The content and the outrage over the latest documentary film India’s Daughter  has opened up multiple questions and opinions. Unfortunately, the outrage over this film seems to have distracted us from the core issue.

Accepting the problem

The film is being framed as a ‘conspiracy to defame India’. Social media platforms are filled with comments such as ‘the west isn’t any better’, ‘the unfortunate incident is being exploited for commercial benefits’, ‘Dalit girl being raped would not have gained so much of attention’ or ‘showing this film glorifies the act’ and so on. These discussions are nothing but a distraction from the core issue.

The fact is, violence and discrimination against women is a serious issue in India. Period.

What shames India is not bringing attention to these attitudes but the fact that they exist at all; and exist across every level of society. If we don’t want the world to talk about it, let us make some serious investment in tackling this issue.

Why do we need to talk about it

What pervades our society are attitudes and beliefs about gender and ideals of masculinity that support men’s control over women. These attitudes are  supported by both men and women in India and global society. All of us knowingly or unknowingly continue to contribute to this. Research points to the strong influence of inequitable gender norms and rigid masculinity as factors that cause violence against women.

The filmmaker said in an article, “It would be easier to process this heinous crime if the perpetrators were monsters, and just the rotten apples in the barrel, aberrant in nature”. The reality is we are not dealing with individuals who are born violent, discriminatory or as monsters. We are talking about just regular people.

Boys and girls are growing up in a culture where gender inequality and violence against women is normalised.

Small discriminatory and violent acts go unchallenged and are infact often encouraged. We need to openly talk about this issue so that we can challenge this behaviour and offer an alternative.

We need to talk about this issue so that we can develop solutions to prevent the problem and not just treat the symptoms of it.

What are the solutions?

Every sentence in the film and the debate, by the perpetrators, the lawyers, the activists and the filmmaker highlight the need to work with men and boys on prevention – to raise men to become gender equitable. If men are a part of the problem, then they must be included as a part of the solution.

How can we do that?

  • Start talking to young boys about what is gender equality – at home, in communities, in schools, through the media.
  • Don’t start the conversation by calling them ‘perpetrators’ but genuinely engage with them as allies.
  • Help men understand gender equality benefits them too.
  • Don’t limit the discourse towards changing attitudes but support to implement it into action.
  • Make it fun and interesting for men to be a part of this movement.
  • Start engaging the other groups that influence a young man’s behaviour like parents, peers, teachers, and media.
  • Ask yourself a question – is your attitude and behaviour contributing to the problem or to the solution?

We at Equal Community Foundation have been working with adolescent boys from urban slums for five years.Our experience has shown us that when these boys have the opportunity to develop knowledge about gender, skills to identify and challenge gender inequitable norms, and support from their peers to take action, – then attitudes and behaviour can change. They don’t just change their own behaviour but they advocate change to others.

Equal Community Foundation is one of the growing number of organisations that understand the importance of developing gender equitable attitudes and behaviour in men and boys.

We recognise that we need to engage men and boys if we want to even begin tackling the core issue.

Let’s focus on the solutions. Let’s raise men to end violence and discrimination against women for good.

– Written by Rujuta Teredesai and Claire Postles

To find out about Equal Community Foundation’s work, please visit www.ecf.org.in. We are looking to scale this approach across India. If you are interested in partnering with us, send us an email at info@ecf.org.in