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Boys on film: challenging masculinities in South Asia


How can men give 100 percent support to women in their battle against violence? Does the media have a role to play? Save the Children Fund and UNICEF have examined the potential of film to help boys in South Asia question their attitudes towards gender. Violence against women in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal runs high and is perpetuated by traditional practices such as dowry payments or sex selective abortions. Can film challenge entrenched gender stereotypes? The study suggests that impressionable school-aged boys could be made to think positively about alternative male role models and attitudes towards girls and women through film.

Efforts to tackle violence against women have mostly focused on women. Yet if women’s empowerment is to be sustained, a parallel complimentary change in men is crucial. Men are the main perpetrators of violence: it is thus essential for men to participate in efforts to combat violence. Few such initiatives exist however. People are instead confronted on a daily basis by the media portraying men as violent and powerful. Culture, tradition and religion in South Asia dictates that girls and boys are segregated from an early age. Boys are taught at school and at home to respect and uphold a system based not on equality but on power and patriarchy.

Why film? Television and video in South Asia is growing fast with a national TV station in each country and over 40 channels in the region: children are more visually literate than ever from Karachi to Delhi or to remote hills in Nepal. A workshop in Kathmandu brought together male film directors to discuss masculinities and resulted in a plan to produce documentaries aimed at giving men and boys a different image of what masculinity might be - a contrast to media perspectives that accept violence towards women as the norm.

In discussions at the Kathmandu workshop it emerged that:

  • participants' own experiences as men, often defined by feelings of powerlessness, contrasted directly with society's ideas about masculinity such as the drive for power and control.
  • gender studies, in focusing on the toll that patriarchy takes on women, has paid little attention to the cost extracted from men for being a son, a husband, or a father
  • visual electronic media is a particularly effective means of education and communication especially amongst children.

Film can act as a catalyst to kick start a process of working with boys and men to question patriarchal structures, nurture respect for women and girls, and acknowledge the right of both sexes to live free of violence. Policy implications include:

  • Film will be most effective if aimed at school-aged boys who are still unsure what it means to be a man and are open to alternative ideas.
  • Children in both rural and urban areas of South Asia are far more visually literate than earlier generations. Communicating via visual electronic media will help have an impact on children and youth.
  • Strategies based solely on information dissemination have limited impact. Films need to both present a message and provoke discussion.
  • Films need to be part of a larger, co-ordinated effort towards working with men and boys to question gender norms.

Contributor(s): Ranjan Poudyal

'Alternative masculinities in South Asia: an exploration through films for schools' by Ranjan Poudyal, IDS Bulletin 31/2 (April 2000).

Funded by: UNICEF

Date: 12 June 2000

Further information:
Ranjan Poudyal
Regional Adviser
Office for South and Central Asia
Save the Children Fund
Post Box 5850

Tel: 00 +977 (1) 527152 or +977 (1)523924
Fax: 00 +977 (1) 527266
Save the Children Fund