Involving Men in Women’s Empowerment Programmes

In developing world the control over women’s health has traditionally been in the hands of men in her family (the father, father-in-law, husband, brother, and then her son). The father’s decide whether the child – has a safe delivery, gets immunized, receives proper nutrition, is able to grow up in a healthy and hygienic environment, etc. He also decides how much education the daughter receives and when and to whom she gets married. After marriage the father-in-law and / or the husband decides what kind of conditions (in terms food, shelter, medication) his wife has to survive and procreate. In her old age, a woman is dependent on her son to take care of her needs (food, shelter, medication). So empowering women on one hand involves making them self-dependent and financially independent to the extent where they can demand and extract their rights; and on the other hand it involves motivating men to support the women in their lives to get empowered. Hence involving men in women’s empowerment is a crucial component of the empowerment process.

Additionally most of the MSM STI/HIV Targeted Intervention (TIs) programmes in India are talking about partner notification for MSM (including their female sexual partners) and involvement of female spouses (wife / girl friend) of MSM – which I think may be helpful in the long run in terms of making those women more aware regarding their health and also regarding their right to make sexual choices (saying no to unsafe sexual acts with their husband). It would be better if women’s empowerment programmes can collaborate with such MSM TIs in encouraging those women (partners of MSM) to talk to their husbands on sexual health related issues.

Another issue which I think is pertinent in this context is the stigma and discrimination faced by feminized men. Such men often face the brunt of gender based discrimination that most societies practice. Men who think women are inferior consider feminized men even more inferior and hence they face even more discrimination, thus curtailing their rights and limiting their access to resources. If programmes for Transgender people collaborated with women’s empowerment programmes then they would be able to more strongly advocate for reduction of gender based stigma and discrimination.

written by Anupam Hazra – Solidarity And Action Against The HIV Infection In India (SAATHII)

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