Last Thursday, International Women's Day 2013, I had breakfast with 60 entrepreneurs, media owners, creatives, tech pioneers and marketers at Stream Asia 2013, the popular unconference run by WPP Digital. They had volunteered for The Pitch, a competition at Stream to use data, technology and creativity to find big solutions to big problems. This year The Pitch would help tackle a problem I work on every day at Equal Community Foundation: 'How do we raise more men to end violence against women in Asia?'
Six teams spent two days brainstorming and developing their ideas after the initial brief. As I wandered from discussions on 'retail trends in Asia' to 'proliferation of drone technology' , I spotted Pitch teams huddled together in quiet corners to develop and perfect their solutions.
On Saturday evening the six teams had two minutes each to pitch their solution to Sir Martin Sorrell, Yossi Vardi and Esther Dyson. After rigorous questions from the panel, the winner was selected by popular opinion of the 300 strong audience and a highly-scientific clap-o-meter.
The stakes were high. At the last Pitch at the global Stream event in September 2012, the challenge was 'How can we better communicate complex medical issues to people with low literacy?' The winning team designed a strip of paper for the back of urinals in football stadiums -- if a fan was at risk of diabetes, the strip would change colour when peed on. The opposing team's logo would be printed on each strip to give fans something extra special to aim at. Brilliant!
I was hoping for something this good or better from this years teams, and they did not disappoint. But first lets fill in some of the gaps. I was invited to direct The Pitch in my capacity as founder and CEO of Equal Community Foundation (ECF). In many Asian countries, as in India where ECF works, men continue to be the primary perpetrators of violence and discrimination. Not all men are violent of course, but global evidence shows that, in most cases, men who are violent or discriminatory are copying behavior that they learned as children, sometimes through first-hand experience both at school and at home, and often against their own mother.
Sector leaders correctly identify that to secure women a life free from violence and achieve gender equality men must be raised to respect women. This process that will not only make a difference at an individual level, but will, with critical mass, challenge societal norms that perpetuate masculinity and objectify women.
Sadly, most solutions, including women's empowerment initiatives do not engage men as part of the solution. According to research conducted in 2009 by Equal Community Foundation, fewer than 5% of community based organizations worked with boys and men in a preventative manner.
ECF's latest research, "What about the boys? Raising men to end violence against women" identifies strategies for practitioners, policy makers and funders to achieve scale. It also shows that models that remain popular today are not aligned with models that can be delivered and sustained on a national scale. In summary, the sector has a long way to go to develop and scale real solutions. Until we do, women will continue to face violence and discrimination. The time to act is now.
Back then to Stream, where our teams pitched their ideas to a rather daunting panel and 300 of the toughest critics in the Asian industry. The best solutions delivered on Saturday night shared two common elements. Firstly, they focused on the process of nurture, and secondly they sought to leverage existing networks for delivery. My particular favorites were "Like Father, Like Son," "The Pledge" and "The Extraordinaries".
"Like Father, Like Son" recognized the influence that fathers and parents have on their sons. The team asked the media industry to ensure that fathers are reminded of the role that they play in raising men to end violence. The team also asked for media to self-regulate and analyse their own work against the principles of gender equality.
"The Pledge" had a beautifully simple message. It asks every school child to take a popular pledge to end violence and discrimination. The pledge will be written by a national hero, and embedded in the start of every school day to remind children of their pledge and the reasons they took it.
"The Extraordinaries" created a new generation of superheroes that set a 'new normal' for how men treat women. Within their own peer network, in school and in the community, boys can collect, trade and compare cards depicting each superhero. Cards rate each hero on their gender equitable behaviors. The most equitable heroes are made even more valuable by restricting supply.
A quick review of these three and the other solutions that were pitched demonstrate a trend towards targeting boys in the community, in school or through media. Parents, teachers and media professionals respectively, were identified as key stakeholders in changing the way we raise boys. And coincidentally, the solutions identified the same groups that are targeted in ECF's most recent campaign Man Up India!, a call to raise men to end violence against women once and for all.
ECF is now working with some of the teams with the best ideas to implement them on the ground. As long as women continue to face violence, ECF will continue our work. If the quality of thought at Stream were reflected for the media industry as a whole, then we'd have a great ally in our mission.