social & justice

International Men's Day: 12 Men Who Revolutionalised Women

Karthika S Nair | Nov 19 2020
Image credits: BP creatives

When is men's day? 

Is there an international men's day?

They are often those questions raised during International Women's Day (IWD) which is observed on March 8th. 

International Men's Day (IMD) is observed on November 19th worldwide. Although it is placed as a response to IWD by various forms of media, the day also highlights men's role as allies or contributors on humanitarian grounds. 

It highlights men's roles in the building of nation, society, community, family, marriage, and childcare.

Women were historically marginalised on the grounds of law, politics, religion, and other forms of fundamentalism that limited their roles as "good wives" and child-rearing.

The women's rights movement began three hundred years ago but its effect was seen only since the early 1900s. 

While women took to the streets to demand equal rights as citizens in terms of access to quality education, jobs, properties, ending of inhumane customs and other aspects, they were usually bombarded with mocking and outcry that deemed them as "wreakers" of the patriarchal social system. 

Even today, there are social communities, political order and systems that don't regard women as equals and are instead seen as "servers" of men.

Recently, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte entered the news for sexist comments about women's role in men's lives. 

A popular TV actor was in the news saying that sexual harassment at the workplace is the result of women "demanding equality" and that they should stay at home. During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump's son Don Jr echoed the same. 

Male political leaders have been in the news for all wrong reasons; from justifying sexual assault, propagating stereotypical gender roles or customs that only further strengthened discrimination or dehumanisation of women. 

However, from both the historical and current context, there are men who played a crucial role as allies to the women's rights movement and worked for their emancipation from social evils and other forms of discrimination. 

They stood along with women leaders, marched with them and spoke for them and fought against the social order that held them down in chains. 

On the occasion of International Men's Day, let's remember some of the men who fought for women's rights in a patriarchal world. 


1. Dr. BR Ambedkar

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Proto-feminist discourse made it to the constitution of India because of the father of the constitution and the Republic of India himself. Backed by important women's contributions, Ambedkar designed the text that recognized women as equal citizens with the right to liberty, fraternity and equality. 

He fought for the rights of Dalits who faced social marginalisation in the form of untouchability and women had to face double discrimination. 

He pointed out how women are deemed as inferiors across all castes and religions due to binary gender roles and,  that it is the only principle that unites them all.

He helped design laws that gave women the right to inherit property, monogamous marriages, the right to divorce their husbands (in the context of abuse, infidelity, etc.), and the right to inter-caste marriages. At the time, it was reported that men burned effigies and images of Dr. Ambedkar because they vehemently opposed the idea of treating women as equals. 

Dr Ambedkar believed that the degree of progress in a country is measured based on the progress of women across communities. 

2. Jyotirao Phule

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Savitribai Phule is an icon for women, especially Dalits because she worked for the upliftment of women from the shackles of patriarchy through education. 

Along with Savitribai stood her husband Jyotirao Phule. 

At a time when women and marginalised caste were not permitted to have an education, he worked extensively for the eradication of untouchability and women's emancipation.

He started the first school for girls in 1848 in Pune at Tatyasaheb Bhide's residence or Bhidewada. 

He formed the Satyashodhak Samaj and called for the involvement of people from all communities to help in social reformation. 

Both Jyotirao and Savitribai Phule faced harassment from privileged caste people who opposed their ideas of educating girls and Dalits. He also worked towards Hindu widow’s right to humanity and remarriage. 

During his time, children who were born to women, who were widowed, were killed (infanticide.) He started an orphanage for pregnant widowed women and their children to stop infanticide. 

Read: WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH: Savitribai Phule 

3. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

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Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was an important reformer and social educator who worked against child marriage and the emancipation of women and girls. 

His time saw little girls being married to men three times or four times their age. When their husbands died, they were forced to mourn the rest of their lives as widows who were stigmatised and de-humanised. 

Widows had no respect or rights in the society and were forced to shave hair and wear white sarees. Widowed men had the social right to remarry but even then, they do not marry a widow. 

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar fought for the right of Hindu widows to remarry legally. 

He campaigned hard for Hindu widow remarriage and petitioned Legislative council despite severe opposition and a counter-petition against the proposal by organisations who saw widowhood as an important religious custom. 

Lord Dalhousie personally finalised the bill and the Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act, 1856 was passed.

Vidyasagar also campaigned against child marriage and for girls' right to quality education. 

To support women's education, Vidyasagar organized a fund called Nari Siksha Bhandar and opened 35 women’s schools and succeeded in enrolling 1300 students.

He went from door to door, asking couples to send their daughters to school instead of marrying her off. 

4. Periyar EV Ramasamy

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Periyar E V Ramasamy was regarded as a true ally of women and margnialised communities. 

He opposed and advocated vehemently against elitism, patriarchy, and religion that propagate social discrimination. 

He began the Self-respect movement as he believed that only the recognition of one’s self-worth will help in the liberation of people.

He recognised and spoke about the importance of women’s financial independence. He struggled to legally secure women their property rights at the time when they had to depend on their fathers, husbands, or sons for the same. 

He recognized how chastity, marriage, and motherhood prevented women from gaining liberty. 

Marriage was regarded as an agreement between the father of the bride and the groom. 

He initiated the concept of self-respect marriages where it is a contract between two consenting individuals. 

He also supported women’s right to divorce, abortion, and remarriage.

5. Raja Ram Mohan Roy

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Also known as the Father of the Bengal Renaissance, Raja Ram Mohan Roy is the most important figure in women's rights and emancipation. 

Under his rule, the controversial practice Sati was abolished. 

Sati was a cruel practice seen in the 1700s and 1800s where widows are coerced to jump into the funeral pyre of their late husband as a bid to send her to serve her husband in heaven. 

British objected to this practice at first stating that in their country, people who burned women alive were dealt with accordingly. 

Raja Ram Mohan Roy was the king who called for the abolition of this practice by stating that nowhere in the Hindu scriptures is it mentioned.

He also called for other social reforms like the ending of child marriage and property inheritance rights for women.

As the British observed at the time, Sati, as a practice, was not intended to uphold the religious customs or purity of marriage but to ensure that the widow does not inherit her husband's property. Basically, Sati was a "safe bet" to have an inheritance in control. 

Between 1815 and 1828, a total of 8,134 cases of Sati were recorded amongst the privileged caste Hindus. 

Raja Ram Mohan Roy and the abolishment of Sati is a crucial change in the history of the general attitude towards women whose lives were simply tied to their man as opposed to getting their rightful independence and autonomy.

6. Qasim Amin

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Qasim Amin is regarded as the first feminist of the Arab world. As an Egyptian jurist and a reformer, he questioned various forms of injustices faced by women like early marriage, veiling, seclusion, and women's rights in the marriage contract. 

He was one of the founders of the first Egyptian University, known then as the National University.

Qasim Amin encouraged little girls including his daughter to avoid the niqab as a practice. 

He challenged the discourse around marriage where it is conducted based on ignorance instead of love and how marriage in a way enslaved women. He supported women's rights in divorce and supported the legislation of divorce so that men are prevented from accidentally divorcing their wives because of jokes and quarrels.

Added to that, he had stated that heightening a women's status in society is the key to threatening the nation.

In his book, 'The Liberation of Women' he stated that women are the backbones of the nation, and their roles in society should drastically change to better the Egyptian nation.

However, scholars threw criticisms at his general patriarchal views on women's roles in a man's life and that they need education only till primary school. What Amin did is conjuring an entirely different discourse on women's rights amongst Muslims who continued to subjugate them. 

7. Martin Luther King Jr

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Martin Luther King Jr is an important figure in the social justice history for striving for the civil rights of Black people. 

If one checks the historical texts,  then it is clear that Black women were failed by both feminists and Black people's rights movements. Feminist movements, especially the suffragette movements were predominantly white and some of the members themselves perpetuated racial practices. 

Black people's rights movement fought for their emancipation against white oppression but even then, they highlighted women's roles as wives and mothers instead of being involved politics or law. Notably, the NAACP leader Edgar Nixon who maintained that women only need to be in the kitchen. 

Martin Luther King Jr supported and marched for several narratives on Black women and their rights. He acknowledged that he learned from Black women, including his mother who opposed the Vietnam War. 

He supported the work of Planned Parenthood and agreed to serve on the sponsoring committee on their study on Contraception.

He marched with Black women who faced the worst social setback in the form of being underpaid and overworked. He organised rallies for women who faced oppression and demanded equal rights. 

He cited that women's rights are an important part in the civil rights movement. 

8. Antonio Guterres

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António Guterres is currently serving as the ninth secretary-general of the United Nations. Prior to that, he was prime minister of Portugal. 

He called the discrimination against women and inequality "stupid."

He called for the end to gender inequality, saying that " it should shame us all in the 21st century."

Guterres condemned the culture of reducing women to their looks, victim-blaming or slut-shaming or rape survivors, taboos surrounding women's natural bodily functions (menstrual taboos), and judgment of women hysterical or "hormonal." 

He stated that instead of trying to change women, change the system that discriminates or dehumanise them. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, António Guterres said that the efforts to recover from the pandemic should also focus on women and girls. 

Because the pandemic leads to the defeat women’s rights and denying women’s opportunities. 

COVID-19 pandemic leads to the loss of women's paid employment and women’s unpaid care work has increased exponentially as a result of school closures.

He called for social safety nets, cash transfers to credits and loans to be directed at women, and that the decision-making process should include women's active involvement. 

10. Men and suffragette

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There were sensitive and remarkable men whose roles as voices and allies played an important role in the women's suffragette movement. 

Due to the social and political privileges, men had the advantage of influencing the government and the polls. They argued that women should be given the right to vote.

Many men supported the movement by writing, speaking, and voting in favor of suffrage, signing petitions, and funding projects.

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass supported the women's right to vote stating women are equals in terms of intelligence and accountability. 

As a speaker, George Francis Train supported feminists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. He helped fund 'The Revolution' as their women’s rights newspaper. 

Thetus W. Sims showed up to vote in favour of suffragettes in the early 1900s.

James Mott, husband of suffragist Lucretia Mott served as chairman of the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention. He signed the Declaration of Sentiments.

Daniel Anthony, father of feminist-activist Susan B Anthony condemned his daughter's school for refusing to teach girls maths. 

As a store owner, he refused to sell alcohol citing that it leads to increase domestic violence. He also signed the Declaration of Sentiments.

Henry Blackwell and Francis Minor were both women's rights advocates. 

Latter was a lawyer. He wrote a pamphlet declaring that—based on the wording of the Fourteenth Amendment—national women’s suffrage was already legal.

11. Amartya Sen

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Nobel prize winning economist Amartya Sen said once, the whole idea that women, as a whole, have to be inferior to men, sounds artificial. He called gender equality a natural phenomenon. 

He worked extensively on the issue of son preference and the practice of female infanticide or female foeticide. He interrogated various families to get an understanding of the same. 

India as a nation is a masculine country where every state except Kerala has a low sex ratio. 

Couples choose to abort the female foetus after the sex determination process (amniocentesis) until they conceive a male child. Or, a newborn girl is killed or abandoned by her parents.

Due to the prevalent forms of discrimination, it is deemed that having a son is easier than a daughter. 

Amartya Sen, in his research, found out that the dowry system and process of moving out of the parents' house by girls after marriage is the major reason behind son preference. Added to that, social evils also give women and girls fewer choices. 

Sen has spoken on multiple platforms about women empowerment, against forced marriage, domestic violence, and how women face double brunt due to poverty. 

"Gender equality impacts national development," he said. 

12. Kandukuri Veeresalingam

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Kandukuri Veeresalingam was a writer and a social reformer who is known as the father of the renaissance movement in Telugu.

He fought for women's right to education, widow remarriage and fought against the dowry system. 

He was regarded as Raja Rammohan Roy of Andhra due to his work in women's rights and other reformations. 

He created 'Viveka Vardhini', a journal for women's education in 1887 and 'Satihita bodhini' a monthly magazine for women.

When it comes to widow remarriage, he started a Remarriage Association and sent his students all over Andhra Pradesh to suitable men. He also established a Widow home. 

For his work, he was conferred with the title of Rao Bahadur in 1893.