New Delhi: In the fight to end violence against women, UN Women and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) India have been strongly advocating engaging men and making them a part of the solution instead of treating them as the problem. UNFPA deputy executive director Kate Gilmore, who was in New Delhi for the Global Symposium 2014 on Men and Boys for Gender Justice, held from 10-13 November, says that gender-based violence has become an epidemic in India and worldwide, and everybody needs to stand up against it to achieve the goal of gender justice. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Cinema and advertising in India keep reinforcing the stereotype about men being superior to women. We have politicians who keep making sexist statements. With a society as patriarchal as ours, where do we begin to change mindsets?

What’s clear from the practices around the world is that there are men and boys who want a different form of masculinity, not the kind of masculinity that defines itself by the subordination of women, but the kind that’s allowed to be strong, but tender. Both men and women are same. We don’t have public spaces or cultural norms that foster the evidence that men are all those things as well and that women, too, can be tough and bossy. The problem is we have created a system of gender hierarchy that has toxic consequences like domestic violence, rape, child marriage, unwanted teenage pregnancy, female genital mutilation, and the list goes on. Particularly at the point at which a child becomes an adult, this revelation of gender differentiation occurs. The boy expands his options, expands his autonomy, his access to independence. And the girl contracts, she gets more confined, more constrained, and is subjected to more abuse. This pivot point that is puberty is the beginning of the worst of the gender differentiation. That is where we need to bring a change. Around the world, UNFPA in more than 80 countries is actively engaging men and boys in dialogue.

Who are the men we are trying to engage? Who is the target audience in India?

There is no target audience. It’s everyone. Gender-based violence is an epidemic in India and elsewhere in the world too. You can’t talk about one in three women experiencing violence at least once in their lifetime, in intimate partner relationships, and say it is other than an epidemic. You say one-third of people dying of coronary heart disease, and you call it an epidemic. One-third people dying of HIV, we’d all be in hysterics. Can you imagine? What do we call it? This is one-third of women experiencing violence. What is remarkable is it’s hidden in plain sight—hidden and normalized that it is deemed to be. We need every single man without exception to say “not in my name".

We have to begin at two ends of the spectrum—with young men and particularly in schools, and we have to build into our curricula an overt and explicit discussion about gender relations and in the interest of gender equality. And it involves us talking about a very difficult word—sex. Because it’s through sexual roles and responsibilities that the worse that can be done to a woman plays out. We have to talk about sexual reproductive health, sexually transmitted diseases, why it’s not acceptable for a child to bear a child. And on the other end of the spectrum every single man with power of a formal kind—a judge, a policeman, a priest, a politician, an academic. Every one of those men should use their platforms to spread the message. You cannot say it’s acceptable for a girl to be raped in a bus with people standing around and doing nothing. This isn’t sustainable. India has to earn an image of itself that is true to its history.

When we say men need to be involved in the fight for gender equality and we cannot achieve gender equality without them, how do we ensure this doesn’t mean we are again indirectly giving men more power?

The movement against violence against women (VAW) began with solidarity amongst women. We know nothing about VAW except through voices of the survivors. We know because the survivors have spoken out. This movement has matured only because women started speaking out. And now for this to work comprehensively, we need to create platforms where men can join us. First and foremost, those men who are not violent have to be included. They need to have a space too where they can take a stand. But that’s not the goal. The goal is humanity, human dignity.

And we have to make men’s engagement for a purpose. It’s not men’s engagement for the sake of it. It will only work if the engagement is held accountable to that purpose. And that purpose has to be gender justice. The engagement has to have a goal and the goal will be reduction in violence, reduction in child marriage, increase in contraceptive prevalence, increase in girls in secondary school, increase in women empowerment, increase in the number of women judges, increase of women community leaders, and a total decrease in the number of men who think VAW is acceptable.

How do these words translate into action on the ground?

The great thing about this situation India is in is that everybody has the power to make a difference. But all of us in positions of responsibility have to start talking. The thing that flourishes violence is silence. If you haven’t declared you are against violence against women, you are a part of it. There is nowhere to hide. The conversations have to start in media, in advertising, in schools, in the Parliament, through public hearings in the form of prime ministerial speeches—we need everybody to say it is unacceptable. But we need to invite men and tell them we want them to be a part of the change. In Niger, UNFPA runs husband schools. We have got more than 11,000 new husbands graduate from the schools understanding what it means to be a great husband. Let’s have those kind of conversations.

Based on evidence worldwide, has there been a situation that you think India can replicate?

Cambodia has had a history of genocide. And violence done to women in the course of this genocide was unspeakable—particularly because it had a physical manifestation. Out of that now stands a government and civil society running a programme called Good Men. They are running it in the media, billboards, sending the message to the most remote village, sponsoring a conversation directly and indirectly about what’s the content of a good man. What a great question to ask. What does it mean to be a good man? A good man does not have to beat a woman, he seeks consent for sex, he wants his partner to have access to a nurse and a doctor during pregnancy, a good man wants his children to understand their bodies. I think that would be a fantastic conversation to have in India. UNFPA is exploring other such options that can be replicated in India.

What are the three priority areas for UNFPA in India?

UNFPA’s three priority areas are, firstly, contraceptive choices for women...because if women cannot determine when to be pregnant, how often to be pregnant, how many children to have, then that’s a fundamental barrier to their freedom. Second is getting comprehensive sexuality education right across the national system in collaboration with the government. The third thing is that we need national agenda and clear leadership positions taken at the highest levels of the government, civil society and media. Just a simple declaration, “not in my name—I don’t want it for my wife, I don’t want it for my daughter and I will do whatever it takes to ensure it does not happen in my name, my community, my workplaces".

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