World’s Leading Gender Experts Converging in India
India is ready to host top gender rights activists from 50 countries who will be converging in New Delhi in November. They will be aiming to mainstream men's involvement in issues of gender equality. High on the agenda of the 2nd MenEngage Global Symposium 2014 are bringing about changes in policies and programmes to tackle violence against women with the participation of men and boys, and a gender based review of legislations and other justice systems. With the requisite clearances from the ministries of external affairs, home, and health and family welfare having been given, the four day international conference from November 10-13 will see the participation of senior government representatives from India, heads of international organisations and 750 academics, activists and policy makers who are noted names in the global arena.
Organised by MenEngage Global, an alliance of over 400 organisations working in various ways with men for gender justice,the symposium’s other organising partners include UNFPA, UN Women, Beijing +20 and the alliance's coordinating partner in India - Centre for Health and Social Justice (CHSJ). An international pot-pourri of the best, the most interesting and most influential gender experts will lead the conference’s 54 sessions.
The opening session is being moderated by the ever-provocative Shireen El Feki, British journalist and author of the seminal ‘Sex and the Citadel – Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World.’ Other major participants include the engaging speaker Prof Michael Kimmel of New York’s Stony Brook University, a leading American sociologist specialising in gender studies and founder and editor of the influential academic journal ‘Men and Masculinities’; Greenpeace’s international executive director Kumi Naidoo who first discussed evidence of the relationship between masculinities, environment and climate change; noted academic Lori Heise who played a leading role in getting gender violence into the international health agenda and led the landmark WHO multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence; Sheepa Hafiza, a director at the world’s largest NGO - Bangladesh’s BRAC - who is widely recognised for her role in policy advocacy on gender issues; and the award-winning Nafisa Sadik, currently special advisor to the UN secretary general, former head of the UNFPA and secretary general of the ICPD. Bangladesh’s secretary of the ministry of women and child affairs, Tariqul Islam, will also be present.
The symposium, which is being held five years after the first one in Rio de Janeiro in 2009, is expected to result in the issuing of the Delhi Declaration. The statement will be a roadmap for governments, UN agencies and all other institutions and organisations on men's role in ensuring gender equality. It is likely to include the need to review paternity leave policies; relook at aggressive masculinities being promoted through education curriculams; promote ‘masculinity training’ for men; undertake a gender based review of corporate policies particulary in the field of HR; and put criminal justice systems under the gender lens. “Examining what is creating masculine aggression in a changing socio-economic reality and then finding ways to address this systematically is the focus of efforts,” says Abhijit Das, director, CHSJ. The issue gains significance in the context of men in India coming out on the streets for the first time to protest violence against women after the brutal December 2012 Delhi gangrape incident. Holding the second MenEngage Global Symposium in Delhi is a logical conclusion to the momentum that was gained since then and also an international nod to the substantive involvement of men in India with the issue. For India, this means addressing violence ranging from farmers’ suicides to acid attacks and rapes, and the relevant policies, legislations and civil society efforts to tackle them.
The conference is being preceded by an extensive advocacy programme which is currently unfurling across India and the South Asia region. The campaign includes a campus festival 'Bystander No More' which is reaching out to thousands of students in five universities in Delhi; community dialogues like the 'ABC (AB Baaki Charcha) for Gender Justice' being held in dozens of locations at high-risk for gender violence; a specially curated global film festival on masculinities which has selected 71 documentaries, features etc from hundreds of entries; and seminars and cultural performances across the country.
The groundswell of support for the men’s movement is seeing several public personalities and celebrities using this opportunity to speak out on male accountability. Bharatnatyam dancer Navtej Singh Johar, for instance, preceded his performance in Chandigarh earlier this month with a moving talk on the the need to review popular models of masculinity. American activist Ben Atherton-Zeman of the National Organisation for Men Against Sexism is holding a series of one-act plays across India. Onler Kom issued a statement of support, saying “I urge every man to embrace the change and recognise women as equal partners. With our support on their side, we can contribute in shaping many more Mary Koms.” Associating himself with the movement, actor Rahul Bose says, “Men must recognise their priviliges and consciously turn away from them.”