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‘Men are not born violent’

Shoma A Chatterji |

MAVA which is an acronym for Men Against Violence and Abuse (of women and girls) or MAVA is a unique organisation which has turned into a powerful movement over the years. On 11 March 2018, the organisation celebrated its 25th birthday in its founding city, Mumbai.

The organization was founded by Harish Sadani was brought up in a community housing home where as a child he witnessed his neighbours’ lives up close, observing how women faced oppression and violence even at home. His father’s willingness is sharing daily chores with the women at home and his paternal aunts’ influence left a strong imprint, making him question stereotypes.

While studying at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, he increasingly questioned the exclusion of men in every issue related to any movement that studied, researched and explored violence against girls and women.

“All of us feel as if naturally gravitated towards identifying men as perpetrators, not participants in this movement. Why? If men are always seen as part of the problem and never as part of the solution, then how can we really address the root cause of the gender problem?” Harish asked himself.

Harish’s argument is based on the truth that men are not born violent. Their violent acts are conditioned by the patriarchal society’s image of masculinity which becomes a trap they cannot come out of.

“I strongly felt that it was time to question this cultural and sociological construct of masculinity in men and help them break out of it because they are the ones who need to be emancipated from this trap,” says Harish and the seeds of MAVA were sown right then.

He pioneered efforts in 1991 among men to get into the root cause of gender-based violence by establishing Men Against Violence & Abuse.

“My work is committed towards shaping a men’s movement that engages young men to be ‘part of the solution’ and help stop and prevent gender-based violence on women,” he adds. The official formation of MAVA took place on 11 March 1993.

Scene of streetplay at Tardeo Circle.

 

MAVA has strived hard to engage with boys and men from rural and urban Maharashtra to address issues of gender inequality and discrimination by challenging existing dominant model of masculinity and help prevent gender-based violence against women. MAVA has worked with multiple communities from educational, residential, commercial, remote, rural, semi-urban and urban surroundings through education, art and advocacy.

Today, these trained young men use several unconventional tools to reach out to peers and other young men to instil in them a reverence towards girls and women which also means respecting themselves.

Among these are interactive gender-sensitization sessions, residential workshops, a men’s magazine brought out annually, periodically posted wall-newspapers, FAQ booklets, street theatre performances, film screenings, elocutions and other special campaigns.

“These processes of trying to work out a transformation in the mindsets of growing men give them the courage to challenge traditional gender roles and stereotypes. This has moved towards the evolution of positive models of masculinity that are gender-balanced and non-hierarchical. All this smoothly gravitates towards empowerment of women in their personal lives.

“Extending the age-old philosophy of ‘charity begins at home’, the youngsters take a stand on behalf of any injustice towards women and girls within their own families such as mothers, sisters, aunts and brother’s wives. Upholding the woman’s right to a life of dignity and safety is one of MAVA’a major goals.

Under Harish’s leadership, MAVA has been building the movement through cultural advocacy, counselling and educational programs, particularly for the youth.

Among the many projects is Umang aimed at empowering adolescent boys from slum communities in Mumbai. Some 20 boys have been engaged and mentored on issues of sexual health, masculinity and violence against women. This year, these boys wish to ontinue this program with 40 adolescent boys and help promote a gender-equal, violence free society.

Scene of Street-Play put up at Kamathipura

 

Samabhav (meaning Equanimity) is a two-day travelling film festival that focusses on gender equality, masculinity, sexuality and relationship issues That began its journey in October 2017. It travelled to eight cities and four districts, reaching out to over 2,000 youths from colleges, universities and private communities.

Around 18 national and international short films, documentaries and feature films on gender were screened at these 12 destinations. There were gender rights activists, journalists, film-makers and academicians discussing the social issues based on the films screened to stimulate and discuss solutions for the youths to strive for a gender-equal society. The festival travelled to Delhi, Coimbatore, Bangalore, Kolkata, Gujarat, Mumbai, Kolhapur, Pune, Thrissur, Miraj, Shirpur and Jalgaon.

Harish has been awarded the Ashoka Changemakers’ Award (US), Maharashtra Foundation Award (US), Civil Society Karmaveer Puraskar, the Muktaa Sanman Award by IBN and Gender Diversity Award by Sandvik Asia Pvt. Ltd.. Harish is currently a Consultant and Trainer to Corporates, Universities and NGOs on anti-sexual harassment at workplace and other gender matters.

Gender Bender (in Hindi) – a 20 minute gripping street play, collectively written and directed by undergraduate student leaders from nine colleges trained by MAVA, is performed for various groups in Mumbai and outside the city.

The play is based on gender diversity and covers the traditional notions of masculinity and femininity to build newer ideas on being a man and a woman along with gender diverse and inclusive society.

MAVA under the guidance and mentorship of Harish who is totally committed to this movement, the core team of youth mentors have evolved innovative, youth-friendly tools and methodologies to engage the mentees periodically on a wide range of contemporary gender and sexuality matters, honing their perspective, sensitivity and leadership skills.

Through strategic collaborations with schools, colleges, universities, women’s groups, youth associations and other civil society bodies, the ‘mentored’ young men have up-scaled work in 9 districts of Maharashtra state influencing over 2,00,000 peers and other young men and adolescent boys and spreading messages on women’s rights to safety and dignity.

Many organisations across Maharashtra and few outside the state have been inviting MAVA to conduct trainings on gender for their staff and youths associated with their work.