Making brave men of us all

26 Sep 2013

imageWith support of the UNDP through the BNHRC-CDP, the Brave Men Campaign (BMC) was developed to initiate gender sensitization training in schools.

From the perspective of two volunteer facilitators, Iftekharul Dastagir and Juhayer Tanzim, the Brave Men Campaign achieved its goal, they said, “The only thing we would change is that it be expanded to reach more people”.

With support of the UNDP through the BNHRC-CDP, the Brave Men Campaign (BMC) was developed to initiate gender sensitization training in schools to promote an understanding and respect for women’s rights, encourage equality between the sexes and ultimately, to get boys to resist violence against women.

It targeted male students aged 12-15 and included training sessions held once a week for four months in 16 different schools throughout Bangladesh. 11 volunteers were recruited to facilitate the sessions, and while they joined the campaign for various reasons, these volunteer facilitators, including Iftekharul and Juhayer, share a common concern for the situation facing women in Bangladesh.

Juhayer was attracted to the different ways the BMC allowed him be involved in the issues. He says he joined, “because the BMC is activism. I could get involved as a participant, a learner, a trainer and an active member of Bangladeshi society.”

When he was younger, Iftekharul was exposed to the power of men’s solidarity with women’s rights. “My father wanted to force my sister to wear the hijab…and would always tell my mother what to do,” he explained.

Once he spoke with his father to defend the females in his family, Iftekharul says his father let up. Since then he has carried around the idea that, “Women should protect and defend themselves, but it is also a man’s duty to be by their side.” For Iftekharul, joining the BMC was a practical extension of that philosophy.

While the facilitators were trained as educators, both Iftekharul and Juhayer emphasize how much they learned throughout the process. As Juhayer admits, “Before our training I didn’t fully understand the need for ‘women’s rights’ because we already have ‘human rights’. The campaign allowed me to understand how women suffer privately in their homes, and how women’s rights in Bangladesh are seriously neglected”.

Iftekharul added,  “Working with this campaign has expanded my own thinking and knowledge of the issues... (Facilitators) really got a picture of the prevailing perceptions of women, which helped strengthen our motivations and output.”

As the link between the message and the target group, the facilitators are those best positioned to observe if any changes occur within the boys’ perceptions, attitudes and behaviours toward women. Both Juhayer and Iftekharul claim they have witnessed the boys completely transform, and view the BMC as a success.

“We see the change of perception – about their mothers, girls, and their own roles… We found out that the boys eve-teased because other boys did and they thought it was brave,” said Infekharul.  On the first day of training the boys defined bravery as physical strength and power, they now have a more nuanced view of the word brave.

Since then the facilitators see the boys speaking out against harassment, reacting to negative comments, and sharing their new-found knowledge about rights and equality with their peers. Such behavior change is a result in the real world, exactly what the campaign was looking for when it started.

According to the facilitators, part of why the campaign is so effective is because it is relatively unique. The BMC offers what many other campaigns do not: time, relationships, and reflexive learning. It targets a young generation of male Bangladeshis whose perceptions can be shaped to go against the cultural grain, and who, as males, must be at the forefront of the struggle to end VAW. The training’s four month span also provided the time necessary for facilitators to cultivate a trusting relationship with the boys. In turn, this provided the space required for honest participation and active engagement in the program.

As Iftekharul relates, “The training sessions were really fun. We have a very close relationship with the boys and can talk freely with them. The BMC gives them a place to think and reflect, and we see them using this opportunity. This is actually a lifelong campaign.” Juhayer added that “The BMC is activist-oriented. It’s not just a one-time thing, but a full four months to educate boys and encourage their continued activism”.

Both Juhayer and Iftekharul want to continue their training, and hope to see the campaign expand to reach more boys across the country. The BMC has also prompted their extended involvement in women’s rights activism. Juhayer sums it up succinctly, “VAW is now a priority issue for me. I want to include it in my activism, career and my life.” This is a statement and sentiment that needs to be replicated across the country and the BMC is just the first step in that direction.