Part Of The Problem But Part Of The Solution: What Role Can Men Play In The Challenge For Gender Equality
Resource Net Friday File: Issue 309
By email@example.com, Friday January 19, 2007
How can men be allies in the fight for gender equality and women's rights? This article canvasses the issues, the debate and ways that men can (and whether they should) join the battle.
By Rochelle Jones
There has been resounding international awareness and recognition, accelerated by the Millennium Development Goals, that gender equality and women's rights are key to development. What has emerged on the sidelines however, is a growing debate on the value of including and encouraging the engagement of men.
The conceptual shift in development discourse from 'Women in Development' (WID) to 'Gender and Development' (GAD), reflected a recognition that whilst there is a strong need for programs that focus on the specific empowerment of women, gender relations between men and women are also an important centre of analysis to reveal and address inequalities that perpetuate the subjugation of women.
Engaging and working with men on issues of women's rights and empowerment however, raises many uncertainties and concerns within feminist circles, and there is a well-established debate as to whether and what extent men should be involved in the accomplishment of women's rights and gender equality. Indeed some questions raised "take us to the very heart of our assumptions, understandings, politics and ideologies about gender equality, even the very notion of gender... gender equality is not a fixed thing; it is a shorthand for a very long term process of changing gender relations, and making them more equal, more fair, more democratic, less oppressive and less patriarchal. This involves changing men." . But how can this be achieved?
Oxfam argues that there are "uncertainties about working with men. Work with men could be seen as a distraction from the fundamental work of empowering women, or as an attempt by men to co-opt existing gender work for their own purposes. It could divert (or seen to be diverting) resources away from the empowerment of women, raising concerns in the current context of shrinking development assistance" .
Similarly in a recent publication, BRIDGE have acknowledged "resistance on the part of some women to involving men in gender and development work driven by fears about the dilution of the feminist agenda, and by anxieties over the diversion of limited resources away from women's empowerment initiatives and back into the hands of men" .
Despite the uncertainties, more and more women's rights advocates agree that engaging men in women's rights work is not merely acceptable, but
critical. Feminist activist and writer bell hooks asserts: "Without males as allies in struggle, [the] feminist movement will not progress" . From high-profile INGOs to grassroots organisations, there is a powerful (and increasing) undercurrent that getting men to take responsibility in the fight against patriarchy can enhance the outcomes for women's rights globally.
Unfortunately it is not simply a matter for women to allow men to take part in the struggle, but a dearth of men willing to become involved. Many of women's scepticisms about working with men stem directly from the fact that some men are privileged by patriarchy, so why would they have a vested interest in the empowerment of women? Resistance to the engagement of men in gender equality strategies comes from both sides and is hence multidimensional and complex.
In the space where there is an absence of resistance, collaboration flourishes. Increased recognition that men are not only part of the problem, but part of the solution, has led to innovative praxis in the field. Some of this work has been solely initiated by men, whilst development organisations and women's rights groups have facilitated most other projects.
As far back as 1993 men were organising to address violence against women in Nicaragua. Shocked by the sheer scale of male violence, men mobilised to address the issue of women's social justice and to "respond to men's concerns of a 'socially imposed model that encouraged us to drink, fight, dominate, and sexually conquer women'...By 1999 the group had organised over 360 men in all-male workshops and two national conventions, leading to the founding of the Nicaraguan Association of Men Against Violence (Asociación de Hombres Contra la Violencia, or AHCV) in 2000" . The AHCV continues to conduct training workshops and courses for male youths, adolescents and adults to explore and redefine the idea of machismo and violence.
Contemporary grass-roots organisations similar to the AHCV now exist in far greater numbers, and join male 'pro-feminist' academics in delivering the
message that "men have a vital role to play in improving relations between the sexes" . This has had a flow-on effect, and now key international development agencies have taken up the mantle by recognising the 'engagement of men and boys' as a critical factor in promoting gender equality. For example, the recently released 'State of the World's Children 2007' report published by UNICEF calls for "seven key interventions to empower women". Two of those interventions are: 'women empowering women' and 'engaging men and boys'.
An issue worth considering, however, is whether high-profile international organisations, like the United Nations agencies, have endorsed and adopted
the strategy of engaging with men on issues of women's rights too early. Like some gender mainstreaming policies, embracing such a complex terrain in a technocratic manner without a proper understanding/analysis of power relations and what it means to involve men, may be inappropriate. The realities of concerns like this will unfold over time.
WHAT DOES THIS ENGAGEMENT LOOK LIKE?
BRIDGE has recently released an annotated bibliography of research into different types of strategies to engage men and boys . Research and case
studies in the bibliography come from South and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Muslim-majority countries, migrant communities in Europe, and within large development organisations such as Oxfam and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The breadth and depth of information available demonstrates that men can be, and are, allies across a plethora of issue areas that affect women:
- Men as partners against gender-based violence;
- Strengthening men's resistance to violence and conflict;
- Fostering constructive male involvement in sexual and reproductive health and rights (including HIV/AIDS);
- Encouraging men's positive engagement as fathers and carers; and
- Promoting more gender-equitable institutional cultures and practices within development organisations.
Types of strategies vary. There are support groups for male perpetrators; police sensitisation to the barriers facing women in domestic violence cases; gender-awareness training for men; and using drama to promote the positive role men can play in the prevention of HIV/AIDS to name a few.
Indigenous organisations in Australia have long been engaging men and boys on issues of family violence prevention and intervention. Rejecting the
term 'domestic' or 'gender-based' violence, 'family violence' is the preferred language used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in Australia, demonstrating their desire for both men and women to take responsibility for the violence occurring in their communities. This language shift has ensured that many programs directly target men, and cater for their needs as well as the needs of women. Programs range from father-son educational camps, perpetrator support groups, identity and healing workshops for men, and community resource and advisory centres.
If we visualise a learning curve for women's rights work, engaging with men in the journey towards gender equality will be positive. The coming years
will be critical, however, in terms of program evaluation outcomes and further research into the positive and negative impacts this phenomenon is having on women's rights work. "In a society that ascribes rigid codes of socially acceptable behaviour to the categories man and woman, everyone
suffers the consequences" .
 Jeff Hearn 2001. Men and Gender Equality: Resistance, Responsibilities and Reaching Out. Department of Applied Social Science, University of
Manchester, UK; and The Swedish School of Economics and Business Administration, Helsinki, Finland. www.ashanet.org/focusgroups/sanctuary/articles/Hearn_Men_and_Gender_Equality.doc
 Sandy Ruxton (Ed.) 2004. Gender Equality and Men. Published by Oxfam GB. Available at: http://www.oxfam.org.uk/what_we_do/resources/geneqmen.htm
 Emily Esplen. 2006. Engaging Men in Gender Equality: Positive Strategies and Approaches. BRIDGE (development ? gender), Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex. http://www.bridge.ids.ac.uk/bibliographies.htm
 Cited in Jenn Ruddy. 2006. Gender Mending: Men, Masculinity, and Feminism: To what extent is it appropriate or possible for men who resist
patriarchy to participate in the feminist movement? http://www.xyonline.net/Gendermending.shtml
 Quoted by Oswaldo Montoya of the Managua Men's Group Against Violence, cited in: Gareth Richards, 2001. 'We're Not From Mars,' Nicaraguan Men Against Violence Assert. Panos London. http://www.panos.org.uk/global/featuredetails.asp?featureid=1040&ID=1005
 Michael Flood. 2001. Can men be feminists? Available from http://www.xyonline.net/Canmenbefeminists.shtml
 Available from: http://www.unicef.org/sowc07/
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