Global gender summit shows increasing interest in engaging men and boys among progressive governments

15 May 2018

Engaging men was a hot topic, as well as a hot potato, on the agenda of one of the world’s biggest gender equality conferences this year.

The Stockholm Forum on Gender Equality, which was initiated by the Swedish Government and took place from 15-17 April 2018, brought together civil society, activists, governments, private sector and academia from all over the world to foster collaboration and intensify efforts for a gender equal future.

Seven speakers on stage in discussion at the Stockholm Gender Forum

20 MenEngage Alliance members from across the world joined more than 400 global delegates for three days aimed at tackling critical issues and seeking common solutions around women’s and girl’s human rights. At the heart of the conference, was the message that gender equality cannot be realised by looking at one sector or question at a time, and there is an urgent need for stronger inter-sector dialogue, knowledge exchange and collaborative efforts.

To get some perspective on the issues, and for a glimpse at the energy of the Stockholm Gender Forum, watch the keynote address by feminist author and activist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Critical dialogue on working with men for gender justice

Of the plethora of activities and events covering a broad range of issues, MenEngage Alliance hosted the session, ‘Working with men and boys for gender justice: How do we generate change?’. This interactive session opened with a diverse spectrum of contributions from MenEngage Alliance members – including Abhijit Das (CHSJ India, MenEngage Global Co-Chair); Marina Pisklakova-Parker (Center ANNA, Russia); Pamela Saavedra (Fundacion Cultura Salud/EME, Chile); Vidar Vetterfalk (MÄN – Men for Gender Equality Sweden). The session provided a forum for exchange and debate on how work in this area can be transformative, and avoid the risk of reinforcing gender injustices.

Panellists sit in a row facing the audience in a live discussion at the Gender Equality Forum in Sweden, April 2018

Facilitated by Lena Wallquist (MÄN) and Joni van de Sand (MenEngage Global Secretariat) the 50 delegates who attended the session had space to share their concerns and hopes of involving men and boys as allies and partners in work for gender equality and women’s rights. The session explored a range of issues including supporting – rather than competing with – women’s voices; engaging with those in positions of power; the risk of inauthentic allyship as a current ‘fad’; and going beyond words but engaging men and boys to take real action.

Many delegates recognised there is an opportunity to engage with men and boys who want to be part of advancing feminist agendas, but this needs to be done in a way that is accountable to all women and girls, supports feminist women’s rights struggles, and promotes women’s leadership at all levels. The session concluded with recommendations on how key actors in this space – including MenEngage Alliance and its members – can inform promising practices for in engaging with men and boys towards women’s rights and gender justice for all. The key recommendations are available to read here.

Keeping women’s rights and empowerment at the center of gender equality work with men

Discussions during the forum reflected the growing interest among policy makers and practitioners in engaging men and boys in gender justice and women’s rights work. Reflecting on this trend, Lena Wallquist (MÄN, Sweden) said:

“I really do not think that I attended a single session during the Forum where either the absence of men in the conversation or the need to involve men in the struggle for women’s rights and gender equality was not mentioned. We definitely see an increased uptake – globally and in Sweden – in organisations and initiatives that focus on engaging men and boys as partners or allies for gender justice, as well as amplified attention from policy-makers and donors to support this work.

“One concrete example is Sweden’s new global strategy for gender equality that was launched in connection to the Forum and that specifically underlines the importance of working with men and boys. This is obviously a great opportunity, but also highlights the need to ensure that the work is actually transformative in that it challenges harmful gender norms and prevailing power structures. We hope to have further opportunities to work with policy and decision makers to safeguard that existing and new initiatives are accountable to women and girls.”

Speaker from the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom addresses the Stockholm Gender Forum - April 2018

In her speech, which continued to inspire participants throughout the Forum, Madeleine Rees, Secretary General of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (and a member of the MenEngage Global Alliance Board) advocated for a radical rethink of how we work together to challenge patriarchal power structures. Rather than ‘engaging men’, Rees called for challenging violent and suppressive masculinities, reframing gender relations, and calling on men to stand up in solidarity. Her emphatic message recast the issue of gender, not as women’s struggles, nor the need to engaging men, but the need for everyone to stand together against patriarchy and economic systems that drive conflict and inequities.

 

Discussing men and unpaid care

Panellists sit in a row facing the audience in a live discussion at the Gender Equality Forum in Sweden, April 2018

In a separate break-out session, partners of the MenCare campaign hosted a panel discussion on ‘equality in unpaid care: How to engage men as equitable, non-violent caregivers’.

This event, led by MenCare co-chairs Promundo and Sonke Gender Justice, explored how the unequal distribution of unpaid care work is a key obstacle to women’s equal participation in the workforce. With women doing three times more unpaid care work than men, on average globally, the discussion focussed on how to redistribute care responsibilities by promoting men’s and boys’ involvement.

As well as having the chance to listen to, learn from, and share knowledge with key actors from around the world, MenEngage Alliance members attending the form had the opportunity to further strengthen the network over dinner on the final evening of the three day summit.

The Stockholm Forum on Gender Equality was initiated by the Swedish Government. It is organised by the Swedish Institute and the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs in cooperation with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and the Folke Bernadotte Academy (FBA).