India Interior

Beginning the long walk to gender equality

Sarita Brara | Updated on March 10, 2018

Learning together Boys at a gender training programme in Patna district

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Districts in Bihar use strategic interventions to transform male mindsets and attitude

When Amit Kumar, a BSc student, started helping his sister and mother with household chores, the men in his family and village not only discouraged him, but also humiliated him with sarcastic remarks. For Amit, from Rakasiya village in Patna district, this was not unexpected. In fact, till not long ago, he too thought it was unlike a man to get involved in household work and women were meant to ‘to feed and take care of the men’.

“We boys always thought that girls were inferior and there was no question of any comparison with us.” He went on to add that he and the other boys would pass lewd comments like ‘ kya item hai’ at girls. “In fact we used to have fun at the discomfiture of the girls as they walked away quietly.”

“We did not realise at that time that this kind of harassment was also a kind of violence against the girls,” he said.

Today, Amit thinks differently. He not only respects women, but also wants discrimination against them to end. The change in his behaviour and attitude came after he, along with other adolescent boys and young men, attended workshops on ‘ Do kadam barabari ki ore’ (Two steps towards equality), a programme to address violence against women and girls in Bihar.

According to the National Family Health Survey of 2015-16 on measurement of domestic violence, over 43.2 per cent women in Bihar face violence from their spouses against the national average of 37.2 per cent. “Male entitlement and female submissiveness is taken for granted in society,” says Santhya, senior associate, Population Council, who led the team for the programme. She says that during initial studies, it was found that even 10-year-old boys displayed an attitude of masculine superiority and that is why it was considered necessary to involve adolescent and young married boys (in the age group of 13 to 21) from Nehru Yuvak Kendra Sanghtan (NYKS) youth clubs in 15 villages of the two districts of Patna and Newada.

During 42 weekly sessions, one hour each week was devoted to cricket coaching and other sports, which would attract boys to the sessions. Then, one hour was spent on gender transformative life skills, such as how to help in household chores, treat everyone equally without gender discrimination, how to live in harmony, even how to study well and share personal problems. Not just the members of NYKS, even Panchayati Raj institutions, anganwaadi workers, accredited social health activist (ASHA) workers and members of women self help groups (SHG) were trained and roped in for this innovative programme to try and change gender attitudes, reduce violence against women and girls and alcohol abuse in families and empower women to address violence against themselves and others.

Sulekha, member of an SHG called ‘Jyoti’ from Sidhol in Newada district, says that earlier, she had accepted her husband’s right to dominate her and that it was her duty to fulfil his demands. If he chose to beat or ill treat her with or without provocation, she had to bear with it. “It is only now that I have understood we cannot be subjected to violence of any kind and it is my right to raise a voice or report against it.”

Once she was aware of her rights, “ Maine bhi apni chuppi todi or jawab dena shuru kiya (I broke my silence and answered as an equal),” says Sulekha.

In the beginning, she faced opposition, but once her husband and her father-in-law too were roped in for the programme and they themselves took part in street plays on the subject, they realised that their behaviour was indeed wrong. (Husbands of SHG members were also involved in the project.)

Imagine Gaytri Devi from Hindini village, Patna district, explaining the XY factor in determination of birth of males and females to one of the villagers who had thrown out his pregnant wife from his house accusing her of ‘giving birth to females only’. As an ASHA, Gaytri not only provided shelter to the woman for the night, but was successful in convincing the man how wrong he and society were in condemning women for giving birth to females.

“And why this craze for boys and not girls?” asks Gaytri, who had earlier suffered mental torture for not bringing in enough dowry herself. “Although I have been working as a health worker since 2005, it was only during the training programme in 2013 that I realised emotional harassment and torture are violence of another kind.”

On the impact of the five-year programme that was launched by the Population Council along with Centre for Catalyzing Change, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and UKaid, Santhya says that while one can see signs of behavioural change, changing the mindset and attitudes is a long term process and will take time. But though the five-year project (2012-2016) is complete, Amit, Sulekha and Gaytri Devi said the fight for barabari (equality) and ending violence will continue.

“We suffered a lot in our lifetime,” says Gaytri Devi, “But I want the new generation to live without being subjected to violence — physical, emotional or sexual.”

The writer is a senior journalist

Published on May 05, 2017

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