Gender Equality: Why Development Needs to Address Masculinities

Rahul Roy
Rahul Roy

By ADB Blog Team

Indian filmmaker Rahul Roy recently visited ADB to screen his 2013 film “Till We Meet Again” and discuss how development programs can incorporate masculinities to truly achieve impact on gender equality.

Indian filmmaker and gender equality advocate Rahul Roy’s documentaries explore how men behave toward women in the wider context of communities, class identities, and urban spaces. He recently visited ADB to screen his 2013 film “Till We Meet Again” and sat down with us to discuss how development programs can incorporate masculinities to truly achieve impact on gender equality.

What are the biggest challenges for development organizations trying to change the mindset of how men view women and the role of women in India?

Development is ultimately about achieving equity, so we need to figure out where the inequities are coming from, or what are the reasons behind under-development. Are development projects locking horns with those conditions of inequity for development goals to be achieved? In the context of gender—and in the specific context of masculinities—for any development project it’s important to take into account the fact that power, as we experience it in communities, situations and families, is something that manifests and consolidates itself through masculinity. Men retain power, and any development program has to take into account how to address that power center. If we don’t address it, we will end up contributing to a further consolidation of existing power centers. Development interventions often end up benefiting those already in power because they are better positioned to take advantage of the benefits that development brings to their communities. Development programs should figure out how to tackle power centers, and allow development gains to fight inequities. And they need to take into account power hierarchies that exist between different groups of men – competing masculinities.

How do think your film can change the views of development professionals on the male perspective on gender equity, and incorporate them into their work?

My films don’t give easy answers. I’m not trying to provide messages that can be interpreted as action points for change. What I do in this film that was screened is try and provide an opportunity for other men to draw on their own memories of relationships, of violence, of growing up, of fatherhood, marriage, of romance – how they have negotiated those feelings in their own lives. I want you, as a man, to explore your own self. I don’t want to hit you on your head with moral and politically correct assertions. This film also attempts to engage with what has emerged as a popular intervention on masculinity: the idea of turning men into caring fathers so that they become more gender-equitable men. I think that’s too simplistic an equation. As I show in my film, the four men I work with are all extremely dedicated to their children, and the emphasis on their children’s education and wellbeing is much more than what they experienced from their own fathers. That’s a huge shift – they are really caring fathers. But does that translate into gender equity in their relationship with their wives? No. Despite being good fathers, they are also violent husbands. One has to be very careful, and that’s where I hope the film can reach out to those working in development, and especially gender equality, to be more cautious about coming up with easy answers to what it means to work with men in development interventions on masculinities.

What has been the main failure in how development efforts have tackled masculinities, and what would you do differently to address the issue if you were a development leader?

Why do we need development? What is development about? Development is supposed to address issues of inequity around us, provide equal opportunities and equity of resource distribution and utilization. If a development program ignores or skirts existing inequities, then it will never achieve its goals. Research across the globe has repeatedly pointed this out, and it is something we have learned in the context of women very clearly. Projects that do not take women on board often fail, and if they don’t fail they don’t achieve all they set out to do. Gender is one form of inequity, and there are many more. Masculinities operate in the context of hierarchies amongst men themselves, the hierarchy that men form in communities. That has to be addressed, and how development programs can address it is not something new being discussed. We must involve all the vulnerable sectors in program design and planning. What masculinities enable us to understand is that the only way to sustain any inequity against women is through masculinity and violence. Without masculinity and without violence, most inequities would crumble on their own. So if masculinity is the way to nurture and consolidate inequities, there is no escaping it – we must address it. How, though, is something relatively new. It’s only now that people are really thinking about it, and there are few clear answers. It’s only by doing, making mistakes, trying to do things in a different way that we will figure out the best way to incorporate masculinities in gender equality programs.