Dr. Nandini Azad talked about the importance of the new IFES initiative.
A new IFES project aims to change the attitudes of young Indian men toward
women, transforming them from “potential perpetrators” of abuse and
female inequality to the protectors of women’s rights. The project, “Youth
Forums Against Gender Based Violence,” was launched in June in Karnataka.
IFES is working with an Indian nongovernmental organization, the Independent
Commission for People’s Rights and Development, on the new project. The
commission’s member secretary, Dr. Nandini Azad, talked about the importance
of the initiative at IFES’ Washington headquarters on July 10.
Gender bias is common in many third-world nations, but it is especially notable
among impoverished regions in countries like India and China. Domestic violence,
sex-selection abortions and neglect of female children are a few examples of
the gender bias practices often seen in India’s patriarchal society. IFES,
with the support of USAID, is working to eliminate such practices and ensure
equal rights in democratic societies through its Gender and Law initiative.
The youth forums currently are identifying youth leaders who will then talk
to their peers about how to identify and prevent domestic violence. The program
includes discussion about traditional gender roles and women’s equality
in a democratic society.
Azad said the program has already met with some resistance.
“In one village there was stoning,” she said, explaining that some
villagers threw small pebbles in protest of a public discussion that involved
sexual content. No one was injured and the villagers eventually came to understand
and accept the program’s main message.
Azad said the program’s strength comes from the women mentors who reside
in the local villages of Karnataka and Rajasthan. Field researchers have been
able to collaborate with local civil society organizations to identify local
youth in 120 villages who seemed responsive to the project and work with them
to clarify sexual attitudes, answer questions and support their changing perspectives.
The program also uses street theater performances to get its gender equality
message across. In one instance, a member of parliament participated in one of
these skits that showed how families treat female and male children differently.
The parliament member taught the family to treat the female child equally by
taking her broom and sweeping for her, then teaching her how to read.
“That’s a big thing for us,” said Azad. “That was
Azad said she believes one way to solve the issue of female inequality in India
is to encourage female employment. She said that if more women have jobs, they
will have a stronger position from which to sensitize their male children and
convince society of the importance of women’s rights and equality.