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How Can Men Challenge Sexism And Harassment At The Workplace?

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TW: This article addresses harassment.

By Ananya Kundu for Ungender.

Since the 2012 Delhi rape and murder case, and a series of gruesome crimes against women and children that followed since then, there has been an active call for the inclusion of men in the feminist movement against sexual violence.

It is a question we encounter repeatedly in the popular discourse — “Can men be feminists?” There is no simple answer to this, firstly because accepting the category of ‘men’ as it is, will be an act of giving into the idea of gender binaries that feminists have opposed for so long.

woman working
Representational image.

Cis Men, And Not Just Men

‘Men’ are not a homogeneous category and comes with its set of intersectional identities that exist within it in terms of sexuality, gender, and caste identity.

Men who carry these intersectional identities are also vulnerable to discrimination, bullying, assault and are victims of patriarchy themselves. So, the focus should be more on ‘cis-gendered men’ in trying to determine their role in the feminist movement.

The anxiety around men’s involvement in the feminist movement comes from the fear of domination and appropriation of marginalised narratives.

Men enjoy many privileges because of their position in the gender hierarchy. Their inclusion in the movement, thus, threatens to invisibilise the marginalised voices.

They themselves do not, as the norm, experience the systematic violence that is perpetrated on everyone who does not identify as cis-men in every sphere. They have historically benefited from a system that has exploited others.

The anxiety around men’s involvement in the feminist movement comes from the fear of domination and appropriation of marginalised narratives. Men enjoy many privileges because of their position in the gender hierarchy.

Workplaces have been a site of discrimination, harassment, and assault for many individuals. While some of these processes are explicit, like not promoting a woman, or not hiring a queer individual or a Dalit individual, other ways in which patriarchal forces are reinforced are through sexist jokes, inappropriate comments, toxic work cultures that have become ingrained in workplaces. While men and women both are often seen to be complicit in this process, men are complicit and also privileged when it comes to sexism at workplaces.

What Men Need To Address

Women are seen to be intellectually ‘inferior’ and ‘irrational’, as a result of which, men are often given greater leverage. Stereotypes and false sexist narratives are propagated, that uphold the idea that women get jobs and promotions on the basis of their gender. Charges of harassment and sexism in the office are not treated with care and efficiency.

workplace harassment and sexism
Image Credit: Marva M/Feminism In India

Even when they realise the problem with the system, they do not protest, out of fear of being ostracised and left out from work-groups. Many people argue that cis-heterosexual men cannot be feminists due to their privilege, but can only be allies. I am yet undecided on this issue. But, I do know that the presence of men is important in the movement, as allies or as feminists.

Men have started coming out recently to protest against sexist, patriarchal cultures, realising patriarchy affects them too. To dispel the sexist workplace culture, it is very important for men to break free from their role of compliance and call out the toxicity that stays embedded in these spheres.

Stereotypes and false sexist narratives are propagated that uphold the idea that women get jobs and promotions on the basis of their gender. Charges of harassment and sexism in the office are not treated with care and efficiency.

The Next Steps

The first step to this should include being aware of their own privilege and then making a conscious decision to break away from it. Many men shy away from doing that because it requires them to investigate and change parts of their lifestyles that have become so ingrained and habitual. Giving up one’s privilege thus becomes a difficult option.

Representational image.

Men need to be made a part of the conversation while ensuring that they don’t speak over the voices of others. And men know that a change in these workplace cultures will help them too.

For example, parental leave for fathers, to make sure they play an active role in childcare, dispelling the notion that men have to be sole breadwinners in the family, the option of taking up work that has been traditionally considered ’emasculating.’

To dispel the sexist workplace culture, it is very important for men to break free from their role of compliance and call out the toxicity that stays embedded in these spheres.

In order for workplace feminism to succeed in challenging and replacing the existence of patriarchal structures and culture, the movement has to be inclusive and everyone has to be brought into the conversation without letting any sort of behalf-ism and appropriation take place. The mic needs to be passed to everyone than letting one person speak for the others.

About the author: Ananya recognises herself as an intersectional feminist and is pursuing her M.A in Women’s Studies from TISS, Hyderabad. In her free time, she enjoys reading, dancing, watching movies, smashing the patriarchy and breaking stereotypes.

This article was first published on Ungender Insights.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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