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Who or what is the ‘real man’.

Breakthrough’s work with men and boys follows a dynamic, iterative process that both ‘catalyses’ and ‘stimulates’ dialogue on notions of masculinity. Engaging men and boys as change agents helps to address gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls, for a more gender-just society. Men are expected to be masculine, but masculinities are neither uniform nor linear. 

Our most significant learning on engaging men and boys through our on-ground programmes and campaigns came from the communities we worked with. The demand to work with men came especially from women during community based training sessions. In addition, working with youth, both young men and women, highlighted that for a sustained change we need to work with boys and young men. 

Often, we would notice that when men and/ or boys spoke-up or intervened in support of the women and/ or girls, or shared about their experiences of challenging gender norms. Other men and boys in the communities would open-up and be more willing to engage in a dialogue. Let’s look at our journey of working with men and boys and at our iterative strategies.

Hegemonic Masculinity and Toxic Masculinity: recognising men as perpetrators 

Will Boys be Boys? During our #AskingForIt campaign, we went around to ask men and women some questions on sexual harassment in this video. The answers while seemed to be shocking, also highlight the casual behaviour around the normalisation of sexual harassment.

Back in 2000, the Mann ke Manjeere and Babul music videos were created as part of the album Mann ke Manjeere that are significant in their approach to women and dealing with domestic violence.  

The music video Mann ke Manjeere casts women in roles and scenarios far removed from the traditional frames, celebrates women’s agency, resilience and ability to survive violent domestic situations — both by speaking out against violence and by leaving violent situations. For the most part, men in Mann ke Manjeere are depicted as the perpetrators of violence. Evaluations of Mann ke Manjeere revealed that  the album and corresponding videos affected women far more powerfully than they affected men. 

The visual representations of men as perpetrators of violence did not invite men to critically engage with their personal role in perpetuating cycles of violence. However, the significance of Mann ke Manjeere lies in the fact that it provided the stimulus to bring the issue of domestic violence out into the public domain breaking the culture of silence and normalising domestic violence as a personal or family matter to be settled-with or adjusted-to within the family. 

In the music video, Babul the men are seen as not just the perpetrators but also decision-makers of the household hence capable of preventing women from becoming victims to domestic violence. At this point moving from viewing men as ‘perpetrators’ only, the narrative followed by Breakthrough recognised that men play the role of decision-makers as fathers, brothers, and partners. Therefore, it becomes all the more important to address men and their role as decision-makers and equally important for men to recognise and acknowledge that women and young girls have the agency to make choices and decide about their own lives.

Masculinity In Crisis: encouraging men to be responsible partners

The multimedia materials produced for the two campaigns Is this  Justice?and ‘Are You Man Enough?’ were designed to engage men and boys in a conversation about their masculine roles, and their responsibilities towards their women partners in a heterosexual relationship. These campaigns designed to address the transmission of HIV, and explore women’s vulnerability to contracting HIV (along with the social stigma faced by HIV positive women and men) are good examples to initiate dialogues on masculinity. The grass-roots education and community mobilization strategies worked with men, to interrogate gender roles that forge alternative notions of masculinity and worked with young men and boys to take leadership on these issues. Both the campaigns called upon men to take responsibility for their sexual behaviours and  sought to sensitize the public on discrimination against HIV positive women who experience domestic violence because of their positive status. 

Thus, through the campaigns Breakthrough sought to stimulate discussions amongst the audience/community calling upon men to exercise responsibility in marriage and show their sensitivity towards their partners by using a condom. 

These conversations also highlighted the fact that men were willing to take on these new roles that challenged and changed the gender  norms and notions of masculinity as can be seen in the video  Desirable Men. However, this does not mean that men don’t face backlash from others in their family, or society. Often, during mobilisation campaigns addressing issues of domestic violence, and  the role of men in creating a gender just society, it has been often  observed that various men who are the audience at these  programmes often exhibit the ‘masculinity’ in crisis6. The crisis being created by the questioning of hegemonic, and toxic forms of  masculinities that were considered ‘norms’ thus far, which include the  acceptability of dominance over women and girls, use of violence  against them, their positions of privilege, among others. Most often,  these vocal and ‘masculine’ men of the community pass remarks  ridiculing the community workers, or programme staff and when  they do so the other men in the audience, who were listening  (perhaps, because their sentiments were echoed at these programmes)  often show embarrassment in front of these people.

To address this, Breakthrough added a strategy where they addressed these concerns through the interactive part of these community events. The messages included talking about violence and gender  based discrimination leading to a more meaningful and trusting  relationships with partners, and that since all men are not  perpetrators it’s time to break the culture of silence, and discourage.  Thus, masculinity in crisis is about a clash or conflict in terms of who gets the power or who gets exemplified as the new ‘ideal’  masculinity between the existing hegemonic masculinity and the arising new masculinity – a constant power struggle. Once such transformation can be seen in this video of the Breakthrough Desirable Men which helped as a conversation starter, and encouraged other men and boys in the community to consider reflecting on and intervening to stop and/ or prevent the gender based discrimination and violence that occurred around them.  

Men as active bystanders 

The Bell Bajao! campaign (2008) marks a clear shift in Breakthrough’s approach to engage men and boys in gender inequity, particularly domestic violence. The campaign calls upon men and boys to take a stand against domestic violence. It encouraged men and boys to  intervene especially, the bystanders – the neighbours, relatives,  friends, colleagues etc. This helped to question the hegemonic or toxic masculine behaviours encouraging men to explore options of new masculinities; one which does not accept, normalise, or choose the use of violence against women. Further, this notion of new masculinity also encouraged men to support those who spoke up against violence. More significantly, the campaign addresses men directly and seeks to engage them in efforts to stop domestic violence. 

Over the years, we have been working to push the concept of active bystander intervention and involvement of men and boys via various campaigns as we garnered more and more insights and demands of the times and communities we engage with. From our campaigns Stand With Me and films made under it which encourages fathers to support their children when faced with online sexual violence. Both the campaigns Dakhal Do and Ignore No More encourage bystander action.

Men as decision-makers and allies 

The role of men as active bystanders evolved to that of allies in the  campaign Nation Against Early Marriage to address the concerns of the  fathers for their daughters’ safety from sexual harassment, and  marrying them off at an early age as a perceived solution. The social  pressures and ‘norms’ that expected the fathers to fulfil their duties  by marrying off their daughters were addressed through the Funeral  Video. This video also addressed the impact of early marriage on young girls including vulnerability to domestic violence, and lesser  negotiation or conflict-resolution skills in order to protect themselves  from violence, and ability to take care of themselves and their family.  This portrayal and understanding of men provided a space to engage  in a dialogue with them to consider alternate options like education, career, employment, and self-confidence of their daughters. This  helped to redefine their roles as decision-makers to become allies for  their daughters to secure a better future for themselves. The video Rashmi Banegi Matric Pass highlights this aspect of the roles that men in  the families, communities and societies can play as allies to ensure a better and more secure future for the girls. 

Men as change agents, the next generation and challenging norms in communities 

The campaign Mission Hazaar on gender based discrimination and gender-biased sex selection addressed men as change agents who  challenge the norms that are discriminatory towards girls and women  in their families, and communities. In order to be change agents,  these men were encouraged to take actions that transformed norms  and practices that were discriminatory towards girls starting from the  celebration of their births, as is shown in the video Sanjay’s Story. It  shows the father celebrating the birth of the daughter by beating steel  plates usually done to declare the birth of a male child to the  community. The celebration also includes distributing sweets on the  occasion of the birth. Thus, as change agents the men were  encouraged to celebrate the birth of a female child in the same  manner to challenge and transform these gender discriminatory norms thereby increasing the value of the girl child in the families, and communities. 

The campaign Share Your Story encourages female family members to  share their experiences of sexual harassment in public spaces and the impact it has on them, with male family members especially young  men. This in turn, helps the young men to relate the impact felt by their female family members to those of other women and girls. An issue generally felt distant to them made real by sharing of these stories by their own family members. The sharing of these stories, incidents, and experiences result in  discouraging the men from sexually harassing women and girls, as well as preventing and stopping their friends or male peers from engaging in such acts. Therefore, the role of young men here is seen  as the next generation of change agents who are capable of  transforming norms from unacceptable practices of discrimination  and violence against women and girls to that of an enabling, safer,  and inclusive environment for them. 

Under our Streelink programme, as part of the solution to address violence against women at home that also entails double burden of earning as well as looking after the household. We called upon men to take up equal responsibilities at home with our campaign Kaam Ka Partner. To show what that “alternative” looks like, we also created a fun music video. The video shows a married couple navigating through pre-defined gendered roles and the man eventually breaking his own barriers by taking up kitchen duties. 

While working with adolescents including boys and young men through our school and community-based initiatives, there are critical factors that Breakthrough considers while engaging men and boys towards a transformative change, and in becoming change agents. The two adolescents – Pinky & Pankaj, who reflect on some of the aspects through their conversations with each other by  relating experiences are key to help the adolescents we work with to understand, analyse, and begin the process of change some of these notions of masculinity in their lives, and that of their peers. Though this is where we need to be critical of the fact that, for example, men handling household chores, do not need to be celebrated, instead normalise it as something they are just doing what they should have done a long time ago.

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