When I turned 12, I was given a brand new pair of white shorts with red stars for my birthday. At the time, I didn’t think much of asking my grandfather’s permission to let me wear them; I was simply excited to wear my new pair of shorts! Today I would like to highlight the significance of my small request. In giving me his approval, my grandfather was allowing the first girl in my then small town in the western province of India to walk around in shorts. Looking at this example, I’d like to raise a pragmatic point: there is a distinct difference between ‘being allowed to do something’ and ‘getting to do what one wants’. While, by now, I have visited more than 55 different places spanning four continents, it has required a lot of toeing the line to maybe reaching a stage where I almost get to do what I want. This simple fact makes me want to raise an important reality in for those working in patriarchal cultures: men play an important role in the gender agenda and we will do a disservice if we ignore their position of power.
To that end, as a member of Asia Initiatives’ board I am happy to see that we are not overlooking men. We instead are reconstructing and developing the organization, making ourselves bolder, stronger, and increasingly supportive of gender equality. In fact, most of our projects focus on involving men either as participants or in their socio-culturally entrenched positions of leaders. Changing established structures of power requires brokering and negotiating, which remains an ongoing focus of ours. That said, we are also interested in changing the structure from bottom up, which is evident with Ashta No Kai (based in Pune). This noteworthy organization hosts Kishor Mandal along with Kishori Mandals to educate boys and girls respectively, about equality and justice for all. This is only one example of the grounded and holistic focus we seek in the projects we fund. To date we have also provided more than US$1million, which while being a drop in the international development bucket, has focused on awareness, education, and involvement of both genders.
It is unquestionable that as fathers, husbands, partners, boyfriends, friends, uncles, and often times our bosses, in patriarchal cultures, men hold powerful positions. In the development field and as an organization that hopes to empower women, we’d be remiss to ignore men’s influence in these societies.
Personally, it feels good to be part of an organization that is mindful of this reality and addresses it in every project that receives our support. I am proud of the work we do in South Asia and invite you to learn more about us. If you’d like, drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
Surkhab Peerzada, Jr. Board Member.