Monday, October 29, 2012

Using Cricket to Confront Gender Inequality in Mumbai

While in Mumbai this past summer on my study abroad program, I learned from the residents living in “slums” about the systemic mistreatment of girls. The giving away of girls in marriage at the age of 16 is very commonplace. Additionally, there is a significant number of girls who are forced to drop out of school when puberty hits simply because there are no bathroom facilities for girls. Unfortunately, this basic oversight contributes to their lower educational achievement. Although girls and women play a huge role in holding up the community, they are very often dismissed as less than human beings.
Disparity in gender equality has created practices such as child marriage, high incidences of domestic violence, bodily mutilation, and constraints on a woman’s education or freedom outside the home. Harmful practices toward children can often be based upon tradition, culture, religion, or superstition. However most of these practices are rooted in individuals taking advantage of vulnerabilities faced by girls and the lack of ability to consent or refuse consent themselves. 1 While there are initiatives that exist to protect and empower girls and women, they sometimes place less importance in addressing the male counterpart of this issue because there is less consensus on how to approach it.

Here is one account of a community organization’s effort at addressing this gender issue beginning at childhood. The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) executed a program in Mumbai, India called Parivartan, which means “transformation” in Hindi. This initiative gathered boys from the ages of 10 to 16 to play the enticing game of cricket and simultaneously challenged them to think about women’s roles and their roles as males in their communities.  These young boys spanned the economic spectrum; some came from middle and upper class families, and others were from Shivaji Nagar, a large slum community that was one of my field work locations. Of course, the cricket coaches as role models would first have to confront their personal views of gender inequality before they taught their boys about a manhood that conferred respect and equity to girls and women.

Their traditional views of men such as one of machismo and views of women as submissive helpers kept in the homes were challenged. Across the span of the program, Parivartan did see changes in the boys: they were less supportive of the physical abuse of girls. For example, most boys in the program agreed that a girl should not be hit if she did not finish her homework. However, the program hasn’t shown evidence that the little change that began here in young boys will continue to develop as they grow older, but is a launching point for other similar programs to address gender inequality. Violence is so commonplace in India, especially in poorer communities that the lessening of it will be gradual and will necessitate a difficult transformation in the heart and mindset that shifts from one of rigid and oppressive patriarchy to one of supportive gender equality. The commitment of boys and men to confront this difficult problem is redemptive to the girls and women in their community. What seems as simple to us in the U.S. as gaining support and respect from the male figures of their families already speaks a great deal about the worth of females in their eyes.

Read more about the Parivartan project 
International NGO Council on Violence Against Children, Violating Children’s Rights: Harmful Practices Based on Tradition, Culture, Religion or Superstition, (October 2012)

Esther Liew
AATOP Program Development Intern


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