Anna Leach for GDN – WNN SOAPBOX
(WNN/GDN) London, UNITED KINGDOM, NORTHERN EUROPE: Gender empowerment projects that focus on girls leave out half of the equation. Our panel suggests ways to engage boys and men to end discrimination
Challenge misogyny in public: Some of our most powerful work has been when we’ve held senior male politicians and public figures accountable for misogynistic statements or abusive behavior. The documentary film Can’t Just Fold Your Arms shows our case against Julius Malema, then the most prominent political figure besides the president. Our case against him in the Equality Court generated a much-needed national conversation about the roles and responsibilities of male politicians.
Recognize we are all responsible for raising men: We need to see how are we ‘raising’ men around us. It could be as a parent, as sibling, as a friend, as a boyfriend, as a husband… what expectations are we putting on them? We must recognize our role in raising men.
Get power behind the movement: The key for us in Zimbabwe has been to use the current power dynamics. We have worked with traditional leaders and used their power to influence change for women and girls. The truth is, men have the power in the current set up; they have resources and sit in most decision-making positions. We will make little progress now if we’re excessively confrontational.
Don’t lose focus on girls: Very clearly men and boys have got to be a central component of the solution, but we need to tread carefully here not to lose the focus on equality and empowerment for girls and women.
Scarce funding is being diverted away from girls to programs that leave them out and directly benefit boys and men (all under the name of gender equality). We must be very intentional in the design of gender-equality programs to not lose sight of the primary goal: leveling the playing field.
Make gender equality cool: Within the Nigerian context, men are rewarded for upholding patriarchy and adhering to the expected codes. Any man who deviates from that is sanctioned by his male constituency. So in this context, a man will not likely get recognition for supporting gender equality. This is why Voices 4 Change has adopted a social-norms-marketing approach where we market the ‘coolness’ of supporting women’s empowerment.
Reach boys through their hobbies: Methodologies on engaging boys must reach their interests. In Central America we are engaging boys and men through music, arts and sports.
Give boys positive role models: Currently what boys see is violence and discrimination against women committed by men. So, they grow into the same type of men. This paradigm needs to change.
Significant change is possible when the men take collective responsibility for shifting the violent norms that exist. In Narok, Kenya, young men took a collective decision to protect their sisters in the community from undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM) by taking a stand against and warning their fathers not to subject their sisters to the cut. This happened after the young men were sensitized and shown the dangers of FGM.
Laws and government are key to changing beliefs: Behavior and norm change at scale is an expensive and hugely challenging proposition. From anti-smoking to safe-driving the evidence is stunning. It takes long time to change. That’s why laws and good governance are critical.
Focusing just on girls suggests they are the problem: Over emphasis on girls implies that they are the only problem. Both girls and boys need to bring their own perspectives and solutions to the table.
Start with the dads: Fatherhood is an important area of work as it is inter-generational. It speaks to a key area of masculinity for men. It is a life milestone when many men can look inward and want to change or do better.
Interest in fatherhood is increasing dramatically because of the fatherless rates in countries such as South Africa and the startling range of social issues that accompany such rates including gender-based violence, academic achievement of boys and girls, HIV transmission to infants and maternal and newborn mortality in general.
Look at the bigger picture: Poverty, ignorance and lack of options remain the greatest barriers – at least in Uganda – to ending harmful practices such as FGM and child marriage. Education must be accessible in terms of cost and distance to all children as an alternative to child marriage.
Boys are vulnerable too: One in seven boys in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Haiti experience sexual violence prior to the age of 18 and they are much less likely than girls to tell someone about the abuse. So, involving men in the fight to end gender inequality should include this nuance: the recognition of how gender norms affect masculine experiences of violence, especially sexual violence.
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