Advent 4

To Young Women and Men seeking Gender Justice

Education is one of the cornerstones of EKTA’s work to eradicate poverty – girls, women, and others are relegated to second-class citizens – they work longer hours, earn less money, have no power in decision-making, and are often subject to violence. By working with students they have seen change happen – improved respect for each other, safer homes and public facilities, stronger legislation and campaigns to stop violence based on gender. At a time when tensions are increasing within their city, EKTA is working hard to increase tolerance and understanding across the many communities where they work.

EKTA staff are familiar figures on the Kamarajar University campus in the city of Madurai, south India. One fixture on their schedule is a media class. Head of the Communications Department Dr Nagarathinam warmly welcomes three EKTA staff members to the room where they meet. He encourages the 25 students to participate fully in a workshop that will help them explore the role the media has in contributing to gender relations in their communities.

Used to listening to lectures and displaying their intellectual knowledge, the Masters and PhD students are thrown by the first question: “What do you like about yourself?” There is silence before tentative answers from a few brave students.

The second question is harder: “What changes would you like to see in Madurai (the city where they live)?” Eventually, they arrive at ‘a casteless, equal society’ – without qualification or detail. By this time the students know the teaching method is as different as the content.

EKTA coordinator Bimla Chandrasekar divides the class into smaller groups. Each group is to draw a male and female figure and list their attributes. The answers are predictable: men are stronger and dominant, women submissive and good looking.
With the stereotypes on the table, the class is ready to explore how they have been formed over time, especially through social institutions like the media, and what they mean for women and men. More discussion follows after watching a video and studying news items to identify the ways they portray gender roles. It is a simple lesson perhaps, but important for young people finding their place in an industry that has the power to shape perceptions and behaviour.

This media class is only one on a busy schedule. In the course of the year, EKTA will engage 1,000 -1,500 students of all ages on gender issues. From playing games like netball to more academic study, they have many ways of engaging students who want to make society better.

Interested students get more involved. EKTA trains interns who in turn work with others. College students are encouraged to audit part of their campus, examining how the spaces are used by young women and men and preparing a ‘vulnerability map’ of the unsafe spaces. Others will audit a public facility for gender safety.

For the last few years, they have chosen one of Madurai’s main bus shelters for their practical exercise. The students spend time observing and talking to passengers. After analysing their results, the group devises recommendations to discuss with their trainers before developing an action plan with EKTA.

In five years, the students and EKTA have achieved cleaner facilities, increased police presence, a schedule that ensures women can get off under a streetlight at night, and this year a shelter for deserted children to help prevent child trafficking (pictured above).

Be the Lifeline to men and women campaigning to end violence and for the safety and rights of women and girls in their communities.

EKTA

Formed in 1990, EKTA has a strong reputation for its work on gender justice, focusing on governance, human rights and masculinity. The organisation works in Madurai and in rural villages where there are few educational opportunities and little support for young men and women who may have survived abuse. After the South Asia tsunami in 2004, they set up a boarding school for Dalit and Tribal girls at the request of their families.

Discrimination based on gender begins before birth in India where girl babies are more likely to be aborted. In the most recent figures, the ratio of live babies born tipped further toward boys. 898 girl babies were born per 1000 boys, compared with 906 in 2012-14. As girls grow up they continue to face discrimination, watching their brothers eat better food, doing more work, and missing school. In Tamil Nadu, the Sumangali scheme enables families to send their young daughters to work in exploitative conditions in the textile industry for example, with the promise of money for their dowry if they last the distance.

EKTA is playing a statewide coordinating role on SDG5 (see below), undertaking research and bringing together NGOs, universities and public officials for better gender outcomes.

EKTA coordinates local events on international campaigns including the annual One Billion Rising push to stop violence against women and girls (pictured above). The event inspires women of all ages to be strong and support each other for gender justice. It includes an action related to the audit of a public facility by students under EKTA’s guidance. This year the local authorities opened a lost children’s office at the Periya Bus Shelter which is run by EKTA under contract.

“Increasingly, it is certain that unless young men and boys work together and alongside women and young girls to empower women and girls and eradicate the unjust and oppressive gender based stereotypes of the past, the realization of true gender equality will still remain a distant dream.” EKTA

 

SDG5  Gender Equality

The 2018 Appeal puts the spotlight on our responsibilities to each other and the planet our home. In 2015, the United Nations agreed to a new agenda for sustainable development made up of 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Goal 5 is a commitment to achieve equality and empower all women and girls. Equality is about realising their basic human rights and crucial for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world. When girls and women have equal access to education, decent work, healthcare, and political rights, they can make a greater contribution to global well-being.

According to UNWomen, 1 in 5 women aged 15-49 years reported physical and/or sexual violence across 87 countries, and 49 countries have no laws specifically protecting women from violence. Eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation is one target under SDG5. Other targets cover discrimination against women and girls, recognising paid and unpaid work, sharing responsibilities in raising children and the home, women’s full participation in leadership and decision-making and universal access to sexual and reproductive health. In addition, the goal covers rights over land and economic resources as well as policies to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

Globally in 2017, an estimated 21 percent of women between 20 and 24 years of age reported that they were married or in an informal union before age 18. This means that an estimated 650 million girls and women today were married in childhood. Rates of child marriage have continued to decline around the world. In Southern Asia, a girl’s risk of marrying in childhood has dropped by over 40 percent since around 2000.

Gender justice is achieved when women and men, girls and boys have equal enjoyment of human rights, responsibilities, life prospects and opportunities, and the power and resources to shape their own lives and contribute to society, irrespective of gender or sex. Gender justice seeks to see all people free from cultural and interpersonal systems of privilege and oppression, and from violence and repression based on gender.”
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