As violence is on the rise, activists seek men’s role in defending women’s rights

Participants and local activists participating in a rally organised by Hami DajuVai and Dibya Yuwa Club, on the occasion of International Men’s Day, November 19, 2019, in Birgunj. Photo Courtesy: Facebook/ Nepali Brothers

On Wednesday last week (September 23), a 12-year-old girl in Masta rural municipality in Bajhang of far-western Nepal was reportedly murdered after rape. Two days after that, a girl of the same age was killed after she resisted an attempted rape in Sunsari of eastern Nepal.

Whenever Sanjog Thakuri, a man in Kathmandu, hears such news reports, he constantly remembers the notorious Montreal Massacre, a 1989 incident in Canada in which a 25-year-old man murdered 14 women in a span of 20 minutes. Today, the incident is globally recognised as an anti-feminist attack.

However, for Thakuri, who wants to be recognised as a feminist, the Montreal Massacre not only reminds of anti-feminist acts of men but also of men’s role in protecting and promoting women’s rights as several movements that followed the tragic incident highlighted men’s role in defending women’s rights. He says men have a greater share of their responsibilities in helping women in their society enjoy their human rights.

There are many other intellectuals and activists like Thakuri who believe men’s engagement in issues of women could be crucial in promoting women’s rights.

Men’s role

Photo: Unsplash/ Jen Theodore

As the incidents of violence against women were on the rise, Thakuri-led NGO named Nepali Brothers (Hami DajuVai) held a two-day online conference last week to discuss how men could contribute to the fight for women’s rights.

One of the key participants of the conference was writer Sanjeev Uprety. “Men hold more property; they are in top positions in politics, media and different other organisations,” he says, adding men have enjoyed various benefits because of this position in patriarchy, hence, men should be equally active in advocating women’s rights.

Uprety says men should acknowledge their superior positions as the first step of their engagement for women.

However, feminism has been majorly distorted and wrongly understood as a movement against men by many, at least in Nepal. For some,  a ‘feminist’ and ‘feminism’ have negative connotations. In this context, men’s engagement in the feminist movement is rarely discussed in Nepal.

Thakuri has also noted this inaction. “Moreover, there are many who believe men cannot be feminists even if they can be feminist allies or pro-feminists.” However, he thinks men have an equally important role in gender justice.

“It does not mean that men need to unnecessarily glorify what women have been doing all their lives. Neither is it the comparison between the shares of negative impacts of patriarchy on men and women,” Thakuri explains, “It is a movement for social justice and equality for all genders to end systematic discrimination and violence. Men should understand this issue more deeply as they are both perpetrators as well as powerholders.”

So, what should men do now? Like Uprety, Thakuri says, “First, men should understand that they have privilege by birth in this patriarchal society. Our duty is to acknowledge that privilege, and imbalanced power that they possess thanks to this privilege should be not wrongly used.”

“Second comes the accountability of men,” Thakuri explains, “If a man delivers a speech on the necessity of women’s rights at an event, everyone praises him for that. But, the big question remains: is he accountable? Is he committed to this throughout his entire life? It should be exhibited in their daily behaviours.”

Men’s engagement is not an end, people should take it as a means among so many means to achieve the end of gender equality, both Uprety and Thakuri say.

Challenges of men

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

However, there are various challenges that hinder men from coming to the front for the advocacy of women’s rights. Due to the wrong socialisation, when men are engaged in this movement, they are looked down, many times teased and mocked as well. However, Thakuri believes that this should not stop them from being a part of something that they believe in or that they have empathy for.

Corroborating with him, Uprety adds, “They should leave their privilege. This also comes as a major challenge for some men as they are used to it.”

He has noted various stereotypes associated with men in a patriarchy. There is pressure on them to earn name and money for the family; they are not allowed to exhibit their emotions and softness; they should always dominate over women. Now, to be a feminist, they should come out of this stereotypical perception of self, which is equally challenging.

For poet and activist Pranika Koyu, these challenges can not be defeated easily. Koyu says she does not believe that men can be ‘feminists’ as the social structure and the socialisation process in patriarchy has granted men with a lot of privileges which they cannot selflessly share with women. “At least, I have not seen it in their behaviour till date,” Koyu says, “It is evident that the experiences of men and women are totally different and men rarely can empathise with the suffering of women or any people who do not identify themselves as cisgender men.”

“Claiming to be a feminist and actually being the one are different.”

However, there are some women also who believe there are some solutions to such problems and men’s should be encouraged to empathise for women.

Small steps could be meaningful

Volunteers of Nepali Brothers holding an orientation session at Grand Academy, on June 28, 2019. Photo Courtesy: Facebook/ Nepali Brothers

Jaya Luitel, the founder of The Story Kitchen, a private company documenting women’s experiences in Nepali society, says people first should understand feminism as a movement against patriarchy (not men) to encourage men’s participation in the movement.

She clarifies, “Feminism is the not movement against men, it is a movement against patriarchy which gives power to men. For me, it a fight for social justice for all classes, castes, and genders of the society.”

She demands people of all social groups–all genders, all classes, all castes and ethnicities, and all religions–come together and work integratedly for social justice.

Uprety shares some similar views with Luitel, “Acknowledging that patriarchy is not good for both men and women, all people of all genders should come forward in this movement to fight against the deep-rooted patriarchy and its resultant social structure as it is the matter of social justice.”

Adding to this, he says rigid patriarchal gender roles and norms should be challenged in multiple ways. To begin with, men can change their daily behaviours like they can share household chores equally, raising their kids together, and earning together, he suggests.

History of men’s engagement in women’s movement

Photo: Unsplash/ Samantha Sophia

So far, there has been a series of events and campaigns that have promoted the role of men for women across the world. “As a response to the Montreal Massacre, the White Ribbon Campaign, the global movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls, started in 1991 in London. Likewise, in 2004, organisations working on gender issues worldwide founded a network called MenEngage Alliance realising that men also should be involved.”

The movement officially expanded to Nepal in 2007. After that, many progressive organisations launched men engagement programmes and made the strategies accordingly which eventually influenced the government to recognise this.

Gradually, concepts of good husbands and good fathers were programmed and men were also involved in gender-related training programmes. All of these approaches were made to explore how men could counter traditional masculine gender roles.

Also, the Ministry of Women Children Social Welfare (MoWCSW) and UN Women set up men’s networks on preventing violence against women by acknowledging the significance of men engagement in women’s issues. Gradually, men engagement in women’s issues has been addressed by the government at the policy-making level.

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Budhathoki was a correspondent at Onlinekhabar from February 2020 to February 2022.

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