It must be noted that gender occupies prime position in the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Apart from gender equality, ending poverty and hunger, universal education, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health are the other four goals where the role of women is critical and needs universal recognition.
This makes one realise that women empowerment hinges, among other things, primarily on changing the traditional mindset of men. If men continue to not understand the meaning of women’s rmpowerment, or if they wantonly ignore the applied gender-justice principals, it often adds to the agony of women, already under the burden of changing expectations in the midst of unchanged social climate.
Decades ago, Acharya Dada Dharmadhikari, a well-known Gandhian and Sarvodaya leader, had advocated what can be described as “reverse discrimination” within the four-walls of our homes. In traditional societies, when women started occupying all those spaces that were traditionally considered the sole reserves of men, family-centric societies started experiencing upheavals. It also created a picture of apparent imbalance. To correct this, as prescribed by Dada Dharmadhikari, what was needed was men’s entry into and occupation of those areas that were and are traditionally considered women’s only.
To correct this, building capacities of men through change-mindset training is the only effective way. We, at Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini, which is South Asia’s only training institute for elected representatives, has been doing this for a decade, right after quotas for women at the local government level were implemented in Maharashtra. Our experience in the context of a structured training aimed at changing the male mindset has been very interesting and the results very insightful.
After conducting a series of interactive training workshops for municipal councillors and other elected representatives, we have drawn four main conclusions. First, it is a must that men take extra effort towards understanding a woman’s world: women, their life-approach, their role in the family, their expectations and revisiting the typicality of the male view about these issues. Second, there is a need for men to empathise with women: understanding the psychological-emotional process that women go through and then developing an intellectual understanding of it. Third, men need to recognise that gender equality is integral to the concept of social justice. And last, understanding and pro-actively utilising the inherent leadership qualities of women while ungrudgingly accepting the fact that women are better managers. At the practical level, one may also think of introducing a set of behavioural norms or do’s and don’ts to ensure that gender justice gets translated in our day-to-day lives.
For women to be able to walk freely and fearlessly, the one small but powerful step needed is to create enabling environs for them to gain a firm foothold, be it in politics or governance. Sadly but truly, empowering men with the ability to think in this way has become the precondition of genuine and effective women empowerment. The sooner both men and women understand this, the better.