Many women’s issue organizations are recently welcoming men into leadership positions for the first time since their establishment. However, Apna Ghar (Our Home), Inc. has been led by both women and men since its founding in 1989. “Our mission, from the beginning, included gender, nationality, orientation, and diversity,” said Apna Ghar co-founder Kanta Khipple. “This objective was set when our organization started.”
Men have contributed to various leadership positions throughout Apna Ghar’s history as Associate Board members, Directors, as well as Presidents and Vice Presidents. The current board’s President, Saiyed G. Rabbani and Vice President, Sameer Chhabria are both male.
“We don’t discriminate based on gender,” said Khipple. “In fact, we encourage men to be involved in Apna Ghar for domestic violence awareness. It is a teaching point for men.”
According to Khipple, recruiting board members, regardless of gender, requires an intensive interview that focuses on the applicant’s desire to aid the cause and their attitude on women’s issues. “Our goal is to strike the right balance of men and women on the board, in terms of numbers.” 52% of current board members are male.
Khipple admits that forming a board for a women’s organization is not an easy task. Selecting board members takes careful consideration: the attitude, behavior, education, and background of an applicant are all of high importance.
Board Member John Kerastas has worked with non-profits for several years and has found Apna Ghar to hold a gold standard in the area of domestic violence issues. “Diversity is far broader than gender on the Apna Ghar Board. We focus on skills sets,” he said. “How can we build the best most powerful, supportive organization?”
Kerastas worked in Japan for seven years and learned an important lesson in being a true advocate for those in need. “Japanese people come in all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities. We help regardless,” he said. “Sex is a shallow way to look at things. Deeper thing is to look in their heart.”
Board Member Dipankar Mukhopadhyay admits that the issue of gender leadership in women’s issues has crossed his mind. “Gender doesn’t bring any special expertise. Understanding of the issue does.”
As a board member for six years and a retired pediatrician, Mukhopadhyay dealt with victims of child abuse. “Although Apna Ghar’s immediate clients are women, boys may also be involved in household. There should be no gender bias. Domestic violence is violence, period.”
Sameer Afsar, Associate Board Chair, finds that there is a source of validation of a cause when men support women’s issues. “It’s sad to say, but in our community, there is a difference between women supporting women and ‘people’ supporting women,” he said. “Should that be the case? Absolutely not.”
Afsar believes that women’s issues are on par with any issues in the community. “Attitude needs to change,” he said.
Mukhopadhyay recognizes another positive effect of men leading women’s organiztions. “Within ethnic groups, men may not deny the issue of violence,” he said. “However, by having men open up and recognize the issue further, it allows other men to also open up and advocate for the issue.”
Even still, organizations that focus on women’s issues with women leaders are widely popular. “Women’s organizations led by women may find themselves talking about issues specific to them in a safe area, a kind of sanctuary,” Kerastas said. “But, I don’t see this issue as men and women. I see victims and people who can help.”
Kerastas has this advice for men seeking to advocate for women’s issues: “Be honest, have heart, get involved in issues that you have a passion for, have time to get involved, and have something functionally to contribute to. In almost all cases, there’s something you can do.”
This post was written by Kulsoom Jafri.
Kulsoom is a junior studying Political Communication and Philosophy at The George Washington University and was a summer intern and volunteer at Apna Ghar.