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How can men and boys become involved in gender equality for young girls?

Vikrant Pandey, founder of Fightback, presented at Palladium's Day of the Girl event on how men can - and must - help achieve gender equality. Palladium's Aron Marshall spoke with him afterwards to discuss why this is so important and how men can get involved.

600 million adolescent girls will enter the world's workforce in the next decade. In developing countries, 90% will work in the informal sector, characterised by little or no financial security and high potential for exploitation and abuse. Yet, the demand in the world economy for educated and skilled workers is huge and growing, and girls hold the potential to make a dynamic contribution; providing reliable, fast-learning, and hardworking human capital.

Men and boys have an important role to play in helping to remove the constraints placed on women and girls in many parts of the world, becoming highly effective actors in the journey to achieving gender equality.

Vikrant Pandey, one of the panellists at Palladium's Day of the Girl event and founder of the sexual violence risk reduction organisation Fightback, is leading engagement with men and boys in Nepal through a variety of interventions targeted at all age groups. These interventions include education on mutual respect and consent, understanding sexual abuse, and how to deal with the drivers of violence, such as anger, fear and aggression.

Empathy and Mutual Respect

During the conference, Vikrant highlighted that for men and boys, cross-gender empathy and identifying with girls is critical. "Men and boys must be proactive in carrying out cultural change and play a pivotal role in a paradigm shift from inter-gender dynamics based on power, to dynamics based on mutual respect," Vikrant stressed.

Fightback is contributing to this paradigm shift by engaging men and boys of all ages, from school programmes and parent workshops to trainings for bus drivers and conductors. These educational interventions are designed to help men and boys fully understand the long-lasting impacts societal restrictions and exploitation of girls can have. Additionally, the interventions aim to develop an understanding that men and boys should be custodians of women's safety and should raise their voices against gender-based violence as well as intervene when they encounter it.

Reforming Traditional Stereotypes

The stereotype that women and girls are dependent on or less capable than boys can become ingrained in the minds of both genders. Many girls may be led into believing these stereotypes themselves, which can lead to a lack of self-worth and ambition to achieve. Educating men and boys on the advantages of girls in the work force and their potential as reliable employees and proficient employers will break preconceived attitudes towards women and girls, opening new opportunities across occupational sectors and hierarchies.

Fightback is challenging these traditional stereotypes and patriarchal societal constructs for both genders, from teaching self-defence to young women and girls to deconstructing the classical role of men in society.

A self-defence training for young women and girls at Fightback.

"Fightback provides educational sessions that analyse the concept of what it means to be a man in Nepal and help provide an understanding that this role should not be restrictive," Vikrant explained. "The combined effect of these interventions aims to build new mind-sets in men, with embedded and accepted knowledge that girls have equal potential to boys."

The gap between younger and older generations, between traditionalism and modernism, means that both boys and girls have a distinct opportunity to criticise the mentalities of older generations and develop new mindsets where gender does not impact their potential. This will be an essential milestone for gender equality in the future workforce.

Engaging Fathers as Gatekeepers

One of the findings Vikrant has noticed during Fightback's parents' workshops is that in Nepal, fathers are often the more proactive of the two parents towards girls' safety. "Gender equality was always important to me, but it become crucial when I had my own daughter," he said.

Engaging fathers to help encourage their daughters to attend workshops and stay in school is key to improving girls' prospects. Human Rights Watch reports that girls in Nepal often marry as a direct consequence of leaving school, reinforcing the essential role fathers can play in building a generation of young women who are well educated, have diverse skill sets, and spend longer in employment.

Ultimately, men of all ages must be engaged in effectively bringing about workforce gender equality. As Vikrant has pointed out, to bring about systemic and permanent change "it is the current generation of young boys who stand as pivotal actors."

Looking to the future, it may be that technology, namely social media, will be their biggest advantage compared to the older generations; providing a valuable tool to access information and revolutionise their mentalities towards girls, beyond the scope of tradition.