• He for She with Isha Vidhya

    December 15, 2014. Senior Staff, Nora Dooley, shares her thoughts on our last program in India for 2014 with the Isha Foundation in Coimbatore, India.

    “Can men take care of babies?” – “YES!”

    “Can men cook and clean?” – “YES!”

    “Can men stay at home while women work?” – Another, resounding, “YES!”

    Thirty men and boys in perfect unison; they chant, “YES” for gender equality. And three women sigh and shake their heads.

    For my final program of 2014, I return to Coimbatore for the third year of our partnership with the Isha Foundation. This year sees some familiar faces from years past, but the majority of the participants are new to CAC. We have a nice mélange of teachers and students, adding depth and energy to every game and discussion.

    We do not have a nice mélange of gender.

    An easy choice by both parties – CAC and Isha – gender equity quickly became this year’s priority. Such a nice term, ‘gender equity’. Equity. Equality. But what does it mean? To you? To me?

    Many cheer for equality, but few take the time to find their personal motive for why we need to empower women and girls.

    So we play. And play and play. Marta Skills for Life. Mia Hamm Skills for Life. Who is Marta? Who is Mia Hamm?

    Powerful. Female. Role Models.

    Marta for Gender Equity: How can we get more girls on the pitch? If you score a goal, use your voice to empower your teammates – “You can do it!”, they shout. Rapinoe for Gender Equity: Four words for the ideal man: “Strong!” “Legend!” “Noble!” “Superior!” The four teams stand in four corners on the pitch, one for each word. When I call two words the groups standing in the corresponding boxes switch places as fast as possible – running, skipping, dancing, like animals, with a ball. Now four words for your ideal woman: “Beautiful!” “Gentle!” “Smart-look!” “Colorful!” We play again.

    Falcao for Gender Equity: One team has three goals to score on; the other team only has one. We play. “Is this game fair?” “No!” Suarez for Gender Equity: Three goals at each end that represent words that empower girls. The participants call out, “education!”, “employment!”, and “choice!”. Everybody must walk and if they score a goal and shout the empowering word, they can run. Perpetua for Gender Equity: What are some traditional roles for men in your community? – Driver, builder, farmer, fisherman, businessman, army, shoemaker, barber. And women? – Beauty parlor, housewife, baby-care, cooking, cleaning, nurse, stitching. When I call out a job – the players assigned that role run onto the field and play 2v2, 4v4, etc. We play.

    I ask:

    “Can men be beautiful?” – “YES!”

    “Can men take care of babies?” – “YES!”

    “I see you shaking your head, Lakshmi (a participant for all three years of CAC programs), why?”

    “Because I do not see.”

    And therein lies the rub.

    There is too often an abyss between policy and practice. Between awareness and behavior. I know unprotected sex is the leading cause of HIV, and yet? I know I am not legally allowed to hit this child with a stick when she misbehaves, and yet?

    I know I’m supposed to jump on the #femaleempowerment / #genderequality / #heforshe bandwagon… and?

    How do we bridge this daunting gap? With a ball, perhaps?

    We think so. By the end of the program it felt more like the male-dominated group actually believed in what they were saying, and the women were standing up for themselves. It is a slow, uphill trek, but probably the most important climb in the world.

    So, can men take care of babies? Can women play football?

    YES! … if that is their choice. What is yours?

    DSC02852