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Apr 5, 2017

Making men an ally on women's rights

Savvy Soumya Misra

Oxfam India is working with non-profit organisation Vanangana in Chitrakoot and Banda district of Uttar Pradesh to create awareness on women's rights through Nukkad Nataks (street plays) and Nigrani Samitis. These Samitis now comprise 2,500 women,mostly belong to the Dalit minority who are one of the worst victims of domestic violence. 

“While it is important to empower women and make them economically independent, it is important to strike at the root of patriarchy. Men and boys have to be brought into the discussion. They have to understand that all forms of violence against women and girls is wrong,” says Surajkali, a project officer at Vanangana, Nukkad natak is an effective medium to engage with men and boys.

Vanangana has engaged with men and boys in the past. Although it has mostly been on a one-on-one basis where they either spoke to the husbands or fathers about letting their wives and daughters to attend meetings or met them during counselling sessions. Since 2016, they have been preparing grounds to engage with men and boys more directly.

Like the Nigrani Samiti, men and boys too have been formed into groups. Since July 2016, 270 men have become members of Purush Samitis in 15 villages. Their meetings are held once every month. Each Samiti has between 15-40 members. For instance, Bharkarra village in Chitrakoot’s Karwi block has a 15-member Purush Samiti. Young boys have been formed into youth groups; at present 222 boys are members of these groups. 

Both men and women are part of Vanangna’s nukkad natak group. The popularity of these street plays is gauged from the huge crowd that gathered for an impromptu play, on the day of our visit. Over 50 adults — both men and women — and equal number of children came for the play. The members of the group usually inform the village in advance about the performance.

The Purush Samitis along with the Nigrani Samiti play a key role in informing the community about the shows. The nukkad nataks touch upon issues of dowry harassment, domestic violence, sexual harassment, child sexual abuse, economic independence, education, and equality. After each performance, the audience is encouraged to give their opinion and discuss issues.

“This helps bring men and women on a common discussion platform. Most women are shy and don’t speak in front of men. So members of Nigrani Samiti take lead. Some men and boys do voice their opinion and discuss their doubts. These arise from deep-rooted social norms,” says Santosh.

For instance, on one hand, there is Kapil, a member of the youth group, who believes that boys and girls should receive equal education, on the other hand are older men, who believe that women are an economic drain. Kallu, a septuagenarian, is an exception though and is often seen reprimanding those who dismiss women or believe that domestic violence is justified. “Mind-sets need to change. Unless it happens girls will continue to be deprived of education and will never be able to become economically independent,” says Kallu.

Broaching issues on gender-based violence, equality of men and women, and social norms directly is usually met with a lot resentment and skepticism. Nukkad nataks is a good way to break the ice, start a conversation and keep the folks engaged.

“Through the plays we have also managed to shift the focus of domestic violence from a husband- wife issue to a larger canvas. Once a man stops seeing thing from a husband’s perspective but as a father, brother, and son he is in a better stead to understand and put an end to violence against women, at home and in the society,” says Surajkali. Vanangna, since 2014, has performed nearly 400 plays in 170 villages.

Read more about Oxfam India's work in the region here.  

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