Boys’ Attitudes Shift about Manhood, Violence Against Women

Views about gender roles improve among young Indian athletes in ICRW program
Wed, 07/18/2012

New International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) findings show that Indian boys’ views about manhood and women’s roles in society became less patriarchal and more equitable after participating in an ICRW program that aimed to shift norms about gender equity. 

The program, called Parivartan, drew in boys from Mumbai through the popular sport of cricket and challenged them to question traditional notions of manhood present in many societies, including their own. Results from ICRW’s evaluation provided proof that sensitizing boys to gender issues can potentially change stereotypes they hold and their attitudes about violence against women. 

Unfolding over three years among boys ages 10 to 16, Parivartan capitalized on cricket coaches’ role in the young athletes’ lives to impart the program’s key messages. It required the coaches, too, to shift their own ideas about expectations of men and women in society. 

“Parivartan demonstrated that role models for youth – in this case, sports coaches – hold great potential as conduits for helping to address and change seemingly indomitable societal norms,” said Madhumita Das, an ICRW senior technical specialist who directed Parivartan. “What we don’t know yet is if the changes that took place among program participants will remain with them into adulthood.” 

Parivartan’s athletes hailed from opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum: middle- and upper-class youth from Mumbai schools who had paid coaches and practiced their game in their cricketer’s white on a manicured field near a country club in downtown Mumbai; and boys from Mumbai’s slum community of Shivaji Nagar, who were coached by mentors close in age and practiced on dirt or asphalt, where they used recycled equipment and sometimes ran in sandals or barefoot. 

Modeled after the Coaching Boys into Men program by Futures Without Violence (formerly Family Violence Prevention Fund), ICRW sought to test whether the influence of coaches and the sports setting could serve as a venue – like home and school – to learn about gender roles and relationships. Experts aimed to document how attitudes, perceptions and behaviors did or did not change among athletes – as well as their coaches. 

“Coaches are more than just instructors of sports techniques. They’re also role models,” Das said. “So we wanted to value this unique relationship of coaches’ with their athletes, to have them channel positive messages to young men about manhood and respect for women.” 

The study sample consisted of 168 athletes in 26 Mumbai schools who were exposed to the Parivartan curriculum, and 141 athletes from 19 schools where the program was introduced later. This design provided a means of comparison, to gauge the effectiveness of the program. Similarly, 168 athletes from Shivaji Nagar took part in the program, while 133 athletes from another community served as the comparison group. 

Researchers sought to answer three questions: (1) What changes occurred in gender and violence-related attitudes, perceptions and behaviors among the Parivartan athletes? (2) What effects did participation in the training and the overall program have on the coaches? and (3) What changes did the wives, mothers or daughters of the coaches perceive as a result of the men’s participation in the program? 

In general, ICRW found that attitudes about gender equity and violence against women shifted for the better among the young cricketers. The coaches’ mindset and behavior also evolved positively. 

ICRW determined the changes by asking the athletes to respond to a series of statements centered on stereotypes around manhood and roles for girls and women. This included questions such as, “A wife should always obey her husband” and “Only men should work outside the home.” The participants were asked at the beginning and end of the Parivartan program to indicate on a 5-point scale whether or not they agreed. ICRW compared responses among athletes from the school setting, the slum community and the groups who did not receive the Parivartan curriculum.

Among ICRW’s findings was that most young cricketers supported a more traditional view of manhood when the program started – a view where boys are not expected to be faithful to girlfriends, where they must always act tough and where they believe they’ll lose respect if they talk about their problems. “This suggested that despite their young age, many boys had already been exposed to and internalized the idea that real men are tough, unfaithful and unemotional,” Das said. 

Those perceptions had changed for most by the end of the program. However, many participants said they still believed that only men can work outside of the home – one of the more deeply-engrained cultural expectations. 

When ICRW looked at changes across the three areas researchers studied – boys’ controlling behavior, manhood and masculinity and girls’ and women’s roles – it found that Parivartan participants’ attitudes about gender roles had changed significantly, compared to those who did not participate in the program. 

An important transformation took place in the Shivaji Nagar athletes’ opinions physical abuse of girls: they became less supportive of it. Such violence is not uncommon; many girls in India, particularly those from poor neighborhoods, are not valued much by their families or others in their community. Many don’t have the chance to attend school or have much say over the course of their lives. To that end, some men and boys see girls as disposable and to be controlled – sometimes, by using violence. In the Parivartan study, most young athletes agreed that a girl does not deserve to be hit if she doesn’t finish her homework, obey her elders or argues with her siblings. However, there was still somewhat strong agreement – specifically among the community athletes – that a girl deserves to be slapped or beaten when she doesn’t help with household chores. 

“Particularly in poor communities, girls are often seen as a big support to handle household chores and look after their younger siblings,” Das said. “More importance is placed on that role in the home, regardless of how young they are, than in getting an education.” 

It’s unclear whether the positive changes in attitudes and behavior that ICRW found will stick as the young men grow into adults. To guarantee such an outcome, ICRW recommends that Parivartan be institutionalized into the settings to which teenagers connect and learn, so that its messages are consistently reinforced. 

While the formal program in Mumbai is no longer, Parivartan is expanding its focus and working with a new group of youth in a rural area: Now, it will be Parivartan-Plus, and part of the U.K. Department for International Development’s STRIVE effort to address social inequities that continue to fuel the AIDS epidemic. The program will take place in rural Karnataka, in southern India, and along with addressing violence against women, it also will tackle sexuality and the links between alcohol and substance use and HIV. 

Gillian Gaynair is ICRW’s senior writer and editor.

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