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Learn Masculinity From Mahatma Gandhi?

By Nasiruddin Haider Khan

21 July, 2009

Dhaka: "Women have raised their voices against gender-based violence. They have fought for policies and laws. But now it is high time that women's movement should engage men. There are enormous challenges to counter violence against women. Without involving men, it is not possible to prevent gender based violence."

This is James Lang. A strong advocate of engaging men for domestic violence prevention. He is leading “Partners for Prevention,” a joint programme on working with boys and men to prevent gender based violence initiated by four United Nations organizations namely UNDP, UNFPA, UNIFEM and UNV.

Recently during a South Asian regional consultation in Dhaka, Bangladesh, I got the opportunity to throw few questions to him. I was one of the participants of this consultation on Engaging men and boys for gender equality and violence prevention

"Gender relations involve both men and women. Generally this relationship is unequal. Structural dynamics are also against women. This inequality leads to gender based violence", he summarizes the issue in these words.

On the other hand, Satish Singh of Men's Action for Stopping Violence Against Women (MASVAW), a network working with men in Uttar Pradesh, India puts it like this; "if men are part of the problem then they have to be part of the solution too. They are the ones who determine masculine social values and laws. "

However both James and Satish quickly add, violence is not natural to boys and men. They learn this behavior during their lifetime. It is part of their socialization processes. Therefore, according to James, "a non-violent masculinity image can be promoted as an alternative to the macho man image. So, it is very necessary to work with men for an alternative idea of masculinity." Satish elaborates, "if all the men of world are not perpetrator of violence, then rest of the men also can become non-violent."

"This is necessary for peaceful, harmonious and caring relationship. There is an urgent need to see men not only as a perpetrator but also as a human being", James points out. Whereas Satish opines, "violence also affects men. Therefore they have to learn how to respect human rights of others."

This movement for engaging men for gender equality and violence prevention has lot of expectation from South Asia. As James points out, "in this region you will find several examples of alternate masculinity that are non-violent. They are the people who pour love and affection. They are sensitive to the women and children.... and who will be the best example other than Mahatma Gandhi?"

"Was Gandhi not a man", asks James. He elaborates on his idea, "all religion advocates peace and caring relation. Why not people see the Buddhist monk of Bhutan? There are people like political leaders, film stars, sports persons, who are men of caring and non-violence. They talk about love, affection and peace. Why not we look at masculinity from this angle? They are indeed a positive example of masculinity."

Because, according to James, "whether it is Hollywood or Bollywood, their films depict a male hero with muscle power and gun fights with another male to get the girl. These male hero with chiseled body and armed with weapons create the image of "real man". This image gets ingrained in the boys. They imitate and try to replicate this image in real life."

"But can anybody get the love of a girl by violent means?" James threw the question.

No.. not at all... What he gives and gets is violence and only violence.

South Asian countries will work together

South Asian countries will work together to engage men for gender equality and violence prevention. Their special focus will be on boys. Not only that, effort will be made to put forward the concept of alternative masculinity. These have been decided in a consultation in Dhaka, Bangladesh last month. This consultation is organised under the banner of "Partners for Rrevention", which is an umbrella programme jointly initiated by UNFPA, UNDP, UNIFEM, UNV. Among the participants were representatives of different networks, civil society organizations, teachers, journalists of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and UN organizations.

A slightly different version of this series had been published in Hindi daily Hindustan. Nasiruddin Haider Khan is a Hindi journalist based in Lucknow and a researcher in gender issues. His website is and he can be reached at


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