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This 14-year-old boy is breaking the stereotype of toxic masculinity to advocate for gender equality, a true inspiration for all men today!
14-year-old Vinayak Sonar’s friends visited his house to invite him for an evening stroll around the village – an everyday ritual for this young group of boys. What was different this time was that, Vinayak’s mother told them that he was washing utensils and would join them later. Hearing this, the boys burst into muffled giggles – a usual reaction towards boys (and men), who go against the gendered roles and participate in the household chores.
Unaffected, Vinayak continued to contribute towards a silent revolution.
Since 2019, Vinayak – a resident of Bhimtola, a low-income community in Pune, has been attending the Action for Equality (AfE) programme that aims at creating awareness and sensitization towards gender equity among adolescent boys.
Organized once a week, this programme is delivered at three levels and is facilitated by a team of dedicated ‘Programme Mentors of Equal Community Foundation’. The team supports boys to bring about change at the individual, family, peer and community level in twenty communities across the city.
“In the initial days, I would miss classes as I was unfamiliar with the word ‘gender equity’ and had no idea about its importance in my life. With time, my mentor, Sandeep Patil sir, started encouraging me and asking me questions. It was interesting because we spoke a lot about our life,” shared Vinayak who learnt about human rights through these conversations. The most striking right he identified was about how women often don’t get to exercise the right to leisure.
“He slowly started taking up small chores at home so that his mother could get some time for herself. He started folding his own bedsheets, washing his own inner clothes and washing his plate after meals,” shares Sandeep Patil, his mentor.
Steadily, Vinayak started embracing more household responsibilities. He started washing the vessels and sweeping the floor. In the densely packed Bhimtola community, men washing vessels is more of an exception than a norm. He found an interesting ally at home – his father who works as an office assistant at a private bank. Inspired by his son and after learning from him about women’s right to leisure, his father started playing an active role in household chores – he now washes vegetables, makes his own tea and cleans the house while his wife runs a tailoring unit at home.
“What are human rights, really?” questions Vinayak. “For me, it is not about restricting women from going out or stopping them from wearing the clothes of their choice to ‘protect’ them. But it’s more about cooperating, taking responsibilities and having a dialogue with women where they are free to speak what they want! Not protection, but collaboration.”
Vinayak has even started learning how to use a pressure cooker and to make chapatis to ensure that his mother gets more time to focus on tailoring. He has also started showing interest in tailoring, seemingly a ‘women’s job’. And has learnt how to sew ‘fall’ into sarees and does small repair work on clothes. Seeing her son take up the work, customers expressed concern. However, Vinayak proves their concerns wrong by doing a good job every time with the support of his mother.
Can those who reject gender disparity in their own lives, look away from it in everyday interaction with their neighborhoods, communities and their extended families? Before COVID-19 had hit the world, Vinayak and his friends witnessed unpleasant, everyday experiences of their female peers – be it at work or educational institutions. Building on these observations, their mentor, Sandeep Patil, helped them mould their thoughts into a street play.
In 2019, amidst the lanes of Bhimtola, these adolescent boys performed a play on women’s right to mobility. But sadly, no one attended. “It’s hard to have a dialogue with people who are keen on following their own belief-systems,” Vinayak recollects.
Not the ones to be disheartened, these boys went door to door, requesting everyone to join in. Upon their insistence, 70 to 80 neighbours turned up. As this group of adolescent boys talked about how women have lost the opportunities to play, work, and roam around freely, there was silence amongst the audience. The questions they raised forced people to think. Later, audience members approached the group and expressed concerns about women’s safety and education. Vinayak and his friends engaged with them, sharing their learnings and experiences.
At 14, Vinayak has taken definitive stands on household responsibilities and gendered roles. His mother, Chandrakala Sonar, is proud of having a son who’s her ally not just at work but within their home as well. “When my five-year-old sister grows up, I would want a world where she has all the opportunities in the world, like I did. Maybe even more!”
This article has been written by Rucha Satoor from Maharashtra for Charkha Features (www.charkha.org)
First published here.
Featured image is a still from ‘Mom and Co’, and other images credit Charkha Features
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