How MAVA Motivates Young Men to Be Gender Justice Champions

How MAVA Motivates Young Men to Be Gender Justice Champions

Tanaji and others performing outside Kirti Mahal, Parel

Tanaji and others performing outside Kirti Mahal, Parel

Last Week, Badal Ja!’s Small Steps for Safety event was attended by many heroes from different walks of life—all doing their small part to make our city safer. One of the greatest sources of inspiration was Harish Sadani, founder and Chief Executive of Men Against Violence and Abuse (MAVA), and a strong evangelist for involving men as equal stakeholders in the fight for gender justice.

Harish feels that over the years gender issues in India have always been seen as “women’s issues.” Traditional efforts to tackle gender-based violence have concentrated on empowering women to assert themselves and prevent violence. This approach, according to Harish, insulates men from the process of transformation and keeps them embedded in their patriarchal mould.

Apart from disadvantaging women, patriarchy brings with it a set of behavioral norms and responsibilities that hinders men from expressing their fears, problems and vulnerabilities. Furthermore—from the bedroom to the boardroom—images of masculinity in society are linked to being strong and violent, and to notions that men with ‘power’ are ‘real men’. Therefore, in order to meaningfully improve the status of women, more attention must be paid to how men can be involved and benefit from the achievement of gender equality as a whole.

Creating a Safe Space for Men

Recognizing the woeful dearth of safe platforms for men to meaningfully discuss gender and sexuality, Harish launched MAVA in 1993. The organization uses various programs and interventions to help men analyze perceptions of masculinity and create appropriate alternatives. At the BJ! event, Harish shared touching stories about one of MAVA’s more recent initiatives, Yuva Maitri, which engages young men from local colleges on gender issues. With guidance from gender experts and sexologists, the students create a “Personal Change Plan” to plot how they will transform their attitudes towards women, themselves, and masculinity.

Many boys, unsurprisingly, are uncomfortable in the beginning and resistant to change. The Yuva Maitri program overcomes this resistance through youth-centric tactics, such as sex awareness songs, posters, film screenings, street plays, exposure visits to other gender-focused organizations, debates and wall-newspapers. Boys are also encouraged to voice anxieties and dilemmas about relationships, dig deep into myths and misconceptions on masturbation, menstruation and sexual health, and collaboratively cope with their anger, stress, and loneliness. At the end of the program, the boys become community leaders in their schools, engaging their classmates in fun and creative discussions about critical issues, and continuing the conversation on gender and masculinity.

So far, Yuva Maitri has already reached more than 60,000 young men in six districts across Maharashtra. Harish attributes this success in part to the highly personal nature of the program, where boys are encouraged to introspect on their relationships with their own family members and the language they use in everyday life. Moreover, because youths often act as “voices of resistance” to rigid cultural norms, they are a natural fit for programs like Yuva Maitri, and use their learnings in the program to create a huge impact in the attitudes, beliefs, and power dynamics of their peers.

Your Turn

Want to get your school involved? Contact Harish directly at 09870307748 or harsh267@rediffmail.com.