Members of Forum to Engage Men for gender equality (FEM) are deeply shocked and condemn the recent gang rape in a Delhi bus.
However, we would also like to express our concern about how we address the issues of violence. Many of the measures being suggested in the media– increased police protection, clear bus windows, etc., while important, may only be addressing the symptoms when it is now imperative to address the disease – deep seated issues of gender inequalities and masculinities that allow these atrocities to happen. As well, while we believe that swifter mechanisms of justice and better policing procedures are important, we do not subscribe to the notion that simply having greater police presence will address an issue that relates to social attitudes towards women. That is say, a quantitative increase in the number of police personnel will not, if it is not accompanied by a different set of attitudes towards gender relations on the part of the police, address the root causes of the problem of sexual assault. We firmly believe that a mixture of short and long term measures are required. Short term measures might include inculcating a different set of social attitudes towards women and sexual assault among police personnel and the judiciary, practical assurances that by-stander who intervene in preventing situations of violence are not themselves implicated in police cases, and, quicker disposal of rape cases by the legal system. With respect to the long term measures – which we believe to be the most effective ways of lessening incidence of sexual assault,-- it is crucial that we address the ways in which we bring up our sons. For, this is at the root of men’s attitudes towards women and also at the heart of violence against women. Long term measures must include school-level education about gender equality, programmes that address the connection between violence and masculinity, and, those that problematise the notion that ‘rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman’.For, the latter attitude is, typically, masculine one that betrays complete lack of concern for the female victim and, implicitly, articulates issues of male honour where a man feels that he has not been able to ‘protect’ the women under his care. These are precisely the kinds of attitudes that are at the heart of gender inequality and violence against women, including sexual violence.
Millions of Indian men are impacted by the hegemonic notions that men must express their power through aggressive and violent behavior. We must establish that it is not a “natural” inclination that makes men violent, but a flawed construction of masculinity that thrives due to the way society promotes patriarchy and its control over women. It is time for us, as men, to engage other men in this discussion, time for men to show that we can lead non-violent lives, and to stand up for women’s right to live free from the fear of gender based discrimination.
Forum to Engage Men (FEM) is a network of individuals and organisations working to get men from different Indian contexts involved in the fight for gender equality. The challenge ahead of us is vast, but our past work shows that men can change and become socially accountable as caring partners and responsible citizens.