While doing our training on gender equity with men and boys, an important piece of feedback we get at the YP Foundation is that many men and boys are struggling with the expectation and aspiration of being what is called “a real man”, a stereotyped figure that expresses limited emotions is handsome, strong, muscular, and virile. We noticed an increase in the number of growth hormones and supplement drugs that young men experiment with and access, the pressure to be in sexually active relationships and the lack of understanding of sexual rights. With an approximate 150 boys we’ve engaged as peer educators, we’ve noticed a diametric change at the end of a 1-year program.
The key feedback we receive is that the ‘shame and embarrassment’ that they perceived and experienced in being able to ‘talk about issues of sexuality and bodily integrity and rights’ is what’s gone. Boys also discover that the insecurity they experience is something that is a common notion and that they’re not alone. Attitudes that change are ones like and I’m quoting feedback from young boys who have gone through the program:
“Men don’t always have to decide what kind of sex a couple will have. Consent can be sexy and I didn’t realize that before, there’s less pressure for a man too that way.”
“I used to think that being a mother was a natural instinct for a girl. Now I think a couple should decide together if they want to have children.”
“Who knew that other boys also got bullied like I did? You always think that the response to feeling insecure is violence, I never knew before this how to use words.”
To make this kind of shift possible, we’ve identified the following elements that must be in place:
- Training adults – teachers, parents and community members on the importance of challenging patriarchy – it’s very important not to isolate young people from their communities but to give them the tools and the language to negotiate these relationships. The guiding principles of the process are inclusiveness, diversity, co-operation and democratic functioning.
- Using diverse mediums of expression and being innovative – theatre, dance and music are three of the most successful ways in which we have communicated. We now have boys leading local campaigns that advocate for women’s rights. It is easier to reach out to boys in communities than it is to single them out in school settings.
- Increasing awareness on HIV and STI prevention and addressing Homophobia and the context and impact of both gender based violence and violence against women – there is a level of critical analysis that needs to be built into dialogues with young boys and men so they can examine the impact of violence in their own lives and the lives of women and girls. The need to eliminate violence needs to be internalized
- Promote youth led work in this area and encourage youth-adult partnerships – excellent programmes like ones run by the Center for Health and Social Justice and Men’s Action for Stopping Violence against Women (MASVAW) was initiated in the year 2002 as a statewide movement in Uttar Pradesh as a campaign with men and boys to promote gender equality, and advocate for equal rights and a violence free world for women.
This series of posts about engaging men and boys in sexual and reproductive rights and health work is based on a speech that Ishita Chaudhry gave at the High Level Meeting on Youth at the United Nations in New York in July 2011.