Brac has called for a social movement to fight violence against women (VAW) in a roundtable on “Media's role in redefining masculinity” held on Saturday at Brac Centre in Dhaka.
Emphasising the need for a fundamental change in how society preserves masculinity, Asif Saleh, Brac senior director (strategy, communication and empowerment), said: “We need a change of mindset. That is why we are trying to think of ways in which the media can help and engage men in the social movement.”
“We are here to understand how masculinity is perceived and later take that knowledge to come up with ways to include men in discussions about VAW and not leave that role to the women who had been engaged in the movement for years,” Asif added.
When Asif gave the floor to the media personalities present to design a solution, most emphasised on the use of language about and around women and how rape and women's bodies are portrayed in various discourses.
They all highlighted the need for a socio-cultural movement which would include a space for men who can talk about VAW and not leave that responsibility to the women.
The speakers made the observation that a pervasive culture of impunity is mostly responsible for the recent increase in sexual violence and other forms of crimes perpetrated against women.
Exposure to online content provoking sexual abuse of women and children, strong social and religious values against gender equality and a lack of strong voice among males against such incidents are also responsible for the rapid increase in incidents of violence against women, they said.
Moreover, the emphasis on language was brought multiple times in the discussion – how language can be used to perpetuate rape culture and how those who try to fight it are subjected to misogyny.
Some agreed that whenever any issue regarding gender comes to the forefront, most men shy away from participating or engaging.
However, the ones, who do speak up, are small in number and are attacked by misogynists, said Supriti Dhar, editor of an online news portal Women Chapter.
Awrup Sanyal, advisor at Jeeon, said toxic masculinity is deeply entrenched.
He said: “The personal gets reflected in the public sphere, in our work, in our behaviour. Essentialism and stereotypes reinforce the toxic ideas of masculinity — by the way of language, body image, emotion, and gender roles. These misplaced ideas of masculinity harm men as much as they do others.”
“Media content must be gender sensitive and gender-informed. By gender I mean the gender spectrum, and not just the man-woman binary. We are all somewhere on this spectrum with traits ranging from the masculine to the feminine. This is the normal that media must model,” he added.
Editor at DBC TV Nabonita Chowdhury said backward social values are at the root of all issues. While a massive campaign aimed at changing the male psyche is urgent, more investments should be made to promote women empowerment, she said.
Iresh Zaker, managing director at Asiatic Experiential Marketing Limited, also said effective interventions in media can bring about a change in how toxic masculinity is perpetuated in society.
Sushmita S Preetha, editor of Star Weekend of The Daily Star, talked about how media houses should organise workshops on gender and introduce guidelines that clearly state what are regarded as gender violence.
"We need to deconstruct entrenched patriarchal mindsets within our own organisations and in our own addas before, and in order to, change societal perceptions of masculinity," she said.
Zafar Sobhan, editor of the Dhaka Tribune, and Ekattor TV's Ishtiaq Reza spoke about the procedure of rape cases, among other aspects of patriarchy.
Ishtiaq emphasised on the chauvinism that persists in legal procedures and law while Zafar shed light on following up on who gets prosecuted.
The event came a few days after Brac posted a video reacting to the gang rape and murder of Jakia Sultana Rupa, which has been viewed around 777,000 times and shared around 6,159 times so far.
Brac now intends to hold discussions with different stakeholders of other fields of work and come up with a solution designed to engage men in the fight against VAW and redefine masculinity.