as a tokenism) is not going help in changing the male mindset. What is required is focused, long-term interventions with clear vision and purpose of a 'process-oriented' work by all stakeholders. There has to be a pool of Male Facilitators in all the sectors, who can engage men in a gradual process of transformation and humanization. It calls for investment, financial and otherwise. The moot question is do we have a sizeable number of people who would like to invest their time and effort in engaging men towards addressing gender issues? Even if a handful of them do like the writer who has been working on the same consistently for the past 22 years, there is a dearth of well-meaning people who would strengthen their efforts.

Gender-based crimes against girls and women are going to be increasing in the neo-liberal society of ours in coming years, what will change is only the nature and forms of violence. And there will be certainly more crimes by minor boys. It would then be, perhaps, too late for all concerned to seriously examine the root cause of the problem.

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