Like many other countries, violence against women (VAW) is a burning issue in Bangladesh. In the recent years the violation and subjugation of women’s rights have magnetised the attention of the civil society. The intellectuals and think tanks have come up with theories and postulates but the fact is nothing prolific has come out. In 2011, Bangladesh National Human Rights Commission- Capacity Development Project conducted a baseline survey on human rights in Bangladesh. In this survey more than 60 percent of respondents have opined that flogging housewives is legitimate if the housewives show ‘disobedience’ and ‘bad behaviour’.
From this scenario it becomes clear that the root of this problem lies deep inside the domestic environment. Even in the schools the young boys have little option to learn about the women’s rights and the way our girls should be treated. So our young men start to show their manliness by teasing and mistreating girls in and around their schools to show bravery and heroism.
To deconstruct this notion about bravery United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) arranged a mass awareness campaign setting young boys of class 7 to 9 as the target group. The aim of this campaign is to introduce the idea among the male students that protecting the rights of their sisters, mothers and their female counterparts is the real attestation of bravery. The tagline of the campaign is “Any man can be real man but it requires courage to be brave. A man can only resist VAW if he is brave.”
Dr Sayed Saikh Imtiaz of Centre for Men and Masculinities Studies (CMMS) was appointed to implement this momentous project in Bangladesh. Volunteers from United Nations Youth & Students Association of Bangladesh (UNYSAB) and Dhaka University came forward to work for this project. For the first time in Bangladesh young boys took the challenge to create a society free of gender violence.
The campaign was launched with a gala inception ceremony on November 23, 2012. A grand rally named “Shahoshider Rally" (Brave Men March) headed by the chairman of NHRC Dr Mizanur Rahman and executives of UNDP paraded the Dhaka University campus and ended at the altar of Oporajeyo Bangla. There, Dr Mijanur Rahman, Dr Sayed Saikh Imtiaz, Everest winner M A Muhith delivered inspiring speeches to the students and shared their experience. Dr Mizanur Rahman in his inspiring speech said, “These youth will be the torch bearer of a violence free society. By their efforts Bangladesh will be the country free from any violence against women and girls. Innovative events like flash mob and cycle rally were made to spread the message of Brave Men Campaign.
After this gala inception ceremony, the main task of Brave Men Campaign started. A team of ten gender trainers, mostly students from Dhaka University were recruited and trained by CMMS, UNDP and NHRC. They were assigned to sixteen schools. Among them, eight schools have been selected in Dhaka city, six schools from remote rural areas of Pabna and two from Rangpur city. Each school selected 30 potential participants from class seven to class nine for the training sessions of the campaign.
The key feature of the training session is to introduction of the Brave Men Diary, which is the main instrument to involve students in this campaign. Brave Men diary is a unique logbook specially designed for young boys. The diary has been segmented into 5 chapters. The chapters are My Mother, My Friends, My Leisure, Our Rights and Our Household Maid.
Each chapter has been featured with 7 days full of activities. For example in the chapter named My Mother, the participant has got the opportunity to judge the contribution of his mother in his daily life. In the second day and third day of the diary the participants read a story about a working mother and noted down his impression. By the 4th day, the participant has been asked to help his mother in her chores. In the page for the 4th day, the participant will note down how he has helped his mother in household chores and attach a photo showing the help that he has extended to his mother. The following day he will share his new experience with his male class mates and note down their comments in the specified fields.
Participants have also taken comments from their friend’s mum, making it even more attractive. For example a mother has commented, “It’s amazing that Arnob is washing my clothes regularly and willingly. But the fact is he didn’t want to wash his own clothes even a week ago. The change is simply amazing.”
The next day the participants have arranged some community activities related to the chapter. Some participants arranged poster campaign; some of them prepared cards, celebration of UN days etc.
Similar weeklong activities have been incorporated in other chapters of the diary. By doing these activities the participants develop a conscience that he can do anything with his friends and families but while doing these actions he must be aware of women’s rights and honour. Not only that the activities and illustrations of the diary help students to consider women as an equal counterpart of men, a sense of respect and friendliness. In each weekend the participants have presented their activities to the assigned trainer. The trainer assessed their diary activities and outreach activities. The trainer also clarified any gender related issues asked by the participants.
Throughout the campaigns, famous stars, respected personalities came forward to inspire these youth to get involved with this great campaign. Honourable vice chancellor of Dhaka University, cricket icons, heroic Bahadur who saved a raped woman, inspired the participants during the campaign.
Brave Men campaign is also playing a significant role in online world. Its creative memes and online posters have become immensely popular in publicity campaign against VAW. The link to the official facebook page of Brave Men Campaign is https://www.facebook.com/BraveMenCampaign.
As a completion of the first phase of the campaign, the organizers are going to launch a gala award giving ceremony for the participants. In this ceremony all the participants will be awarded for their performance. Special award will be conferred for extra ordinary performance. Finally, on the basis of the performance, one school will be declared the champion of the campaign.
The award giving ceremony will also be a grand intermingling and sharing session of all the participants and the organisers which will encourage these young flag bearers of gender equity.
So we can hope that through Brave Men Campaign we shall be able to create a new generation of young men with an egalitarian view towards women and girls.
The writer can be contacted at email@example.com
Why BNHRC-CDP took the initiative to launch Brave Men Campaign (BMC)?
Violence against women (VAW) remains a prevailing social problem in Bangladesh, and unfortunately, we do not see many men actively resist it. Violence against women is becoming normalised. Such normalisation is producing a discourse in which VAW is gradually becoming an integral part of being ‘real man’. We wanted to challenge that discourse and therefore targets male students aged 12-15 to motivate them to break the silence on violence against women. This objective goes with the key priorities fixed by the NHRC in its Strategic Plan. Therefore, with the help of Dr. Sayed Saikh Imtiaz, Assistant Professor, Department of Women and Gender Studies, University of Dhaka we launched BraveMen Campaign as a pilot initiative.
What are the key strategies of the Brave Men Campaign (BMC)?
The BMC provides a much needed space for boys to explore and reflect on perceptions of gender, and sensitizes them to issues such as women’s rights, equality, and the importance of both. It does so through different activities including dialogue sessions. Such sessions held in various schools in and outside of Dhaka, that use unique educational tools created specifically for the campaign, such as the self-reflective Brave Men Diary. The BMC seeks to send the message that ‘any man can be real man but it requires courage to fight violence against women’.
What is your future plan?
The NHRC wishes to launch a second phase of the BMC where it will continue to engage young boys to induce a change in behavior, attitude and practices among the young generation and involve also young girls in order to empower them to raise their voice against gender-based violence. In the second phase we also wish to involve teachers so that a module on gender-based violence can be taught in schools and replicated over the years to ensure the sustainability of this initiative. Finally, the project will create a space for dialogue with parents and the community on violence against women and girls.