‘Any man can be real man but it requires courage to be brave. A man can only resist Violence against Women if he is brave.’

BraveMen Campaign has been a unique self-reflexive learning process starting at an early age, helping young and adolescent boys to embody positive forms of masculinities while mobilizing girls to overcome negative impact of femininity to fight Gender Based Discrimination and Violence. The BMC approach involves young men, women, boys and girls in micro-level, inclusive, tolerant and gender transformative practices at home and then connect it with community activism leading to more gender equitable, inclusive and tolerant macro-level behavior and preventing VAW&G. Redefining the idea of bravery, as an act of protesting discrimination and violence instead of committing those, BMC celebrates role models of GBV prevention and involve men and boys without demonizing those. Since 2012 BMC has involved 108 schools and 3000+ students from different districts of Bangladesh.

The Story behind the BraveMen Campaign, Theory of Change, Self-Reflexive Diaries and Activities of BraveMen Campaign

The story behind the BraveMen Campaign

The BraveMen Campaign officially started in 2012 as an initiative of the National Human Rights Commission (JAMAKON), supported through its Capacity Development Project (CDP) funded by UNDP, the Swiss Confederation, SIDA and DANIDA. The Center for Men and Masculinities Studies (CMMS) and the United Nations Youth and Students Association of Bangladesh (UNYSAB) are the implementing partners.

Like many other countries violence against women is a burning issue in Bangladesh. In the recent years the violation of women rights and subjugation has magnetized the attention of conscious society. The intellectuals and think tanks have come up with theories and postulates but the fact is any effective strategy hardly came out. In 2011 Bangladesh National Human Rights Commission- Capacity Development Project conducted a baseline survey on human rights in Bangladesh. In this survey more than 60% of respondents opined that violence against wives is acceptable for ‘disobedience’ and ‘bad behavior’, or when a wife’s conduct affect the reputation of the family. From this scenario it became clear that the root of this threat is very deep. To uproot this problem of violating women’s right initiative has to be taken to nurture the school going boys so that they can develop a mind without any chauvinism and a mind with respect to the female members of the society. Considering this as a priority issue the National Human Rights Commission in Bangladesh has undertaken several initiatives. With support from UNDP as part of the BNHRC-CDP the Commission wants to develop a pilot initiative, which would involve boys in school to develop a campaign on VAW issues. At the same time The BraveMen Campaign was developed by Dr Sayed Saikh Imtiaz – an Associate Professor and Chair at the Department of Women and Gender Studies, University of Dhaka. He was then appointed to implement this momentous project. Thus the journey of Brave Men Campaign began. As action research it has been tested in four phases in 106 schools of Dhaka, Pabna, Sirajganj, Natore, Rangpur and Coxsbazar District. The BraveMen Campaign achieved a number of National and International Awards. It was awarded as one of the 100 change initiative of the globe on the eve of Impact Journalism Day in 2015.

See: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/23/whats-working-impact-journalism-day-news-organizations_n_7637768.html

This campaign targets the school going male students aged 12-15 to motivate them for taking action that would break men and boys silence on violence against women. The ultimate aim of this campaign is to spread this message among the school going boys: ‘Any man can be real man but it requires courage to be brave. A man can only resist VAW if he is brave.’

After hearing detail about the activity around fifty eminent personalities and social heroes including Honorable Vice Chancellor of the University of Dhaka, Members of National Human Rights Commission, Members of Bangladesh National Cricket Team and UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh came forward with their colleagues to join the “BE BRAVE SOLIDARITY CAMPAIGN” School based activity is the core commotion of the BraveMen Campaign.

During the first phase in 2013 BMC was introduced in 18 schools. Besides ten wellknown schools in Dhaka, 8 other schools of remote rural areas of Rangpur, Sirajganj, Pabna and Natore (2 schools from each districts). 540 boys took part in the campaign.

From the second half of 2013 to the second half of 2014 BNHRC-CDP did not support the BraveMen Campaign initiative. However, CMMS and Dr. Imtiaz kept the momentum by investing from own funds. From May 2014 BNHRC-CDP again recruited Dr. Imtiaz as consultant and CMMS being the implementing partner continue to run the campaign. 20 Schools from five Upazilas of Pabna, Sirajganj and Natore districts took part in the second phase of BraveMen Campaign.  300 boys and 300 girls participated in the campaign that time.

With the support of UNDP, Bangladesh CMMS implemented this campaign with BDT 2,389,500 (USD 30,000) in 2017 -2018.

The phases of BraveMen Campaign

Theory of Change

The BraveMen Campaign is based on a theory of change that aims to challenge the mainstream hegemonic discourse of masculinity that normalizes violence against women and girls. It seeks to create a counter-hegemonic discourse that encourages young men and boys to resist VAW&G by adopting and enacting positive forms of masculinity. It does so by trying to re-define the conventional notion of bravery, from one in which brave men commit or ignore violence, to one whereby brave men reject and protest against it.

The BMC is unique in that its strategy promotes learning through practice, experience and reflection. In this way it differs from conventional pedagogic approaches whereby a teacher simply imparts knowledge on her students. It is based on Paulo Friere’s theory of participatory education.

The theory of change used in BraveMen Campaign to change the behaviors and attitudes of the boys towards women and girls in a positive way. The micro level practices such as helping the mother at household works sparks the self-reflection inside the mind of the participants. The positive effects of the micro level practices shatters the beliefs of traditional toxic ideologies which reproduces violence and guides them towards the positive behaviors in macro level practices which makes them aware of gender equality and encourages them to protest and prevent gender based violence.

The Self reflexive diary known as the ‘BraveMen Diary’ contains stories, tasks and information in a creative and attractive way that encourages the participants to accomplish the tasks to raise awareness among their communities. The stories provide them important information on gender equal practices and sexual and reproductive health and rights which shifts them towards gathering proper information.

The Self-reflexive Diary

The Self-reflexive Diary is an original BMC tool designed by gender and education experts and is grounded in the specific context of VAW&G in Bangladesh. Separated into five main chapters, the diary is the key instrument, as well as main education tool of the BMC. It is the tool that gets participants involved in all micro-level practices such as personal entries, gender transformative work, community outreach and feminist activism, while documenting students’ critical self-reflection on gender, masculinity and women’s rights, as well as their transformative journey through the campaign.

Making invisible visible

Mother’s work and that requires skill and strength though it is unpaid. Like mothers at households’ women’s contribution remains invisible. Not only that, violence against women also remains unnoticed/unaddressed creating a culture of normalization of violence against women and girls.

Making invisible positive masculine practices and women’s success stories visible

Pointing towards why positive masculine practices should be redefined as acts of bravery, how both boys and girls can be benefited from those and developing confidence among girls with the success stories of women and girls. Making invisible visible with regard to mother’s work and linking it with women’s unnoticed contribution in the society.

Being aware of SRHR during adolescent period and knowing the necessary information regarding health and nutrition Self-realization on how and why violence against women and girls remains unchallenged.

Making invisible effect of conventional masculine acts of bravery visible
pointing towards what’s wrong about young men and boy’s acts of bravery with regard to their female classmates or friends. Engage in feminist activism to challenge VAW&G.

Knowing my rights and ensuring other’s rights is the real act of bravery.

Creating synergy so that young men and boys realized the importance of knowing his own rights and learn to respect other’s right while also become human right defender and becomes a real brave man. Change in perception and attitudes.

BMC Activities

16 Days of Activism

Center for Men and Masculinities Studies have celebrated the 16 days of activism against Gender Based Violence in all the phases of BraveMen Campaign. Here is the update from the fourth phase of BraveMen Campaign celebrating the 16 days of activism.

“BraveMen don’t Commit Violence against Women and Girls rather Protest Violence, I Am Brave, Are You?” – a great number of students from South Khurushkul High School was seen with poster having this slogan in Cox’s Bazar city. They were a part of 16 day activism which is an international campaign to challenge gender based violence against women and girls. The campaign runs every year from 25November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day. In Bangladesh Center for Men and Masculinities Studies (CMMS) observed 16Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence 2018 through its BraveMen Campaign in 50 schools from Sirajgonj, Gaibandha and Cox’s Bazaar with the Slogan “Be brave and end the violence against women”. CMMS wants to work with the youth because they are the future generation of the nation If they can be changed in a positive way then the later generations will follow their footsteps to make the society a better place. The youth also enjoys being involved in the various community activists This enables them to come out of the monotonous routine life as well as helps raising awareness in their community. It was at South Khurushkul High School in Cox’s Bazaar Sadar on 25th November,2018. Around 500 students and teachers took part in this activism. Sharmeela Rasool, Chief Technical Advisor of UNDP Human Rights Program was the chief guest in that activation event. Under this BraveMen campaign school student went through several activities to understand the need to prevent gender-based violence and respect women as a human. Activities like Icche Gach Rangai Cholo (Lets Orange the Tree of Wishes), Icche Gulo Akashe Pathai (Flying Balloons with wish), Icche Ghuri Orai Cholo (Lets fly kites of wishes).

Women’s Day 2019

 Center for Men and Masculinities Studies has always celebrated the international women’s day. In 2019 CMMS celebrated the day with the participants of the BraveMen Campaign.

From March 9 to March 11, a team of members from CMMS visited 11 schools to Celebrate Women’s Day with the students of the schools. The team consisted of Minhaz Uddin Shibly, Program Officer of CMMS, Afsara Poushy and Aslam Jony, the two youth ambassadors and Ahsamul Alam Sofi, Field Co-Ordinator. The students took different initiatives to celebrate the day. Few notable initiatives are making posters and sticking them on the transportation vehicles, wishing balloons- where the students wrote their wishes on the balloons and flew them away, candle lighting, promising to respect and believing in gender equality by singing the national anthem, poster painting, rallies, wishing rockets etc.

The participant schools of BraveMen Campaign have celebrated the day through these programs, the remaining schools will also arrange programs within a few days to raise awareness about gender equality. The programs were not only intended to celebrate the women’s day but also spread awareness among the local community about gender equality, taking a stand against gender based violence, acid terrorism, child marriage.

Launching of The Diary of the Braves through online video conference

The BraveMen Diary is the original intervention tools which is used to bring positive behavioral changes among the participants. The first version of BraveMen Diary was used in the first phase of BraveMen Campaign. The first diary was created focusing only boys as the participants of the first phase was only boys. In the second phase, the BraveMen Diary was modified for female participants as an experiment of inclusion of girls into BraveMen Campaign and it was called the BraveGirl Diary as the users of this diary were only girls. In the third phase of BraveMen Campaign, the original BraveMen Diary was given to the participants. However, in the fourth phase, the diary was completely redesigned and revised which focused on Human Rights, household works, SRHR, Gender Based Violence. This diary was designed for both boys and girls. The name of the BraveMen Diary was changed to ‘Diary of the Braves’ (সাহসীদের খেরোখাতা).

Honorable Former Chairman of National Human Rights Commission, Kazi Reazul Hoque expressed his wish to talk to the participants of the BraveMen Campaign and launch the ‘Diary of the Braves’ himself. But it is difficult for him to meet the students in person as he has a busy schedule; we found the alternative way of meeting the students. On 29 April 2019 Through Messenger Apps video calling feature 3schools Khurulia High School of Cox’s Bazaar, Polashbari SMB high school of Gaibandha and Poushari Adibashi High School of Sirajganj were connected at the same time with Mr. Kazi Reazu lHoque. Sumaiya Rahman, Program Officer, CMMS, Tahia Rahman, Executive Director, CMMS and Dr. Syed Saikh Imtiaz, Chairperson (Honorary) were present at NHRC to organize the event. Taslima Islam,

National Project Coordinator, UNDP- Human Rights Programme, Bithika Hasan, Gender Expert, UNDP- Human Rights Programme were also present in the video conference event. Honorable Chairman of National Human Rights Commission, Kazi Reazul Hoque launched the Diary of the Braves through the video conference.

All the students and teachers expressed their gratitude to Kazi Reazul Hoque for his time to talk with the students.

Human Rights Workshop at University Campuses

Center for Men and Masculinities Studies have always worked with volunteer youth ambassadors besides the school going boys and girls in order to engage the youth in the process of awareness raising and positive behavioral practices. The youth ambassadors worked voluntarily with CMMS in awareness raising campaigns on different occasions.

As a part of raising awareness on human rights, CMMS organized a two day long Human Rights Orientation Workshop for the Youth Ambassadors of BraveMen Campaign. The workshop took place on 3-4 May, 2019. Human Rights workers from different culture, class, gender, and ethnicity expressed their views and shared their knowledge with the Youth Ambassadors in the workshop.  The workshop motivated the Youth Ambassadors and they decided to organize human rights workshop at different university campuses to spread the knowledge and awareness of human rights among the youth. On July 28, 2019 a workshop was held at Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP). On July 29, 2019workshops at Daffodil International University and University of Dhaka were arranged. On 30th July, 2019 another workshop was held at University of Dhaka as more students wanted to join the human rights workshop sessions. One more workshop was arranged at the field of Curzon Hall on 28th August, 2019where students from department of Math, Physics, Statistics and Oceanology attended. Two workshops at Jagannath University were arranged on 1st and 2nd September. The workshops were conducted in an interactive way with discussions with the participants. At first the facilitators asked the participants thought on the definition of Human Rights. Some said that basic rights are human rights. Some added that right to express one’s opinion is a human right, enjoying a right to live properly is human right. The facilitators explained that neither they were totally correct nor they were totally wrong. Then the facilitators briefed them the definition of human rights. Then the facilitators focused on the history of Human rights. They explained how human rights came to the position of Universal Declaration of Human Rights from Cyrus Cylinder step by step through struggles, petitions and wars. After the brief history of human rights, the facilitators discussed about the 30 articles of UDHR and explained them to the participants with examples of our contemporary issues. At the end of the workshop an open discussion session with the participants was held. The participants and facilitators expressed their opinions regarding the human rights issues in the socio-economic perspective  of our country.

Playgrounds are Girls’ Too

All the participant schools of BraveMen Campaign arranged the sports program to spread the awareness of girls’ rights to play in the field. No unintentional occurrence were seen in any schools as the boys supported the sports and helped to arrange everything. All the headmasters, teachers and students of the schools did a job which was undoubtedly appreciable.

The girls themselves decided what they wanted to play. Football was arranged in 34 schools, 13schools arranged cricket, 1 school arranged a match of our national sport Kabadi. 2 schools could not arrange sports in the field due to heavy rain and the fields were muddy and were not in any condition to play. So, the students played carom by the school field to symbolize the importance of girls’ sports. On 16 November, 2019 a girls’ cricket tournament among 4 schools of Sirajaganj. The schools that participated in the tournament are Dobila High School, Poushar Adibashi High School, Solapara High School and BostulIshak High School. Poushar Adibashi High School was the Champion and BostulIshak High School was the runners up of the tournament. K.M. Abdus Salam, Director General, NGO Affairs Bureau was present as the Chief Guest of the tournament.

Why can’t mother eat with us?

Akash Ahmed, a student of South Khurushkul High School, Cox’s Bazar. He is a participant of BraveMen Campaign. As a part of the regular tasks of BraveMen Campaign he worked with his mother and realized how much work there are to be done by her in the household. also, he noticed that his mother is the one to eat last. She arranges for lunch, dinner and supper and makes sure everyone eats first, then she eats after everyone is finished eating. She had the rest of the food a􀅌er everyone and usually the food left were not the best ones or they were not the most nutritious ones either. Akash thought that everyone should be eating together, sharing the same food. Thus, his mother would be able to get the proper food and nutrition.

He said, “When I started helping my Maa(mother) with the household works, I realized how hard they were. A lot of works are to be done in the household. Maa manages all the tasks and feeds us, and then she sits to eat. Good foods are not left for her usually. So now we all sit to eat together. We all share all the foods.”

If all the member of the family sits together to have food and share the foods then the food discrimination will be eradicated as well as the malnutrition problem among the women. The participants of BraveMen Campaign said that they would look after the proper nutrition of their mother. They also spread awareness about the importance of proper nutrition during adolescent period for both boys and girls. Only the food sharing culture causing malnutrition among women is undesirable.

Webinars to Address Different Issues of Human Rights

To strengthen the awareness among the participant students CMMS organized 12 webinars where the students had a chance to discuss with expert human rights workers on different issues such as rights of persons with disability, empathy, our liberation war, women’s rights, gender and diversity, rights of the indigenous people, violent extremism, religious harmony, say no to drugs, our rightful laws, rights of the children. The guests of the webinars were Rumana Mannan, Social worker; Shammy Wadud, President, UNYSAB; Shawon Mahmud, Daughter of Altaf Mahmud; Umme Wara, Assistant Professor, Department of Criminology; Arpeeta Shams Mizan, Assistant Professor, Department of Law, University of Dhaka; H A Bobby, Human Rights Activist; Aysha Monica, Actor and Director, Child Rights Activist from Mastul Foundation; Mohammad Jahangir Alam, Associate Professor, Department of World Religion, University of Dhaka.

The students were very happy to get the opportunity to discuss the issues with Sexperts like them. The guests also express their happiness to be a part of BraveMen Campaign to raise awareness among the new generations.