Shadhika Shadhika

Equal Community Foundation

November 28, 2017

By Kim Burnett, Shadhika President and CEO

 

The time difference between India and Denver, Colorado, where I live, is twelve and a half hours. That means when I wake up in the morning, the first things that greet me are often “breaking news alerts” on my smart phone. Having left for India right when the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct scandal broke, on this trip, it has seemed that every day my daily news alerts are full of additional stories of brave women and men who are calling out their harassment and abuse at the hands of other, powerful men. #metoo.

I am thinking about all of this as we make our way to a community meeting room in a slum in Pune where Shadhika’s newest grantee partner, Equal Community Foundation (ECF), is doing its work. ECF provides an after-school program for boys and young men between the ages of 14-18 in over a dozen slums in and around Pune. ECF’s program focuses on addressing gender inequality and violence against women by engaging the young men in discussions of gender roles, rights-based training, anti-violence training, and community action. Their 30-week curriculum takes the young men through a progression of awareness building, starting first with themselves, then with their families, and then within their communities. In this final stage, the young men work together to identify and take action to address a gender issue in their own communities.

We enter the community room and spend the next few hours learning about the program and the boys’ experiences. The boys are boisterous, jockeying for the chance to be called on to share their stories and impressions. They share how they are increasingly helping with the chores in their homes, taking on tasks such as sweeping, doing dishes, and fetching water – tasks that were traditionally reserved for their mothers and sisters. They discuss the value they are taking from these sessions and their strategies for dealing with their peers who tease them for coming. They speak eloquently about how girls should be allowed to finish their schooling, wear whatever they want, and travel freely in their communities – all restrictions commonly put upon girls where they live – and how they are starting to advocate for these freedoms.

It is heartening to hear how these young men have become allies for their sisters, girl friends, mothers, and aunts. It is even more encouraging to hear how they themselves are becoming empowered to challenge their own limiting gender roles. After awhile, the boys turn to us and ask us questions. “Where are we from?” “Do we have sons too?” “Do men also help with chores in America?” They want to know.

One young man raises his hand and asks if we have a course like this for boys where we come from? For a minute, we are taken aback, recalling the recent events in America. “No,” we reply after a moment. “But we should.” The boy smiles and nods, “Yes,” he says. “I think we need this class everywhere.” We smile back in agreement, our two worlds no longer half a day away, seeing our common struggle – #metoo.

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