- Boys rarely speak about sexual abuse as they feel ashamed
- They struggle with notions on what constitutes a 'real man'
- The government programmes are centred around girl child. Boys are left out.
Mumbai: Inside a community centre at Mumbai’s Dharavi slum, Umair Khan teaches a group of young boys the difference between good and bad touch.
The 20-year-old is a community organiser with Sneha – Society for Nutrition Education and Health Action. He works with the NGO’s youth programme Ehsaas which, since 2013, has reached out to over 6,000 adolescents and youth between the ages of 15-24 in Mumbai’s slums.
“Like girls, boys too are victims of sexual abuse,” says Mr Khan. “But boys rarely speak about it as they feel ashamed,” he adds.
As a young boy, Mr Khan experienced abuse. “The abusers were older boys in the neighbourhood. I was scared that I would be targeted again and it took me years before I spoke up. I don’t want anyone to suffer the way I did,” he tells NDTV.
At over 243 million, India has the largest adolescent population in the world, as per UNICEF’s 2011 report. However, down the decades, the focus of government programmes has been early marriage and early pregnancy, which is centered on young girls. Boys have been largely left out.
The National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-3 makes a compelling case for interventions among boys. Over 50% of boys between 15-24 years are in the labour force as per NFHS-3 data, while over 80% are married. One out of every five boys between 10-19 years is illiterate.
Over the years, there has been a growing realisation that there is an urgent need for specific interventions among young boys and men who too are victims of rigid gender norms. They struggle with notions of what constitutes a real man.
Being sexually active with various women is seen as a cultural sign of virility and the fallout is a lack of understanding of women’s rights.
Research has shown that men are also victims of many forms of violence, primarily at the hands of other men, and stand to gain from moving towards gender equality.
“Adolescent boys commit sexual crimes because there is a lack of appropriate orientation on sexuality and about matters like consent,” says Neeta Karaindikar, Associate Director, Ehsaas.
“Our films and advertisements show women in a very poor light and boys look at them as item numbers. We have to change this by working with the next generation, to make them see women as equal partners,” she adds.
Ehsaas does this through a mix of street plays and community meetings with adolescents and their families.
“Before I joined Ehsaas, I expected my sisters to do the household work,” says Shahid Shaikh, a community organiser.
“Now I know differently. We teach young boys to question stereotypes that allow boys to play outdoors but force girls into doing household chores. Gradually we are seeing a change,” he adds.
An impact report done six months after Ehsaas was launched in Dharavi has shown positive signs. Over 70% of boys and girls said that both genders should have equal freedom; nearly a 20% improvement.
Reaching out to boys comes with many challenges, as Pravin Katke, a coordinator with Equal Community Foundation points out. The foundation reaches out to boys between 14-17 years from low-income communities in the slums of Pune.
“In the areas that we work in, there is a high rate of school dropouts. There is also a tendency towards risky behaviour and addictions,” adds Mr Katke.
Through interactive sessions and games, the foundation tries to find out what is going on in the boys’ lives and the gender dynamics in the families.
“We have a curriculum where we talk about gender equality, violence, relationships, sexuality and adolescence,” says Mr Katke.
“We raise different situations and discuss their responses,” he adds.
To facilitate a larger change in the mindset, peer educators also meet with the parents every few weeks.
To prevent violence against women and build gender equality, one has to go back to the homes and communities where boys are raised, believes William Muir, co-founder, Equal Community Foundation.
“Boys across all environments are learning that successful men earn money and command respect through aggression and violence,” says Mr Muir.
“When you help them reflect on whether those messages are right or fair, they will start taking their own steps. The goal ultimately is to ensure that every boy is growing up in an environment where they are learning gender equality and in Pune, we are building that model,” adds Mr Muir.