08 March 2011
In Pakistan, UN Volunteer Rizwan Latif (left) talks about women's rights. (W. Anees/UNV) Uttar Pradesh, India; Islamabad, Pakistan:
Harish Chandra Verma, 25, lives in Fatehpur in India's Uttar Pradesh. "Women in our society are the worst sufferers when it comes to gender-based violence," he says. "Women don’t have a right to do what they wish for… Women are considered to be ‘Paraya Dhan’ ('another’s property') as soon they get married and go to their husband’s home."
But Harish feels that volunteers working on community projects are helping to alter people's mindsets. "These projects will ensure equality among men and women," he says. "Women will get a boost in their mental, physical and intellectual development."
The change among male attitudes is permeating the whole community, Harish adds, and people are spreading the word as volunteers themselves. "Community leaders, like the Sarpanchs [village heads] and youth in our community talk about gender issues with more voice and concern now."
On 8 March, the world celebrates the 100th International Women’s Day, which this year emphasizes the right of equal access to education and work. Such a thing can only happen after the “change of mindsets” Harish mentions.
Gender equality is as much a development issue as it is a societal problem. Ram Prakash Pandey, 33, resides in another Uttar Pradesh community in Govindpur. "Women have been confined to the four walls of their homes… Basically, the mobility of women gets restricted and it affects their overall growth."
Prakash agrees that the influence of volunteers in changing mindsets may help bring more women into the local economy. "The most crucial element is that it will lessen the burden on men as protectors and breadwinners when it comes to earning and taking care of the family. It inspires us to think that being a man doesn’t mean we are the only ones who have the liberty to go out and work and contribute to the family."
Meanwhile in neighbouring Pakistan, national UN volunteer Rizwan Latif works with a national NGO, Rozan, deployed by ‘Partners for Prevention’. This is a UN regional joint programme aimed at reducing gender-based violence in 10 Asia-Pacific countries. The programme partners are the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the newly-formed international organization UN Women, and the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme.
Women and girls in Pakistan also face many challenges, and Rozan, through its Humqadam programme, creates spaces for men to engage on the issue of gender-based violence.
In order to raise the awareness of youth and mobilize young men on a large scale, Rozan runs a ‘Stop Rape’ campaign, targeting 15,000 young men of the age of 16-30 in Punjab province. The overall objective is to raise awareness among young boys and men of the problem of sexual violence.
Through a competition format, the campaign encourages young men and boys to reach out to other young men and boys. “We are receiving a very positive response from young people who want to actively participate and contribute to building a supportive and protective environment for women and girls”, says Rizwan.
And back in India, Prakash is witnessing the change that volunteers are helping to bring. "It is surprising to see that youth from the age group of 18-28 years have started washing their clothes, which hardly ever happened. It was their mothers or wives who actually washed their clothes. Even when it comes to gathering wood for cooking fuel, men have understood their responsibility."