by Emily Bild, GoPhilanthropic Regional Development Manager, India/Nepal

A Program that Supports Men and Boys: The Key to Gender Equality?

The model at Equal Community Foundation (ECF) in Pune, South India, is very simple yet highly effective — target adolescent boys and train them to become advocates for gender equality within their family and community.


Discrimination and abuses against women and girls in India are widespread. Thankfully, there are a huge number of NGOs and community-based organizations working hard to protect and promote the rights of girls and women. However, there is another side of the coin in the fight for gender equality and women’s empowerment – changing the mindset of men and boys. Sadly, empowering a woman is only half the battle and doesn’t stop her husband from beating her when he comes home drunk. To stop that, men and boys need to change their behavior.

Last year, whilst researching trafficking in India, GoPhil recognized a need to address the root causes – i.e. you won’t stop the trafficking of girls and young women to red light areas unless you can reduce the demand for commercial sex. Such research led us to discover our newest partner program, Equal Community Foundation (ECF), an exciting and innovative NGO based in Pune, South India. Established in 2009 by two young founders, ECF works with men and boys to end violence and discrimination against women. Their model is very simple yet effective — target adolescent boys and train them to become advocates for gender equality within their families and their communities. Reaching 40,000 people in 20 low income and slum communities in Pune, their Action for Equality program has seen life-changing results with boys taking action to promote the education of girls and to tackle violence against women.

As GoPhil’s Regional Development Manager, I travelled to Pune at the end of 2017 to meet ECF’s team and see their work first-hand. Their team consists of young male Program Mentors, mostly in their mid 20s so the adolescent boys can easily develop a rapport with them. Seeing them in action in a slum community was hugely inspiring. Many of the boys in the community had no positive male role models in their life (with fathers often drunk or absent) until they started attending the after-school sessions with ECF Program Mentors. All the boys (aged 13-17) were keen to share stories about what they had learned from the mentors and how this had changed their attitude to so many issues in their family and community.

One boy shared that his sister had dropped out of school when his mother fell sick as she needed to do the housework. After participating in the program, he told his parents he would split the household chores with his sister and persuaded them to send his sister back to school. He was so proud of the fact he had helped his sister to go back to school. Meeting the mothers and hearing how their sons have changed was also very thought-provoking – many had stories of their sons being calmer and more considerate after attending the program (a significant change in a community with very high levels of violence) and all are now planning to send their younger sons along to participate at ECF.

Over 100 million women in India continue to face violence and discrimination at the hands of men. ECF’s aim is ambitious – they want to tackle this discrimination at its root, engage men as part of the solution and raise every single boy in India to become an advocate for a gender-equitable society. To do this, they plan to partner with as many NGOs as possible across the country and mentor them to start working with boys. In early 2018 they launched Project Raise as their platform to do this, with online tools and webinars to support organizations working on women’s empowerment to start engaging men and boys in their work.

Ticking off so many of GoPhil’s boxes – innovation, addressing root causes, sharing of learning, networking, etc. – we are excited to be taking on ECF as a new partner this year and to find ways we can support them to roll out this incredible program across the country!

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