A UNFPA report, Blank Noise and including men

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has released a new report that offers 10 case studies from across the globe, which show how interventions that adapt to local contexts can actually reduce gender-based violence. Their online flash-based exhibition on this here.

The report emphasizes that communities can become critical of their own cultural practices if they’re provided with locally-sourced evidence of the harm they cause women and their families.

UNFPA’s Executive Director Thoraya Obaid also says that persistent advocacy targeting community leaders and the larger public can bring about huge changes in a relatively short time and gender-based violence is not a given in any society. They have also outlined the key lessons, which are simple but often missed by development projects, which I suggest you read.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend the other day on how Blank Noise Project needs to think about sensitizing the men as a logical next step for the program, if they aren’t already doing so. A three-pronged approach to street harassment may go some way in addressing this rampant problem.

  1. Creating awareness among women; driving home the message that we do not have to put up with this and that there are choices; encouraging them to fight. BNP has done commendable work in this direction. People are talking about street harassment and looking at it as a real problem. The blog-a-thon on March 8 invited participants to talk about their experiences of fighting back.
  2. Sensitizing community leaders and the larger male public about the harmful effects of street harassment. Men Can Stop Rape is a very good example of how this is being done. Men Can Stop Rape basically mobilizes young men to challenge harmful aspects of traditional masculinity, to value alternative visions of male strength, and to embrace their vital role as allies with women and girls in fostering healthy relationships and gender equity. More details on their website.
  3. Sensitizing the police about street harassment with the aim of building a more responsive legal framework to address the problem. Karnataka State Police and UNICEF are already running a gender sensitization project to make the police more people-friendly. I don’t know how much of the project deals with street harassment but its an angle worth exploring.

Ultimately, any movement towards a more free and equal society cannot succeed without the participation of all stakeholders. In this case, the primary stakeholders are the victims and the offenders themselves. To bring about change, one needs to apply business principles in a calculated and process-centric manner and convince men on why they should change. (In any business deal, the key is to persuade the other person that he needs what you are trying to sell.)

And if it sounds like too capitalist an approach, let’s try to remember that their methods are usually effective, even if suspect in terms of intention.

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