Cross Learning at NGO Round Table with American activist Ben Atherton Zeman
There was a cross country and regional sharing of experiences and challenges between gender activists at the highly interactive NGO Round Table discussion held with American activist and artist Ben Atherton-Zeman at The American Centre in New Delhi on August 28 in the afternoon. With the Global Symposium’s community mobilisation having been unleashed in full swing in the form of various engagement programs with a network of stakeholders in Delhi, members from its partner organisations as well as media persons sat down with Ben to share experiences. Each participant organisation talked about the various modes of mobilisation, campaign and advocacy that it had been undertaking in recent times.
The cultural context and specific gender issues prevalent in the communities and constituencies they worked with were discussed, as also their own creative ways of engaging with these issues in order to facilitate social change. How to end a hegemonic patriarchal structure and create one that gives equal opportunity for progress and development to all genders was the common concern. Ben spoke about the awareness on these issues prevalent in the US, while Angie, an American gender activist, also gave insights into her work in Turkey and Egypt where many of the challenges were similar.
Participants deliberated on the location and specific nature of gender oppression characteristic to Indian culture. The issues brought up were cultural denial of basic human rights to women; limited mobility of women; restricted women’s representation in every sphere; domestic abuse and gender based power dynamics within families; ‘mansplaining’; structural discrediting of women-centric opinions and women in general; gender based discrimination in work spaces and infringement of women’s sense of safety and integrity by men in public transport.
Ben shared various activities, exercises, games and strategies that he used to reach out to men and boys for gender justice, adapted from his 30-year long engagement with gender issues. He also dwelt on his own journey as a man recovering from sexism’s hold. The Round Table was attended by members from the US Embassy, The American Centre, UN Women, Srijanatmak Manushi Sanstha (SMS), Tarshi, CEQUIN, Centre for Health and Social Justice and Women’s Feature Service.