When it comes to economic growth, India is considered one of the countries that is progressing the most. Contrary to this economic front however, on the social front women continually are facing several forms of discrimination. Ghastly incidents of violence against women appear to be on the rise. Reports of domestic violence, sexual harassment in public places, rape and child sex abuse are now common.
But brutal physical violence is not the only way women experience their secondary status in society. From the moment girls are born their life circumstance and opportunities are different from that of boys, much of it due to different social norms and expectations from boys and girls, daughters and sons, women and men. Gender discriminatory norms manifest in society through dowry, early marriage, gender biased sex selection, women's double burden of work both outside and inside the home. Women are commonly married young, quickly become mothers, and are then burdened by domestic responsibilities. They are frequently malnourished since women typically are the last member of a household to eat and the last to receive medical attention.
At the same time there is also need to examine what is going on with boys and men. When the son is given a better share of care and support, this creates a sense of entitlement and privilege. The son is taught to compete, to work hard, to succeed, and to win at all costs. The messages are clear: 'do not cry like a girl', 'do not play with dolls like a sissy, take the gun,' 'do not come into the kitchen, it is women's work'. And thus society creates 'sons' who not only have an overwhelming sense of self importance and privilege, but who have been trained to be strong, tolerate pain, to be angry, to shoot the enemy, to be violent. Silently and efficiently, society remains engaged in reproducing patriarchy.
These social norms drastically affect women's health, financial status, safety, education and political involvement. It has been widely recognised that gender equality cannot be achieved without the involvement of men and boys. Engaging men is significant as gender equality is not just a women's issue, rather, it is an issue for all of us. It is a rights issue because women's rights are human rights. If there has to be a change and improvement in the situation for women and girls in society, then the condition is that there has to be a change in gender norms and ushering in of new human relations in society.
It is important to realise that the vision of ushering in new relationships and norms cannot be achieved only through the efforts of working with and for women alone. For accomplishing the vision of gender equality, the entire society must be engaged in championing change. In addition, we must realise that if women change, men too must change their expectations and aspirations from the women in their family and other women around them. They must cherish their new successes. Men, who today as fathers, brothers or uncles play important roles (often silently) in supporting current discriminatory norms, need to come out openly in support of the sisters, daughters and nieces and change the overall environment which is against the fullest expression and empowerment of women.
It is time to make men equal champions of gender equality. Changing men's expectations of women is related to changing men's expectations from themselves. If success, victory, expression of power and authority no longer remain the sole parameters for what it means to be 'good' or 'successful', men will be under lesser pressure to perform and win. They will have greater opportunities to savour meaningful relationships. This will not only reduce violence and discrmination in society but also improve human relations overall.
The campaign to change gender social norms through promoting men's involvement at the larger scale and translating commitment into action, has come in the wake of the Delhi Declaration and Call to Action (hyperlink) issued by 95 participating nations at the 2nd MenEngage Global Symposium – Men and Boys for Gender Justice (hyperlink) held in New Delhi from Novermber 10-13, 2014. The Ek Saath national campaign for promoting men's involvement for changing discriminatory gender social norms was thus conceptualised with its key approach being men's involvement for gender equality and dismantling patriarchy.