Whenever we speak about Equal Community Foundation and our work with men, we are posed with questions  such as ‘how do you identify perpetrators’, ‘how do you get men to attend your sessions’,  ‘why would they attend’, ‘do men really change’? Somehow, when asked these questions I feel like the other person has made up their mind for the negative. In conversations that are heading in this direction all I want to say is ‘let’s change the conversation’

Here is my list for how I would like to change the conversation.

Let’s talk about men as agents of change rather than current or future perpetrators of violence
No productive dialogue can start based on an accusation. When we accuse someone we also tend to take our own behaviour out of the equation. We can’t be just pointing fingers at men. We need to check if we as a society are creating an enabling environment that encourages, supports and lets men sustain that behaviour change.

Last week at an event I heard a graduate of the programme saying – what he liked about the programme was the fact that in spite of the way the he behaved in the past, the mentor interacted with him as a friend. When men and women around him termed him ‘good for nothing’, the mentor showed faith in him and supported him in managing his behaviour. This young man has changed his behaviour over the last one year and today he is one of our most active volunteer leaders who advocates this change to other men.

Do men really want to change?! YES THEY DO.
Let’s not assume men don’t want to change. Our experience at ECF of working with young men shows that men want to change. They want to bring about change in themselves and other men around them. They want to change for the women in their lives. It could be their mother, sister, friend or a woman in their neighbourhood. They want to change for themselves so that they could have better relationships.

In every community there are men who respect women and care about gender equality, but lack the courage, skills, and knowledge to take action. We need to find these men and provide them the confidence, education and support to take voluntary action to drive change, influence other men to take action, and spread this vision in their community.

Let’s redirect the conversation from ‘Men need to change their mindset’ to ‘let’s raise men’
Continuing from my previous point it’s not just men who need to change but the people around them need to change too. Each one of us has a role to play in raising men to end violence and discrimination against women.

A young man who is part of a programme like Action for Equality typically spends 3 to 6 hours a week gaining information and learning how to manage his behaviour. Outside of this setting when he tries to change, let’s say start doing the dishes he gets challenged from different angles. His father might say “you don’t these domestic chores; it’s your sister’s responsibility”. The advertisements on TV still show only women washing up the utensils. His teachers might be sharing some example that is reinforcing what the father or the advertisements are saying. His friends might tease him. It would clearly require him to be bold and have the conviction to continue doing something as simple as doing dishes. In this situation, if all the other influencers supported and encouraged the change, wouldn’t the likelihood of him doing the dishes on a daily basis increase? Wouldn’t the positive response encourage him to change some of his other attitudes and behaviours?

Each one of us as an individual or as a part of an institution need to check whether we are raising men around us as a part of the problem or as a part of the solution.

Hopefully in the days and months ahead, these three points will be a starting point in our conversations.

— Rujuta Teredesai | Executive Director | Equal Community Foundation