In Need of More Male Allies

Written by Janani Sampath

Engaging men from all age groups deliberately in gender inclusion programs would be the first step towards creating Gender Champions

A male teacher, who has been serving in a reputed private school, has been accused of sexual harassment of students. Earlier this week, an alumna of the school had posted on social media harrowing tales about the teacher who harassed students on several occasions. Following her post, other students from the school also came out in the open, accusing him of touching girl students inappropriately, apart from turning up for online classes wrapped in just a towel.

The news of a male teacher from a reputed private school in Chennai being arrested for alleged sexual harassment of students, yet again raises a pertinent question: what can deter perpetrators of sexual offenses. While laws protect, what can be done to prevent them?

In recent years, a cursory look at several reports on complaints of sexual abuse in schools raises alarm bells. The sheer frequency leaves most scrambling for solutions. The latest case has seen a growing chorus from all on ‘why such teachers shouldn’t be entertained in any institution’?

But there are more such predators on the prowl, even as we know that some cases do not get reported. A 2018 report on Delhi revealed that at least 60% of child abuse cases were linked to schools. Not just schools, colleges have their accounts of sexual offenses. In early 2019, students of a well-known college in Chennai accused a professor of sexual harassment during a trip and in the college.

At the 2020 Avtar & Working Mother 100 Best Companies, prevention of workplace sexual harassment is very important. Apart from ensuring they meet all requirements, they raise awareness through various methods – 89% of the 100 Best have e-learning programs on POSH. While 81% of the 100 Best Companies have whistle blower policies for employees to report cases of sexual harassment. India Inc has consistently promoted and embraced the concept of Male Allyship in its efforts towards diverse and inclusive workplace culture.

At the regulatory front, our country has tightened laws like the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) to combat such offenses, a preventive approach particularly at the grassroots level is an urgent need.

The not-for-profit arm of Avtar Group Avtar Human Capital Trust’s launched MITR (Men Impacting Trust & Respect) for adolescent boys studying in private CBSE schools in Chennai.

The frequent cases also point towards the fact that such crimes take place due to lack of a multitude of factors — empathy for the other gender, understanding about the consequences of the perpetrator’s action, age-appropriate guided information during the formative years, and dwindling values system in an otherwise rich culturally strong country.

MITR is a classroom intervention for boys studying in classes 9 to 12, to fill in the lacunae. The focal point of MITR is to train young teenage men so they grow up to be mature, well-informed youth of the country who will create safe, secure and equal spaces for their women counterparts.

According to a report by UNICEF by 2020, 87% of the world’s young people will be living in developing countries. Further to this report, India Skills Report reveals that the Indian workforce is estimated to increase approximately to 600 million by 2022 from the current 473 million – leading to the fact that the country’s workforce in the next few years will be dominated by the 18 somethings of today, or rather millennials.

Meanwhile, there is a growing crime rate on women, and most of these crimes are due to lack of empathy from the men towards their female counterparts; lack of knowledge about the consequences of the perpetrator’s action and more important, lack of guided knowledge during the formative years for these men.

While empowering girls is one solution to tackle the crime situation against women, it is also equally important that the male population is educated and trained in the art of empathizing, and that the educated male population is mentored to wear a friendly hat so that they reach out a helping hand to a girl in need!

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