Nasir and Sharookh  They jostle each other playfully, each eager to speak up first. 15-year-old Nasir looks at his younger brother Sharookh, and gives him the go ahead. “Girls and boys should be treated equally and without any differences because they are already equal,” Sharookh says with all the sagacity of a 14-year old. Nasir adds to this, “We have to begin treating and looking at men and women equally to make our society better. When we see the violence and discrimination against women in so many different ways, it makes us want to change it. And we are learning how we can become part of that change.”

These brothers had enrolled for ECF’s Action for Equality (AfE) course in their community in Kasarwadi, in the city of Pune.  They participate very actively in the discussions on various topics, from ‘Patriarchy and its impact on Gender Issues’ to how ‘Perspectives on Sexuality influence gender-based discrimination’. The fact that they are able to think through these issues and add their own questions to the discussions, is indicative of the fact that their young minds are already grappling with what they see.

“We enjoy the AfE courses a lot and want ECF to conduct a session every day and not just one day of the week,” Sharookh says, while Nasir nods vigorously. Their mother looks at them fondly and mentions how they eagerly look forward to the day the ECF Mentor bhaiyyas come to the community. “The Mentors are the role models for my boys and for so many others in the community. They all want to grow up and do the kind of good work that we already see happening in our community,” she says.

When asked whether they talk about what they learn at the AfE course with their friends, both brothers answer in the affirmative. “We try to encourage all our friends to join the ECF course so that they can also learn this new way of respecting girls and women,” says Nasir. He admits with a smile that some of his friends make fun of the fact that he quite openly does household chores and helps his mothers with things around the house. But he is quite unfazed about it. “I told my friends that we can ask the mentor bhaiyyas all the questions we have without being afraid or embarrassed,” pipes in Sharookh. This is an important aspect of what we at ECF strive to do as we work with boys and young men – to provide a ‘safe space’ where they are free to learn, ask questions and clear their doubts about gender and sexuality, how these things impact the way girls and women are perceived, and ultimately treated in the society.

What is interesting and very affirming o see is that Nasir and Sharookh are so passionate about what they have learnt and are beginning to put into practice. Their mother supports them all the way. “I am so proud that they are growing up to respect women at home and in the community. They may face resistance and ridicule even, but I will support them because this is the change we need to see in our society,” she concludes.

Nasir and Sharookh (and other boys like them in the 20 communities we work among in Pune) are the reason why we at ECF are committed to our one ‘main thing’ – raising boys and young men to respect women. These are the real-life stories that show us we are on the right track!