Small Talk With Harish Sadani

CHANGE leaders do great things, and often that is all we know about them. Here we want to get a different glimpse of the personalities that constitute the development space. Every month we get one leader to answer four questions, not necessarily about their work, but about themselves. This week we catch up with Harish Sadani of Men Against Violence and Abuse

A definite demarcation between gender roles was something Harish Sadani noticed at a very young age when his friends and neighbours mocked him for helping out his aunts with household chores. Something that came as a natural instinct for him was labelled as ‘woman’s job’ and his masculinity was attacked.

Over the years, Harish realised how patriarchy not only demeans women and forces them to bend to societal norms, but it also cages men. So, when he came across cases of gender-based violence against women, he saw that men were often excluded from the discussions. And so, he cofounded MAVA with the idea that in order to put a stop to this kind abuse, it is important to engage men and help them recognise the need to change perceptions about themselves and women, deconstruct man-woman stereotypes and promote gender sensitivity.

Small Change: Describe your moment of epiphany that led you to start MAVA?

Harish Sadani: My paternal aunts and late actress Smita Patil were the inspiration behind me co-founding Men Against Violence and Abuse.

But the trigger was something I noticed while volunteering with a women’s organisation. When I was pursuing my Masters in Social Work at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, I volunteered for an organisation dealing with cases of domestic violence.  Their way of tackling the issue included ostracising the male abuser or having a protest outside the perpetrator’s home or blackening the face of the man.

I felt that none of these responses would provide succour to the battered women and made me more clear that unless men were engaged on issues of gender and they are seen as ‘part of the solution’, we will not be able to address the root cause of gender-based violence on women.

SC: What’s one book or film you would recommend to someone so they can understand your cause better?

HS: I would recommend The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help by Jackson Katz.

SC: What is one little unknown fact about the social issue you work on?

HS: Gender-based violence against women is largely seen as a ‘women’s issue’ by most of us. It’s termed that because it impacts women. But the issue doesn’t arise because of women, but because of the unequal power relations between men and women, because of the perspective of patriarchal men about women is faulty. Thus it is a societal issue.

And patriarchy, which is at the root of the problem, has a negative impact on young boys and men along with women. The effect of patriarchy on women has always been studied and talked about more but what is lacking is the perspective that patriarchy affects men too. It creates unrealistic pressures for men to demonstrate their masculinity at various phases of life and has a restrictive definition of what masculinity is.

SC:  If you could have one superpower, what would you choose?

HS: For an NGO, funds are always something that hold us back. So, I would want a superpower that would help me generate a strong corpus fund for my organisation, so strong and solid that I don’t have to constantly worry about raising funds and rather put my energy in creating my out-of-the-box programmes and focusing on my mission of humanising and transforming men and boys to build a healthier society.

If you would like to donate to MAVA, please do so here.

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