In the third and final part of the series How I became a feminist, CYC brings to you to the story of Manak Matiyani.
Manak Matiyani was introduced to feminism early in life. “My family was the first place where I inculcated feminist values by looking at my parents’ relationship and particularly at my mother. My grandmother told me that my mother really wanted to go out and work and that it was everybody’s responsibility to support themselves financially,” he says.
“Although I did not understand it as feminism at the time but because I saw my parents in similar jobs and did not have a female sibling, I grew up in an equitable environment,” he adds.
However, things outside home were different for Manak. “There are many things at school that clarify gendered differences and stereotypes to children. I saw a lot of that but perhaps did not identify with much of it. I understood early on how I should behave, or walk or act “as a boy” and also realised that any deviation from that would mean people laughing at me or bullying me. It felt like there were very clear separate boxes and I had to fit one or the other,” says Manak.
Using the feminist lens to look at the world
In college, Manak studied English literature and got a chance to read many feminist writers. He says, “I found college to be a more open space. I read more, interacted with diverse people and realised I didn’t need to fit one box or the other and that the world does not have to be so compartmentalised.”
“I came to understand feminism as a lens that looks at women’s experiences, reality and discrimination and says there should be equity. It seemed to me the most natural and logical perspective to adopt in relation to how I viewed the world.”
During his post graduate degree in film, Manak and his friend Kuber made a film called All About Our Mothers. The film looked at how gender operated in both their families. “I applied the feminist lens to whatever work I did. Creating content in the form of films helped me concretise what I wanted to do in the area of gender ”, says Manak. He went on to make Blood in My Hands, a film about menstrual taboos faced by young urban women and another film for the non-profit organisation Jagori on women’s need for safe cities.
Manak made his first foray into youth work where he worked with young tribal leaders in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands during a course on sustainable development. He says, “The idea was to ensure community leadership in development processes that had been initiated post the tsunami.”
Soon after, he started working at ComMutiny-The Youth Collective in 2009 in the Learning and Leadership Journey (LLJ) which is now known as the Changelooms programme. “That is where I understood the youth development lens of working with young people with a leadership building approach. At the Youth Collective, I learnt to see young people as stakeholders who are in charge in the process of development,” he says.
Connecting feminism, intersectionality & youth leadership
Manak has taken this perspective to other places where he has worked. He is currently the Executive Director at The YP Foundation, a youth organisation based in New Delhi. “My focus is on facilitating young people’s engagement with social change from a human rights based feminist perspective,” he says.
The YP Foundation works with urban and rural youth in socially marginalised and economically challenged communities in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan. Their programmes cover critical areas such as life skills, sexual and reproductive health & rights and gender diversity.
“At The YP Foundation, we understand that young women and girls in marginalised communities have the lowest access to resources. Therefore, all our programmes have a very clear focus on gender and 70% outreach is to young women and girls,” says Manak.
One of the core values at The YP Foundation is intersectionality. “One of the fundamental aspects of feminism is to look at people’s identities as intersections and to consider the whole range of experiences a person has to undergo to arrive at their identity. There is a need to acknowledge that young people also have different identities,” explains Manak.
“My dream is it to see notions of youth leadership and feminist leadership coalesce and that the practice of both drives towards the end of a patriarchy that preserves heteronormative, class, caste and many other hierarchies.”
The YP Foundation is also a member organisation of the ComMuntiny Youth Collective. Manak feels that being part of the collective brings a rich network that is supportive, collaborative and nurturing.
On men talking about feminism & the male privilege
Over the years, Manak has witnessed a change in people’s perception of feminism. “I now see a world where we are talking about gender and feminism on social media. Now more and more men are open to examining gender in their own life. It is not a quick process. It is difficult and it requires a lot of effort to have these conversations with men,” he says.
While Manak views men’s involvement in this conversation as positive, he adds a word of caution. “It is important to recognise that men are only one of the stakeholders in this conversation and not the most important ones,” he says.
A big part of Manak’s activism is also his work on queer rights. He feels that he was fortunate to have understood the feminist movement before he understood queer rights. It has made him aware of the male privilege. “I feel that men also take up most of the space in the queer rights movement,” he says.
“I find marginalisation gets a lot of attention whereas privilege goes unnoticed. The privilege I have as a man goes unnoticed when I find myself on panels to discuss women’s rights issues with three other men. This privilege is something I have to continuously watch and be aware of,” says Manak.
This article is the third in a three-part series featuring feminist men from India who also lead youth-centric organisations that are a part of ComMutiny The Youth Collective (CYC). If you enjoyed reading this article, you might want to read: How I became a feminist – Part One & Part Two.