Meet Harish Sadani.

He is one man who reverses the concept of gender bias completely with and through his foundation that focuses mainly on empowering men to prevent any kind of violence against girls and women. His foundation, MAVA was born in March 1993.

MAVA is an acronym for MEN AGAINST VIOLENCE AND ABUSE. “Transformation of the powerful and emancipation of the disadvantaged cannot be mutually exclusive. They must be simultaneous.

Men should be made stakeholders in the agenda towards eradication of violence against women,” says 52-year-old Sadani. “I pioneered efforts in 1991 among men to get to the root cause of gender-based violence by establishing Men Against Violence & Abuse. My work is committed to shaping a men’s movement that engages young men to be ‘part of the solution’ and help stop and prevent gender-based violence on women,” he adds.

Responding to what triggered this desire to do something unusual for society at large, Harish says, “Efforts to tackle gender-based violence against women in India have concentrated on empowering women to assert themselves. Men have largely been insulated from the process of transformation. I wished to address this deficit by recognising the need to alter the attitude and perceptions of men about themselves and towards women.”

Harish Sadani has been passionately working on multi-sector developmental programs on gender and health, for over 26 years. During his professional career, he has worked closely for social organizations like Child Rights and You (CRY) and companies like GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals managing their Corporate Social Responsibility Functions.

Harish, who has done his Masters in Social Work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences - Mumbai, has been the recipient of the ‘Health and Population Innovation’ Fellowship from Population Council to run innovative programs among young men on Gender and Sexuality matters. He was also invited by the US Government in 2012 to visit four cities of US and study gender issues in the US.

In recognition of his significant work on gender, masculinity and sexuality, Harish has been awarded the prestigious Ashoka Changemakers’ Award (US), Maharashtra Foundation Award (US), Civil Society Karmaveer Puraskar, the Muktaa Sanman Award by IBN and Gender Diversity Award by Sandvik Asia Pvt. Ltd.

Sadani is concerned about the fact that the conditioning of boys begins from their very childhood. They are conditioned to several stereotypes because they are ‘male’ (like women are by virtue of being ‘female’). They are socialised into becoming ‘manly’ and are expected to treat their female counterparts in a certain manner in order to live up to their image. Therefore, though gender debates should question established roles and images of women, it is equally important to rethink about established images of how a man should be and behave. Equally important is the need to bring in men as agents of change in the struggle against a male dominated society. The factors that contribute to this conditioning are rooted in (a) preference for the male child within families both nuclear and extended, (b) discrimination in the upbringing of male and female children within the family by their own parents, (c) boys made to feel superior, physically and mentally stronger than girls, (d) discrimination in educating boys and girls within the same family, (e) early marriage of girls and so on.

Today, these trained young men use several unconventional tools to reach out to peers and other young men to instil in them a reverence towards girls and women which also means respecting themselves.

Among their various tools are interactive gender-sensitization sessions, residential workshops, a men’s magazine brought out annually, periodically posted wall-newspapers, FAQ booklets, street theatre performances, film screenings, elocutions and other special campaigns. “These processes of trying to work out a transformation in the mindsets of growing men give them the courage to challenge traditional gender roles and stereotypes. This has moved towards the evolution of positive models of masculinity that are gender-balanced and non-hierarchical.

All this smoothly gravitates towards empowerment of women in their personal lives. Extending the age-old philosophy of ‘charity begins at home’, the youngsters take a stand on behalf of any injustice meted out towards the women and girls within their own families such as mothers, sisters, aunts and brother’s wives,” explains Harish. Upholding the woman’s right to a life of dignity and safety is one of MAVA’a major goals. Over the last 25 years, under Harish’s leadership, MAVA has been building the movement through cultural advocacy, counselling and educational programs, particularly for the youth.

On the first anniversary of the brutal gang-rape of girl in Delhi, MAVA organized a city-wide Campaign called 'RISE'. Over 3000 students from around 30 colleges were involved in mass public rallies simultaneously organized in 40 key spots across Mumbai from 9 a.m. till 3 p.m. Several shows of a Street-play ‘De Dhakka’ (Give a Blow) was staged by student leaders of eight colleges who had collectively scripted the play, covering various forms of violence on girls and the measures that can be taken by youths to address the issue.

In 2006, MAVA launched a new initiative, ‘Friendship among youth’, or ‘Yuva Maitri’ in Marathi to engage young men in Pune and promote a healthy dialogue on gender, sexuality, masculinity and related issues. It began with 33 male students between the ages of 16 and 17, from six rural and semi-rural colleges in Pune district.

These students underwent training on gender issues under a ‘Personal change’ plan for a year with guidance from gender experts and sexologists. Youth-friendly and innovative tools like interactive workshops, awareness songs, posters, wall newspapers, film screenings, and street theatre were used to train the students.

In the second year of the initiative, 17 trained students decided to continue as ‘communicators’ and began discussing gender, healthy relationships, and masculinity. These trained communicators provide a safe, non-threatening platform for other young men to share their fears, thoughts, dilemmas and concerns in a comfortable environment.

Also, they are exposed to new ideas of men and masculinity, including sexual health, male-female relationships and other gender matters. The initiative has gradually spread to Mumbai, Satara, Kolhapur and Jalgaon as MAVA partnered with women’s organisations, and local universities to conduct Yuva Maitri workshops and training sessions.

Women’s groups like MASUM, Tathapi Stree Mukti Sanghatana, Nari Samata Manch in Pune,Yuva, Anubhav Shiksha, Bharatiya Stree Shakti in Nagpur, health providers in Aurangabad and Nashik, human rights organisations like Delhi-based Breakthrough TV etc. collaborate with MAVA to conduct gender-sensitisation sessions for the youth. Educational Institutions from Pune, Mumbai (University of Mumbai), Satara, Kolhapur (D.K. Shinde School of Social Work) and Jalgaon (North Maharashtra University) collaborate with MAVA to run Yuva Maitri as a part of the National Service Scheme (NSS) and conduct gender-awareness sessions and outreach programmes. The young men and women are more open about discussing matters that they would have earlier been shy about. Today they do not hesitate to discuss issues like male and female sexuality, masturbation myths, menstruation, HIV, family planning, and/or gender roles. Yuva Maitri has broadened their mindsets, thus addressing the issue of violence against women at a curative level - changing mindsets of men who think violence against women is acceptable, as well as at the preventive level - preventing acts of violence from happening.