MAVA has been, for over the past 13 years, running a 'Gender Sensitization and Mentoring' Program among young men of 18-20 years, studying in colleges in rural and urban areas of Maharashtra State. Apart from channelizing and developing leadership potential of select men under the Program, capacities of these men are tapped to enable them to be ambassadors of change, championing for women's right to safety and dignity.
Traversing the journey to be a Changemaker making a difference
Amol joined the MAVA youth mentoring project Yuva Maitri in Pune in 2006, but much later than his other classmate friends, Sunil, and Vijay. This was because he generally did not have the time to do anything else apart from farm work and college study. He helped his mother to manage their 3-acre agricultural land and milk the cows, before and after college. His elder brother and sister lived in Pune city for their education with their father who was a rickshaw driver. Amol stayed in the village with his mother and completed graduation at the taluka-level college.
In college, Amol realized that he had missed something very important, which his friends were discussing animatedly- on topics that were closely connected to their day-to-day lives, on gender matters that were bothering them often. Having skipped an important residential training camp organized by MAVA on the subject, Amol took upon himself to catch upon the multi-dimensional aspects of gender equality by reading the materials provided by Harish Sir, discussing with friends, attending sessions organized in colleges and raising questions. Every day he was finding a new Amol within, his love and respect for his mother increased. He started putting himself in her place and understanding her viewpoint. He started pondering over whether he was really gender-sensitive? Was his behavior towards his mother and sister reflecting the change he was finding in himself? He was able to chat with girls more freely as his burden of behaving like a typical male was fading out. He developed closeness with his younger sister and he learnt to accept that she too could have male friends and could take care of herself.
Despite his back-breaking schedule, Amol found time for MAVA activities, making wallpapers and posters on gender theme for college youth, taking sessions in colleges and conducting informal discussions with peers on a wide range of topics. He found himself discussing the same questions that had bothered him and his friends about sexuality, girls, behavior towards women and masculinity with his peers in college and village. At the same time, he was learning new skills of communication, songs, street plays, and storytelling, and gaining information on critical issues like sex-selective abortions, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, declining sex ratio, homosexuality and the broader picture of gender inequality in India.
Amol found his mentors like Harish and friends like Raju Inamdar (Raju Inamdar is an street-theatre activist and trainer who has been associated with MAVA as a Senior Mentor), met peers from groups like Rashtriya Seva Dal (Rashtriya Seva Dal, formed in 1941 by socialists to ensure justice, liberty, equality and fraternity.) and NGOs like MASUM (MASUM- Mahila Sarvangin Utkarsh Mandal, an NGO based in Pune district, works with a feminist perspective and a human rights approach to village development). He participated in a massive protest campaign against the rape of a woman in a neighbouring town, performed in street plays, especially one titled Dhokyachi Ghanta (Warning Bell) on declining sex ratio, and travelled with the “Bell Bajao campaign in select districts run by Breakthrough TV. Amol had found his path ahead. He joined Masters in Social Work (MSW) with monetary support from some of his new found friends in MAVA and in the second year took up a job in an HIV/AIDS project to sustain himself. When he completed MSW in 2010, he got a job of training children and adolescents in sex education and gender equality. In the meantime, he continued his association with MAVA. Whenever there was an opportunity, Amol volunteered with MAVA, thus continually enriching himself and enhancing his multiple skills including leadership and team-building.
In 2015, Amol joined MAVA as the Coordinator for the YuvaTarang project in Dhule and Jalgaon districts. Under his leadership, this project has reached out to more than 300 students from several local colleges. The students are given a 2-day Orientation session, followed by a four day residential training on Gender-Perspective for a selected few. These selected students are then provided 4-day communication skills training, and 4-days of street theater training. Some of the students are now actively taking sessions in colleges with peers and also organizing street plays and awareness events at different locations. The students also formed a social media group so that they are connected to “Amol Sir” in a regular manner. Engaging conversations on so many contemporary topics were encouraged among them through WhatsApp group. Amol says “these young boys are also training me to become adept with new technologies, and be aware of new gender issues and challenges in front of us today.”
Amol though happy with his MAVA work felt torn between his family in Pune and his job which took him 300 km away. His family, consisting of his wife and four-year-old daughter missed him a lot, when Amol was away for work. Amol missed them too, especially because he could’nt contribute to the household chores and take care of his daughter, her tiffin box, studies, toys, outings. Amol says, he generally manages as many household chores as possible as he believes that makes him “an equal in the family”. He cooks, washes dishes, clothes, cleans the house, and even makes and serves tea and snacks when there are guests coming over. One of his personal goals continues to be sharing all household tasks and responsibilities equally with his wife.
While Amol’s expertise in conducting gender equality training and the ease with which he can advocate and persuade young people, remains unmatched, he feels the need to enhance his trainer skills and expand his knowledge base. For example, he speaks about his need to understand the dynamic and complex nexus between patriarchy, religion, and caste, “I am still unraveling the many layers and depths of their linkages so that I can fight it more systematically and use it in future training”. Like a true activist, Amol is a restless young man who is seeking newer ways to reach out to rural youth on gender equality.
Suraj Ashokrao Savitabai Pawar
Freed from shackles of religious fundamentalism
Suraj had succeeded in the competitive admission process at Tata Institute of Social Sciences and was the only male to get entry in the Women-Centred Practice Class. He was placed at MAVA for field-work exposure as a student during his first year. He found MAVA’s vision and mission unique. As a student trainee, he got exposure to all the trainings, campaigns, and mass awareness events as well as opportunity to read and enhance his knowledge and perspective. Suraj said, “After MAVA’s training my perspective towards society changed and I started finding out gender biases within and around me. I learnt that as a male in the society I have so many privileges which I can undo for shaping a gender-equal society.”
He observed the orientation and training sessions and read all the available materials at MAVA. After a few weeks, he was made a co-trainer, which turned out to be very helpful. He could learn different methods and strategies to communicate ideas on gender issues with youth from senior trainers and experts. Later on, he got several opportunities to take interactive sessions in colleges located in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane districts. The exposure to different activities of MAVA made Suraj realize that he liked being a trainer on gender issues through a two-way dialogue that enriched him immensely.
Self-reflection and Mentoring Others
For Suraj, it was not just a matter of training others on being gender sensitive but changing himself to believe and practice it. It was not easy for Suraj who came from a strict, traditional and religious family in Washim district. His father’s word was ‘the law’ in his family. Suraj was taught that doing good deeds and following the religious path would earn him ‘punya’. After 12th standard he was sent him to Pune to pursue a graduation in Commerce. Suraj took help from family friends to set up base in the new city. He recalls he was staying in a Hindu temple with a priest and he was expected to do all the temple chores like cleaning the place, reciting shlokas, reading religious texts, be a strict vegetarian, practice yoga, etc. In return he was paid Rs. 700 and got free lodging and boarding.
In college, during one of his meetings as a volunteer at National Service Scheme (NSS), Suraj attended a session on gender from Samyak (Samyak, is a Communication and Resource Centre on gender, masculinities, health and development) . The topic interested Suraj enough for him to join a certificate course in women’s studies at the University of Pune. This new field was like a voyage of discovery for him and more interesting than his commerce studies. For completing his graduation studies, he received a fellowship from CORO (CORO, an NGO in Mumbai provided fellowships to those aiming to work in communities) which gave him the opportunity to work in communities and groups like Samyak and Lokayat. (Lokayat, an activists group based in the city of Pune) These experiences motivated him to do post-graduation in social work. Suraj felt he had found the real path for contributing concretely to society. He convinced his conservative family that there was much scope for a career in social work and joined TISS.
Readings on dalit, women’s movements and other literature during college days gradually weaned him from the traditional Hindutva ideology which he was following. The progressive literature widened his horizons and he was able to question religious dogma and change his outlook.
After MAVA trainings, he started to communicate with his friends on sensitive issues very confidently. One of his close friends remarked, “You think more about relationships. You understand me better than earlier”. Another one said that he talks more about gender and equality now when discussing something. One of his ‘whats app’ friend commented, “You think and comment differently than others”. He has also become a role model to his younger brother and 10 year old nephew who interacts with him on any topic. Suraj feels he is able to communicate with his mother also more easily. His mother noticed and said, “You understand what is going on in my mind”. She feels he now shares and cares about her household work. His father is happy that he is taking on more family responsibilities”. His guide at TISS commented that he was showing a sharpened perspective on gender matters.
For Suraj, it has been a personal victory; to move from one end of the spectrum to the other end; from faith in the traditional religious practices to questioning and opposing patriarchy and religious norms.
Yet a long way to go
Suraj accepts that taking gender equality ahead is very difficult as there are still so many people in our society who challenge and question the very notion of equality. He feels the need to evolve some strategies to convince them. He said, “People like my father will not change because they have always lived with those beliefs...”
Suraj finds himself persistently analysing his own thoughts and actions and feels he has to change some more. He needs support from mentors, colleagues, and friends. He knows there will be frictions at home on the issue of marriage. But currently he is aiming to do his M.Phil./ PhD and join the academics. He would like to continue taking sessions with MAVA as his present job at Micro-Housing Finance Corporation gives him that freedom. As a trainer he feels he needs to prepare some modules that would be suitable for young people who have greater exposure and reading under their belt. He also feels that he could benefit from some additional inputs, interactions with experts on gender and behaviour change.
When placed with a feminist organisation doing similar gender training activities in the second year of social work training, he realised that he connected with MAVA in a distinct way. “It gave much more than just a field experience. I got a feeling of belonging to a family... of being part of MAVA... Harish Sir shares information about what is happening in the field so that I can attend various events and be updated. He invites me to conduct trainings wherever possible. Plus, the connection with Study Circles and ‘Meets’ organised by NGOs keeps me linked to newer ideas and debates in the field”.