Recently Delhi hosted a Global Symposium on Men and Boys for Gender Equality which was attended by about 1100 women and men of all ages from about 95 countries of the world.

This symposium was organized by Men Engage, a global network of about 700 NGOs who believe it is time that boys and men also engage with issues of equality and justice and fight against gender inequality and patriarchy. Several UN agencies, bilateral donors, international NGOs also participated in and supported this large gathering.

The participating organizations are working with boys and men in different parts of the world to make them understand how patriarchy is making them violent, dominating and insensitive and robbing them of their humanity, sensitivity, kindness.

It is indeed high time that men understand that although patriarchy of course gives them power and privileges, but it also reduces their choices, puts them in straightjackets; deprives them of all humane virtues and qualities like caring, nurturing, gentleness, sensitivity etc.

As part of a global campaign and network called Peace Women across the Globe, of which I am currently the Co-chair, I have been saying that the biggest contribution of women to peace is that they have not started and fought any wars; and men are responsible for, or guilty of, creating most conflicts, wars and violence on this planet.

UNESCO is right in saying “All wars start in the minds of MEN.” Men are only 50 percent of the population but almost all terrorists, suicide bombers, murderers, rapists, criminals are men. This is not because of men’s biology, their Nature; this is so because patriarchy brutalizes and dehumanizes boys and men. Little, gentle boys are denied the right to cry, to express their fears; they are given toy guns to play with; they are spoilt well and proper and made to believe they are superior to women and girls, the other half of humanity. The result of all this is inequality within the families, the primary social unit which socializes all of us, and everywhere else. In patriarchy, not just women but also boys and men are sexually abused by stronger, macho men.

I believe that hegemonic and violent masculinity is at the root of most problems threatening the planet and human survival, like corporate greed, ecological destruction, all conflicts and wars, all kinds of terrorism and fundamentalisms, including State and market terrorism. Greed based economic paradigm, irresponsible media, pornography, militarization, and certain sports, all of which are backed by big economic interests, promote destructive masculinity

Just as many women and women’s groups have been trying to understand patriarchy, examine ourselves and challenge patriarchy for hundreds of years, men can do the same. In fact individual men have always done this and have challenged patriarchy, but men as a group have not done this until very recently.

The first thing men can do is to understand that patriarchy or male superiority is a superstition; it is a myth, just as it is a myth that Brahmins, Whites etc. are superior to others.

The second thing men can do is to accept and respect the United Nations Human Rights Declaration, Article 1 of which says “All human beings are born equal and free in dignity and rights”. The Constitutions of most South Asian countries also say the same. Once they accept and internalize the principle that Women’s Rights are Human Rights, their attitudes and behavior would improve.

The third thing, not just men but all of us, need to accept is that today the most important Text should be that of our National Constitutions. If any of our cultural or religious beliefs and practices goes against equality, they deny justice to some groups; these practices have to be given up, because they are anti Constitution, hence not only improper but also illegal.

For example, in my opinion words like PATI, SWAMI, KHAAWIND, used for a husband, all of which actually mean owner, lord, master, are illegal. In fact even the word husband does not denote equality. Remember the word animal husbandry? To husband means to control, manage, domesticate. In a free country where men and women are equal, women cannot have any owner, lord, master. They can have life partners.

Similarly practices like KANYADAAN in the Hindu tradition and giving away the bride in the Christian tradition, should be illegal today. No adult woman should be given away by one man to another. She is a full human being, a citizen of the country and she should have agency like any man. Many examples like these can be seen in other traditions.

The fourth thing I believe we need is a movement of men towards parenting, household work and family kitchens. Let us give ladles and spoons to our boys so that their hands are not free to pick up guns; give them children to look after and play with so that they have no time to play with death. Make men mothers so that they have no time to be rapists and murderers, soldiers and terrorists. Make them “home-makers” so that they stop being “trouble-makers”; create “love instincts” in them to drown their “killer instincts”.

The world cannot tolerate any more wars, any more violence, any more cut throat competition, any more violent men and masculinities. The experiments with the concept and practices of Gross National Happiness being done by Bhutan is the way to go forward.

Here is one of my favorite stories, which gives me hope that men can change. It was 1942 and Mahatma Gandhi was addressing a press conference at his Ashram in Wardha. After every few minutes he would say, “Excuse me gentlemen, I must go in for a few minutes”. He would then go into his hut and return after 8-10 minutes. After he did this a few times, a journalist asked angrily why he was wasting their time- why couldn’t he finish the press conference and go in once and for all. Gandhiji gently replied that he had to go in every few minutes because his wife was suffering from acute diarrhea and he had to give her a bed pan every few minutes.

Here is a man who tried to create a balance in his life between his mothering and public duties. For him serving his wife, cleaning the Ashram toilets, spinning yarn was as important as leading the most important struggle against colonialism. And, in the final analysis, it is those men who are able to create a balance between their inner “man” and “woman“ who become great and immortal. Strong, macho, power wielding men might be feared, but they are not loved and revered.

Just as we in the women’s movement have been trying to create a new kind of woman (empowered, active, strong, gentle, and cooperative), we need new models of men and masculinity which allow boys and men to feel and behave in ways that are currently forbidden; models that are not based on power differentials and domination over women and other men.