30/11/2015 04:24 GMT | Updated 29/11/2016 05:12 GMT

What Is a Real Man - A 'Mard'?


HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around masculinity in the 21st Century, and the pressures men face around identity. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, from bringing up young boys to the importance of mentors, the challenges between speaking out and 'manning up' as well as a look at male violence, body image, LGBT identity, lad culture, sports, male friendship and mental illness.

None of this: Eighteen-inch biceps. A moustache that supposedly proclaims your virility. 'Showing appreciation' by leering at girls on the streets. And stalking and harassing a woman until she 'falls in love' with you or hitting your wife or your partner; none of this defines a 'mard', which is the Hindi word for 'man'.

Here's what does define a 'mard', a real man, though. Showing respect. Supporting her choices. Standing up for a woman's right to live free from violence, from the fear of violence. Speaking up when that right is violated, and interrupting the cycle of discrimination she faces.

Research indicates that globally one in three women is a victim of physical, emotional or sexual violence. The perpetrators are often known to the victims - family members, neighbours, and often those responsible for looking out for the safety of women and girls.

Nearly four years ago, a young woman, a brilliant lawyer, who worked in my film production company, was murdered by the watchman of the building she lived in. She had tried to fight him off when he tried to rape her. That horrendous crime brought to the fore some critical questions. Where can a woman feel safe? Why does a woman always have to worry about where she is going, how she is dressed, and how she chooses to live her life? And will there be time when we can finally stop asking these questions?

I realised that no amount of laws and policing would work if we didn't start thinking differently.

I strongly believe that men have a crucial role to play in changing mindsets and attitudes towards women and girls. Bringing about a culture of respect for women requires redefining the concept of masculinity. It means educating our young people, women and men, about flawed notions, and also ensuring that they unlearn some of the stereotypes and prejudices that they see around them.

We can do this. We can begin by acknowledging the vast differences in the way we raise our daughters and sons. We can inculcate in them a value system that believes women and girls have equal rights, not because of their roles as daughters, sisters, wives or mothers, but simply by virtue of the fact they are human.

We can do more than speak up; we can act. The horrific incident of gang rape in New Delhi in December 2012 brought millions of women and men out on the streets. They clamoured for stronger laws, and effective implementation of those laws. The judicial process ensured that the perpetrators were brought to justice. The public demonstrations also showed the power of mobilization and the results that it can bring.

That is why I launched MARD, Men Against Rape and Discrimination, also the Hindi word for 'man' or 'male'. We show young people that their efforts can make a difference. We do this by visiting educational institutions, through music, through role-play, through advocacy and dialogue with girls and boys. MARD has reached millions of young people also through social media. The response has been overwhelming and the movement continues to grow.

MARD has an organic link with UN Women's work and its HeForShe campaign. As UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for South Asia I consider it my privilege to add my voice - and my music - to all efforts that call for gender equality, including those that ask men and boys to be partners in this struggle. My message is simple: Speak up when someone makes a disparaging comment about women, at home, at school, or in the workplace. Act when you see a woman being harassed on the street. Educate others - friends, family members, colleagues - and ask them to rally others. Often they just need someone to take the lead to interrupt the status quo. You can be that person.

Together, we can bring about a change, a real change in the way women and girls, men and boys see themselves and each other. We can make history by making gender inequality and violence against women a thing of the past.

To blog on the site as part of Building Modern Men, email If you would like to read our features focused around men, click here, and for more about our partnership with Southbank Centre's Being A Man festival, click here.