From perpetrators to CHANGE-MAKERS: A community conference on engaging men

“Mahilao ke programme mein humara kya kaam?” (what work do we have at a women’s programme?)

Most men from the community believe that programs held by CORO WEP (Women Empowerment Programme) are only for women, but this time it was different. A call for a conference with men! CORO has been working on the issue of VAWG (Violence against Women and Girls) for over two decades and has changed the scenario to a certain degree. With this vision of eradicating VAWG, CORO WEP in conjunction with Mahila Mandal Federation (MMF) decided to work with the perpetrators of violence, the men. While working on violence has been seen as a women’s issue, a pressing need has arrived to bring men into the conversation and share the responsibility of preventing violence.

“Aagaaz”… A beginning

The platform created by CORO WEP was called “Aagaaz”, which means ‘a beginning’. A beginning of men taking the step of preventing VAWG; “mahila hinsa ke khilaaf purusho ki aawaaz” (men speaking up against violence against women). The program was held at two locations, Shivaji Nagar and Chembur Mahila Samaj Hall which were attended by 350 people from the communities of Vashinaka, Bainganwadi and P. L. Lokhande Marg. These communities predominantly have Muslim and Dalit households, with whom we work in a focused manner on the issue of VAWG.

Members from the communities of Bharat Nagar, Vashinaka and P.L. Lokhande Marg
Members from the communities of Bharat Nagar, Vashinaka and P.L. Lokhande Marg

Men, religious leaders and the youth from the communities were invited to talk about their perspective on the issue. These members have been engaged with the work of CORO WEP for years and are aware about the issues that women in their community face. They believe that men need to be active change makers in uplifting the status of women in their community and not only be perceived as perpetrators of violence.

“Badlaav sabse pehele khud se hona chahiye aur apne ghar mein hone chahiye” (we must change first and bring change in our own homes)

Our team leader, Ms. Shakeela Siddiqi sharing the importance of such a conference with the audience members
Our team leader, Ms. Shakeela Siddiqi sharing the importance of such a conference with the audience members

These were the first words spoken. These men believed that a change in perspective towards women is necessary for men to be active in preventing violence. They must recognize women as equals; treat them with respect and shed biases and unequal expectations that hold women behind. While internal change is essential, they felt that certain external factors such as alcoholism and unemployment also contribute to the problem and interventions must also be done in these areas. Religious leaders were also invited as panelists because they hold an important position in the community and are major stakeholders, who can influence a change in conversation. They emphasized on the status of women in religion and how they must only be treated with respect and care. Violence has no space in the relationship between men and women. Men must treat women with utmost equality and respect. These men expressed the desire of living in a community free of VAWG and wanted to be active change makers in this process. They believed that domestic violence is a problem that affects everyone; it is not personal and must not be treated as a women’s issue.

Shifting the lens

Several perspectives emerged through this conference, which spoke about the various ways in which change can be brought about in the status of women. Respect for women and change from within dominated these narratives. However, the perspective that “because we have mothers, sisters and daughters we must respect women” continues to exist. Women continue to be viewed from these gendered roles and not entirely as individuals who deserve to be treated with respect.

Maulana Hussain Mazahidi speaking about the status of women in Islam and the change he would like to see in the way men treat women
Maulana Hussain Mazahidi speaking about the status of women in Islam and the change he would like to see in the way men treat women

The WEP continues to work on breaking these notions set for women, however this is a challenging process and change is on-going; this was evident in the way men spoke about VAWG. Through our continuous work on violence and challenging social norms in 11,200 households of Mumbai, Nashik and Nagar, we hope to see substantial change in these perspectives. This initiative was a step in that direction. From here on we continue to work with the men of the community, bringing them into the conversation and responsible for the prevention of VAWG. The lens needs to be shifted from men being perpetrators of violence to agents of change, who have privilege that can be used to uplift women in society.