Kushalgarh is a block in the Banswara district of Rajasthan. 80% of its population migrates to other adjacent states for wage labour. I work with Aajeevika Bureau at a women resource centre to nurture women’s collective in the district. We recently conducted a 2-day residential training for young men and women on gender, masculinity, and relationships. In total, 100 people from 4 different places in the district participated in the training.
The aim is to drive action against the violation of women’s rights in spaces. This includes spaces ranging from labour markets to public spaces and homes. To move away from an approach that is victim-centered, we also engaged adolescent boys and men as active allies. We work with them on dismantling patriarchal thoughts, structures, and norms.
Participants own the space by making their own ground rules for these two days. It will include sharing personal experiences, and non-judgemental conduct with trust and confidentiality. It was expected to be followed by the facilitators as well as participants. These are a few things we discussed:
Participants expressed that they value trust and honesty in a relationship. It also helped them understand the wide range of expectations in different kinds of relationships.
We showed everyone a romantic story of a boy named Ayan and a girl named Tara. Now the participants had to make decisions for these two characters to move the story forward. What they chose led to a poor ending of their relationship. They made a list with the help of the facilitator to show instances in the story where consent was present and where it wasn’t. A discussion helped everyone build a mutual understanding of the importance of consent.
The participants wrote down human qualities such as dependent, intelligent, submissive, breadwinner, homemaker, coward, strong, and so on. They then marked qualities that are considered important by society and the ones that aren’t considered important. As the next step, they identify which qualities are seen as masculine and which ones as feminine.
We realized that the qualities that are seen as masculine are also the ones that are given more importance by society than the ones seen as feminine. We then discussed why is it so.
Following the previous activity, the facilitator explained how a society that gives importance to masculine qualities can be an image of a patriarchal society. Many real-life examples were given to break it down. It also explained how patriarchy is a social system that distributes power, roles, and expectations across identities in a way that men are expected to be violent and dominant to be able to enjoy power and privilege. The participants were then probed to think if any gender identities were missing here.
Sex, Gender, And Sexuality
Participants were then introduced to sex, gender, and sexuality. When the discussion was opened there were a lot of questions and long extended discussions on the same. Most of the participants left the training silently once the discussion around sex and gender began. The remaining participants were curious enough to learn and unlearn more on the topics.
Participants were encouraged to reflect and discuss on how a particular gender can move away from their gender expectations and what happens when they do so. This led to a conversation on how difficult is it for gender minority communities when they live differently than society’s expectations.
To help them understand the concept better, 3-4 videos on sex, gender, and sexual identity were screened.
Notions of Masculinity
The participants were divided into 2 and were asked to create 2 nations. In the 1st nation, team A was asked to create a country that represents masculinities and notions associated with it. Team B was expected to create a 2nd nation where equal opportunities and respect for all genders were given.
The participants were free to make a map, laws, constitution, who would stay near the borders, holidays celebrated, social norms, language, geography etc for the nation. The participants got to present the nation they made and then together reflect on both the presentation to think more about the distance from nation A to B. Also having a conversation on how similar is nation A to the nation we now live in and how can they contribute to changing the situation.
Violence and masculinity
The participants were asked to prepare and present a role play on these charaters;
- Upper caste person and Lower caste person
- Muslim person and Hindu person
- Trans person and Cis person
- Gay person and heterosexual person
The participants were divided into 4 groups. While the groups are acting out the situation, the rest of the participants have to keep in mind and reflect on the following questions:-
- How was violence being performed in the situation?
- Who was performing the violence?
- Who was enabling such behavior?
- Whom did it impact and how?
After concluding on the answers, discussions were open on the kinds of violence which are seen in these situations like emotional, mental, physical, sexual, and financial. Then the different kinds of people performing different kinds of violence in the play like father, mother, neighbors, strangers, and in-laws. Followed by discussing on multiple reasons for violence. It was identified that most of the times it is to maintain the power status. Questions like why people can’t say no, and why violence is always performed by people in power were explored.
It was discussed how violence can have an impact, and how it instills fear and trauma within people. Also, how violence follows patterns and how it is mostly rooted, and systemic was explored. Different stories of victims were shared as examples to the participants.
By the end of the first day, all the participants were eager to attend the second day.
|Day 2||The dominant narrative of sex and different social perspectives on caste and relationships between different gender and sexual identities.||Interactive conversation by introducing different concepts to the participants through different types of games, activities, and through visual media as a tool.||Allows the participants to examine how society has constructed masculinity. And what are the multiple forms and possibilities of masculinity along with the impacts of gender violence associated with it.|
The day started with a handshake activity where the participants were asked to walk around the room and give a handshake to anyone they would like to shake hands with. Then the participants were asked to do the handshake activity again and this time to ask the following questions before the handshake.
If they would like to be greeted with a handshake, how firm would you like your handshake to be?
- Would they like to give a handshake with their left hand?
- How long would they want the handshake to be?
- Do you want to dry your hands first?
- Do you want to do something else altogether? A fist bump? A shoulder bump? A hug?
After the second handshake, the participants were asked to share their experience again and the difference or similarities they felt between the 2 handshake activities.
The facilitator then explained what the first handshake expresses. In the first handshake, everyone was shaking hands in a way that they are expected to, or they just took part in someone else’s handshake. This approach is where the participants followed what is defined as a ‘good handshake’ which is firm and short. Even though not everyone might like their handshakes to be firm and short or not everyone might even like the idea of a handshake at all.
The facilitator drew an analogy between handshakes and sex. Opening the discussion on whose pleasure is at the centre of the definition of sex? What are the expectations from each gender during sex? The facilitator further explained that it is because of these expectations, often people take a ‘first handshake’ approach to sex. The facilitator also talked about foreplay and introduced the concept of asexuality to the participants.
The second handshake approach facilitates an act of collaboration where each partner takes control of how they would want things in bed. The orgasm gap was also discussed to make them understand the amount of dominancy the masculine partner has in sexual relationships.
This activity helped the participants to locate consent in their day-to-day interactions and experience and practice negotiation and agreement in their daily life.
Acceptance by the society
The last activity of the training was called ‘what will people say’. As shown below, 5 concentric circles were made and marked accordingly.
This activity focuses on the level of acceptance that certain relationships and families may receive in their communities. Each circle signifies a level of acceptance. Now different situations are shared with the participants and they identify and discuss the community’s response to each of the situations.
- Mr. and Mrs. Sharma are an affluent upper-middle-class couple from north India. Mr. Sharma is around 35 years and Mrs. Sharma is 31. They have two children.
- A Dalit woman and a Brahmin man from a village in Bihar, want to get married and start a family
- Two gay men are living together in the same house in Delhi and are planning to adopt a baby
- A married man, who wants a divorce from his wife and lives in a small town in Rajasthan with his domestic worker and her children
- A muslim man and a Hindu woman want to get married
- A trans person who is unwilling to live in their own home and wants to live with members of the hijra community
- Two homosexual women/lesbians in a Chhattisgarh village want to live together
Depending on the identity and situation of the given relationship or family, the participants places these situations in the appropriate circle according to what they hear and see in their community. The reason behind which circle is being selected is also discussed after every situation.
Then the discussion goes on to which relationships in these situations are least acceptable and why are they so and also which relationships face the least challenges and why so. This helps the participants to understand the difficulties and violence faced by the marginalised community because of the social norms existing in their community today.
Then the discussion and reflections are concluded by explaining which all fundamental rights of such communities are violated when society treats them so. For example, it violates the right to freedom and equality when they are restricted on their right to choose their partner, the right to life is violated when there is a threat of violence, lack of equal access to public services, etc.
More examples of cases happening in India are discussed among the participants to help them understand the gravity of issues better.
Summary & Learning
As such training was conducted among the communities of Kushalgarh for the first time, there were inhibitions for the team. The community volunteers, and participants from the outreach preparations to the first few sessions of the training but later the young men and women in the community showed their immense support and interest to be a part of the training.
The participants also expressed their gratitude towards such an intervention. They initiated discussions on the importance and need for such understanding for the youth in each of their villages. Some of the participants even approached the facilitators to mentor them to conduct such sessions in their respective villages to build better gender-conscious youth. Young men who were part of the training expressed that the session about consent and expectation is something that all should be given the opportunity to reflect and discuss on to build and maintain their relationships with all the layers of the society they live in.
My learnings from this training are that the inhibitions we had in the beginning as a team to openly introduce such sensitive topics to a community for the first time was because of the habitual response embedded in us by the same concepts like patriarchy and social norms discussed in the training sessions.
Also, it is more effective to start such interventions when they are young in any community. This training was much more effective and accepted better by young boys and girls in the community we work with when compared to adult participants. They are more open to learning and unlearning with regard to the concepts discussed in the training regardless of not having any exposure to such concepts before.