initiative Education

Gender champions

MITR aims to sensitise boys to help in building a gender-intelligent and inclusive society

Women respect men who not only call themselves agents of feminism and vouch for gender equality, but practise it. In an era where crimes against women, and lack of opportunities for them, are topping the charts, how does one reduce the rate of such incidents, let alone educate men on gender equality? Well, as with everything else, start young, believes the ever-enterprising Saundarya Rajesh, founder-director, of AVTAR, a talent strategy consulting firm. And it is to further this cause that MITR, or Men Impacting Trust and Respect, emerged, as an initiative to educate young boys of classes VIII to XII, and sensitise them about gender equality.

There exist some deep-rooted biases in society that have been passed on through generations, across centuries — consciously, or otherwise. Naturally, the process to mitigate them from the psyche of today’s society is arduous,” says Saundarya.

Brainwave

As a starting point, the team conducted a study, a couple of years ago, where they spoke to male allies, leaders in the corporate world, under whose leadership there was a significant growth of women in their companies. “We discovered that all these men, who today, are successful leaders, managing multi-million-dollar companies and whose immediate teams comprise more than 40% women, had some form of gender intelligence inputs when they were boys. Most of these men, had one common factor — they had all grown up in a family with many sisters, and had strong mothers who had inculcated in them gender intelligence at a young age. It is such boys who became truly inclusive leaders, when they reached a certain position.”

This factor, more than any other, got the cogs in her head turning — she thought about why this concept couldn’t be reverse engineered today. “What if young boys, between the ages of 13-18, had interventions, where they could be taught about what it was to be a woman or a girl? What if they were made to see that there existed an equality between boys and girls in the classroom, which did not exist in society, at large? What if they could realise that though they learnt the same lessons from the same teachers, the world that girls would step into, after school, would be starkly different from the ones the boys would go on to inhabit?” she speculates. “When boys become empathetic enough to comprehend these differences, they eventually go on to become gender champions, consequently, leading to more women rising to leadership and occupying significant positions of power in the economy. Thus, with this idea in mind, we launched MITR.”

Short, but effective

This three-day training programme is for boys from class VIII to XII. “The best part is that these three days can be during any time of the year, once the schools give us the green signal,” explains Saundarya. In these four-hour, experiential sessions, boys learn about the history of Indian women professionals, gender intelligence, unconscious biases, and how they can become gender champions. “The entire module is built on games, role plays, self-assessment activities, theatre and more.”

The programme has male and female trainers undergo training, after which they are familiarised with potential questions that boys of that age might have. “This is the age when boys have misconceptions about the opposite gender, and have deep-rooted patriarchal mindset. We influence them to build trust and respect, and become true male allies,” she adds.

So, what kind of changes has the programme effected? Saundarya feels that boy-girl interactions have improved. A class X student, who participated in the programme, concurs. “I have gained confidence and understood the importance of good friendship, not only with boys but with girls too. I can now talk to them without inhibition.”

Kannan Hariharan, ex-Senior Director HR, PepsiCo India, believes that breaking stereotypes requires culture re-learning, which was exactly what MITR was inching towards achieving. “Male allyship is about understanding women, as they are, without stereotypes. It is about helping women counterparts to build their careers. Re-learning is a must, in order to bring about such changes, and MITR is an excellent programme which catches boys at a crucial age, when they can be easily moulded, and re-wire their thinking.”

What’s in store for the future? Saundarya is quick to clarify, “We hope to create a new generation of male allies, who respect women, and perceive them as being one team.”

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 11:45:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/gender-champions/article28108112.ece

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