As someone who often speaks about gender issues, I’m reminded of a workshop I conducted a day before Independence Day two years ago. The topic was Domestic Violence and I was addressing young women from low-income backgrounds. During the Q&A part I was asked
“Where are the men? We believe you when you are telling us about our rights, but why is there never a man here telling us the same thing?”
This year, a few days before Independence Day I had the pleasure of meeting a very senior security advisor to the Indian Government who asked us to support his plan for conducting self-defence camps for women across India. A noble cause. But all this got me thinking.
The problem isn’t just about the physical & sexual abuse women face but the attitude towards women in general. How do we change that? My answer is to involve the men in the process. We can have self-defence camps for women & domestic violence & sexual abuse awareness campaigns but these issues get neatly boxed away as “women’s issues” and thus largely only involve women. Yes, as women we need to be aware of our rights and feel empowered to speak up but how about we work on the root cause of the problem? Men need to learn how to respect women from a very young age.
Why is it that we have thousands of IIT entrance exam coaching institutes, even in the most remote cities but we have 0 camps where we’re teaching men what it means to respect a woman? We have civics class teaching students about patriotic duty, but what about our duty to respect one another as equals, as fellow humans?
We don’t teach kids that staring, commenting, whistling, singing perverse song lyrics & doing anything to make the other person uncomfortable (even when there’s no physical interaction involved) is WRONG. It’s not just hitting, or raping or touching but treating someone in a way that makes them feel less than a human being. It’s disgusting.
We don’t have to wait until a crime occurs; let’s try to change the thought that leads to the crime. A bit ambitious? Maybe. But until we involve men in the solution, I don’t think we’re going to get very far.
I know I’m a few days late, but Happy Independence Day & Happy Rakshabandhan – I”m hopeful for a day when I feel free enough that I won’t need the protection.
Disclaimer: Invariably someone will comment that not “all men are bad” or things are “changing.” I am well aware of this and if you’re one of the great ones, kudos. But I can only write about my reality. As a woman, living in the nation’s capital in a safe sheltered neighbourhood with a lot of privilege and access that most women in India don’t have (for example living in a gated house with a guard), I still feel uncomfortable when I go out on a daily basis. And this is not just around “certain people” or “certain areas” but also around very educated individuals in supposedly safe areas. If you’ve never been stared at in a way that makes you want to crawl in a hole and hide, please feel free not to comment about the reality that women face in India. Or do. We can have a conversation 🙂