Positive Gender Social Norms For A Better Society

Positive Gender Social Norms For A Better Society

The age-old and deep-rooted social norms play a significant role in impacting and fuelling violence against women and girls (VAWG) and child, early and forced marriages (CEFM) in society. Creating Spaces project which has been implemented by Oxfam India in five states—Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh—aimed at ending VAWG and CEFM and promoting positive gender social norms by engaging different stakeholders in society.

At the two-day learning event organised in Kolkata, all the influencers—NGO partners, caste leaders, PRI members, champions, members of youth and women’s groups—who have been associated with CS project in their respective states, narrated their experiences, visible impact and changes made in their lives and that of the community.

Sharing the journey of the last four years they said how patriarchal mindset imposes social norms in society to wield control over gender and caste. A few shared how after attending CS meetings the women would get the courage to attend and put forth their issues in social meetings, Panchayat meetings and Gram Sabhas. The positive aspect of attending meetings was that more women came forward to speak about their experiences of violence at home and public places and filed cases. The survivors also attended Panchayat meetings and their issues were heard. The meetings with village heads, religious leaders, caste leaders and PRI members helped to stop child, early and forced marriages and other gender-based violence in community. The youths, especially men and boys said that after attending CS meetings they understood various laws and rights related to women and girls, and that was an eye opener for them.

Regular gender orientation training of government officials and service providers sensitised them towards issues of survivors. They helped survivors to link with different schemes, benefits and programmes to make them economically sustainable. The participants emphasised that the economical sustainability of survivors of gender-based violence need to be prioritised. Through CS project, the influencers advocated for resource rights, land rights and labour rights of women. Besides, they influenced community to recognise care work of women and encourage the participation of male members in household work. This allowed women to participate in other income-generation work. The champion influencers and PRI members also fought for equal wages for equal work in their community.

Capturing The Narratives

The support of influencers is incredibly important in promoting and protecting women’s and girls’ rights. That was reflected when the influencers narrated their experiences at the learning event. The Jharkhandi Samaj which once traditionally accepted the marriage of children (both son and daughter) at the age of 12, has now changed the age-old social norms. The issue was put-forth before Panchayat leaders at Gram Sabhas. And norm such as, ‘Girls do not have freedom to take decision of their marriages and if they get older it will dishonour their family’, was done away with.

In remote villages of Chhattisgarh, the age-old social norm was that only male members could take decisions for the community. The elected women PRI representatives were not allowed to sit, speak and take decisions in development work along with other male Sarpanchs. The village heads in fact let the husbands of the women PRI members sit on chairs, alongside them. The influencers took decision to change the age-old social norm and now women PRI members are participating in discussions on various Panchayat related issues. The social norm that, ‘women do not have decision making and leadership power’ was done away with.

In Bihar’s Kishanganj, as is in most places, the ‘participation of divorced women (both in Hindu and Muslim communities) was not acceptable in family and public places and they were also not allowed to attend public meetings’. The partner organisation, with the support of women’s groups and influencers changed the age-old social norm and invited them to participate in the meetings, speak out, and share. The influencers shared that they managed to change the norm that, ‘men can control mobility of women and girls and only women have to do household work’. They said, male members are now participating in household works and girls ride cycles to schools and colleges, without any restriction or objection.

Samir from Odisha’s Kalahandi district how they managed to break the social  taboo around menstruation. Along with other youth in the village, he made short films shot on their mobiles to create awareness and sensitise the elders. They managed to break the myth that menstruating women are a curse.

Sashi from Uttar Pradesh said, how the society around her believed that, ‘a girl has no right to take decision about her future’. During lockdown her friend’s parents wanted to marry her off in order to minimise their expenditure. But the girl wanted to continue her studies. After repeated discussions, the parents were finally persuaded to stop her marriage and let her continue with her studies.

Sharing an example of changing social norm, an influencer pointed out that boys in the community were helping in household works, which was earlier confined to women only. The norm that, ‘only women only have to do household work’ has been done away with. Today, villagers are living happily, supporting each other and violence against women and girls has reduced in their community.

Economically Empowering Women

At the event, women leaders spoke about how they raised their voice against violence against women and girls, discrimination on wages, early and forced marriages. They sensitised men regarding rights of the women, which helped to minimise the number of child marriages and gender-based violence in their community. They emphasised that women should raise voice against violence that they face in public or in private spaces. Education will help girls get the same opportunity as boys and defer forced marriage. Suggestions to conduct sensitisation programme for men and boys in different Panchayats and organise awareness programme for women on various laws to fight for their rights, poured in from different quarters.

The participants stressed on the need for young girls to be trained and linked with different skill development programmes. While ensuring livelihood opportunities can make them sustainable, training on financial and legal literacy will make them empowered. They suggested setting up of help desk or support centres at Panchayat level.

The women leaders said, most of the women internalise that they don’t have any right over their income, thus there is a need to discuss this issue and make them aware of their rights over income. Also the economic right of women needs to be discussed with government officials on a regular basis. Women (survivors) who are interested to start their business, should be trained, their capacities built, provided training and financial support through CS project. They said, in most of the cases it was seen due to lack of financial support the trained women are unable to proceed to start their business. Informed, aware and economically empowered women can fight for their rights. They also emphasised that contribution of women in household work should be recognised in the society.

There were nearly 100 participants—youth champions, caste leaders, women leaders— who attended the two-day Learning event and shared their experiences. The event was also attended by Oxfam India Programme Director Pankaj Anand, Gender Justice Programme Lead, Amita Pitre, Regional Managers, and other team members of CS project of Oxfam India.

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