International Women’s Day 2016: Engaging Men & Boys in Gender Equality

What should be the role of men in the pursuit of gender equality?

There are many things that men and boys can and should do at individual, family and community levels to strengthen gender equality. Every activity they undertake helps to tilt the playing field in favor of equality and justice, by modeling forms of masculinities that run counter to existing gender norms which reinforce patriarchal uses of power. As their numbers grow, they will help create the expectation that gender equality is the norm.

At the individual and family level, men and boys can break cycles of violence against women, girls and other family members – behavior often modeled by their own fathers or other male relatives. They should be be supportive in assuming an equal share of caregiving responsibilities – for their partners, children, and the elderly – and unpaid household and other care work. They can assume an equal responsibility for their sexual activity, including the use of contraception, and support their partners’ full and autonomous access to sexual and reproductive health services. They can be equally supportive of the sons’ and daughters’ education, including supporting their daughters’ efforts to take up leadership roles and engendering their sons to be become sensitive to others around them. They can actively stand against child marriage and female genital mutilation.

At the community level, men have a responsibility to be ‘active bystanders’ when they witness violence against women or girls, discrimination against them, or instances of homophobia or transphobia. They can be non-violent in their interactions with other men. They can lead by example and encourage change in their local school systems, by supporting curriculum changes that encourage gender equality, and supporting efforts to prevent bullying and other forms of harassment. And they should actively promote gender equality in other influential local institutions, be they religious, business, sports or other community organizations, by taking advantage of their leadership positions to enable women and girls to take up decision-making positions, and to promote zero tolerance against violence against women, girls and others.

Finally, men and boys can be activists for gender equality together with women and girls, LGBTQI and other gender justice movements, by actively demanding change in institutions. They can be active in demanding equal gender rights from their local or national governments, equal pay from their private and public sector employers, and join or donate to one of the several international advocacy campaigns that support gender equality.
Why is it important to educate men about feminism? What changes could be achieved if men are educated about feminism?

It’s important because misinformation about feminism has distorted perceptions of its goals in many men’s and boys’ (and some women’s) minds, generating resentment and a false sense of opposition in some cases. Feminism is not about elevating one gender above another, but achieving justice – in opportunity, in access to services and resources, in freedom of choice – among all genders, by addressing power imbalances and personal and institutional levels.

If men and boys are properly educated about feminism, they will learn that it offers many benefits to them as well. If the women and girls in their lives and families are empowered to realize their own livelihood goals and to equally control their reproductive and relationship destinies, the results stand to relieve some of the economic stresses on husbands and fathers, and put their relationships on more mutually supportive footings.

Why men should care about feminism?

Because continuing to support traditional gender norms, which reinforce many harmful notions of masculinity, will only exact a heavy toll on men and boys, inhibiting their own efforts to lead happy, healthy and productive lives. Feminism is for everybody: it teaches us to liberate ourselves, from within, from societal boxes that prevent us from being who we really are.

Consider, for example, the benefits to men who achieve close connections to their children, as reported last year in the State of the World’s Fathers report: evidence shows that they live longer, have fewer health problems, are more productive and generally happier. Moreover, low birth weight and maternal health risks are fewer when fathers are involved in prenatal visits and delivery; and father involvement has been linked to lower rates of depression, fear and self-doubt in daughters and lower levels of delinquency in sons.
What should be done to integrate men in the fight for gender equality?

Men and boys need to be proactive in creating spaces among themselves wherein they can support the goals of gender equality and women’s empowerment; as the saying goes, ‘men don’t need to be given a space within feminism; they need to take the space they have and make it feminist.’

We in the MenEngage Alliance use the term ‘accountability’ to describe our role in the gender justice movement: a recognition that our work was born out of a feminist tradition and that women-led organizations have carried out the foundational work around gender equality. We strive to complement and expand the work promoted by women’s rights organization by engaging men and boys. In this context, accountability to the women´s movement and to other historically oppressed social groups is a necessary practice for building collaborative and equitable partnerships. This means, among other things, that men and boys must always be critically aware of their power and privileges and open to constructive criticism; and work to create structures of consultation and partnerships with women’s rights organizations and social justice movements.

What are you doing to promote gender equality among men?

Achieving gender justice is about transformation, and therefore stands to be the result of long-term activities which address all relevant factors at all levels. We in the MenEngage Alliance work to connect our more-than 600 member organizations around the world at different levels of change for an impact that is just and sustainable. Our work focuses on gender-based violence prevention; sexual and reproductive health and rights for everyone; and promoting fatherhood and caregiving among men.

  • At the individual level, MenEngage Alliance members have contributed to more men and boys stepping up, speaking out, and acting for gender justice.
  • At the community level, MenEngage has mobilized citizens through by sharing best practices and information, and through community mobilization projects.
  • At the level of institutions and service providers, MenEngage Alliance members have trained staff from the health, educational, justice, and security sectors, and the Alliance has influenced, through our collective activism and advocacy, institutional policies to include both a gender perspective and an inclusion of men and boys as part of the changes needed.
  • At the public policy level MenEngage Alliance has offered concrete recommendations to policy makers internationally, and has engaged in advocacy efforts to improve legislation dealing with violence against women, family law, parenting, reproductive health, and others.
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