It’s been a few days since our first workshop on Child Sexual Abuse Awareness and Prevention in Delhi and we’ve spent quite some time going back and forth about the learnings we gleaned from the experience, the areas we need to work on and how we can make our initiative stronger. One of the things that struck all those involved and present at the workshop was the near absence of men at the venue. In all our posts prior to the workshop we tried to reach out to parents and caregivers and we had hoped that both mothers and fathers would be present in equal numbers. But that didn’t happen. We had a wonderfully candid discussion with all the women present- mothers, teachers, aunts, abuse survivors- all of them freely shared their experiences and their doubts. But where were the adult men who were once little boys and might have found themselves in dangerous situations? Where were the dads who are as concerned about their children’s safety as much as their wives? Where were the male voices?
It’s convenient to say that men are simply not interested. Or that they believe that this conversation is best taken care of by the mother. However, as we often speak about the factors that limit the girl-child in her engagement with “the world outside”, it’s worth looking at factors that keep the boy-child from engaging deeply with the world inside the home.
Coming back, the lone gentleman who arrived at the workshop appeared nervous and left after fifteen minutes, telling the friend who had persuaded him to attend that he found the subject too daunting. It made him uncomfortable.
The larger narrative about sexual abuse and gender stereotypes, depict men as perpetrators and women as victims. While the number of reported rapes and abuse cases support this narrative, it might be useful to remember that facts also tell us that almost half of child sexual abuse victims are little boys. The pressure to uphold male stereotypes of strength and inviolability makes it harder for boys to report abuse and be believed even when they do talk about it. No wonder then that men find it difficult to talk about their experiences in public.
One of my friend’s husband shared an interesting perspective on how fathers are often rebuffed when they are seen stepping in what’s considered a mother’s territory. On the first day of their child’s school, the teacher asked only one parent to be there with their child, and then specifically asked fathers to make way for the moms. In many cases, the mothers were standing at the back and the fathers were handling the kids. The choice of who should be with the child should have belonged to the parents. But it’s an instance of society reinforcing the narrowly defined gender roles. This kind of obvious categorisation of mothers as more capable and therefore more worthy caregivers and fathers as mere spectators to the process of parenting pushes them away even more. In a society which is struggling to engage with parenting as a shared experience for both mothers and fathers, we need more inclusion and not exclusion.
We did receive a few messages from men who shared their experiences of abuse as little boys and how those experiences still haunt them. While we were moved by their effort to reach out, we could sense their hesitation about sharing in public forums.
To all the men out there who don’t make up the numbers that include perpetrators, the men who care and don’t know how to talk about issues that bother them, the men who want a safe future for their children, we say this-
We want to hear your voices. We value your presence. We value your experiences. We want to hear your stories and we are here. Welcome.
And to the gentleman who left because he was uncomfortable- we believe that your presence was proof of the fact that things can change but they never will change till we can bravely look at what makes us uncomfortable. So next time, please stay. And bring your male friends 🙂