Partnership & Accountability blog series

Partnership & Accountability blog series

Accountability to the women´s and to social justice movements is crucial for building collaborative and equitable partnerships. Accountability requires the development of a receptive capacity in men and others who have been placed in positions of power and privilege, so that they can listen to the perspectives and needs of oppressed groups in order to become authentic allies. Accountability and partnership building also require us to engage in respectful dialogues, and a willingness to constantly address issues and concerns raised by our partners.

We hope that this blog series contributes to these ongoing conversations and serves as another platform to share useful information.

Blog posts are written by member and partners of MenEngage, for whom we provide a platform for dialogue. The opinions expressed in the posts do not necessarily represent those of the MenEngage Alliance.

To learn more about MenEngage & Accountability go to

Thursday, December 17, 2015

On the power of norms and the norms of power

Riki Wilchins

I had a meeting recently with an economist at the World Bank. Part researcher and part policy-maker, he explained that the Bank had been pleased to see marked and measurable improvement in the lot of women and girls in almost two dozen countries they track and fund.  Hearteningly, the improvements spanned a variety of metrics, including economic participation and civic and political engagement.

But in a number of key areas -- partner violence, reproductive health, education, and having their voices heard -- women continued to worryingly lag behind.

Being the World Bank, they brought immense resources to bear to better understand what the hidden barriers might be. They convened focus groups in 20 countries, from Papua New Guinea to Poland and Peru.  Over 4,000 people in 93 communities were heard from.
The result is a magisterial 160 page report: On Norms and Agency. Their conclusion is that the hidden barrier is gender norms. Or to use their language, "Women’s and men’s opportunities and actions are determined as much by social norms—including gender roles and beliefs about their abilities and capacities—as by the conditions of the communities and countries they live in…Women must constantly negotiate and resist traditional [gender] expectations about what they are to do and who they are to be." [A brief abstract is here, the full report is here.]
The focus on normative beliefs, expectations and social scripts might seem a little startling from an institution that prides itself on data driven analyses that look at cold, hard facts on the ground.  And gender norms are historically considered one of those "soft" metrics you avoid if you want hard data, like economic indicators. Yet gender has become the core of their new approach.
Put succinctly, if we want to improve the lot of women and girls, we must being challenging culturally relevant norms of masculinity and femininity, because that's what's holding them back.
This is an argument that TrueChild has been quietly making for several years. It's especially important because it has the capacity to bridge the disconnect in gender work between the gender-equity camp and the (much smaller) gender-norms camp.
Most US funders say "adopt a gender lens" when what they really mean is more funding to improve gender equity for women and girls. This is an entirely important goal. But it is not a "gender lens." It not only overlooks men and boys (and LGBTQ), it skips over gender norms entirely.

The World Bank's report shows that if you unpack gender inequalities, it is cultural attitudes and beliefs about masculinity and femininity that sustain such disparities. This means if you want to improve gender equity, you have to go through gender norms: there's just no way around them.

For instance, we can pour funds into girls' higher education in developing countries, but as long as the local gender culture dictates that "good girls" drop out to get marry early and raise families, there will be a ceiling on the progress we can make.

(In terms perhaps more relevant for the US, we might say that we can keep funding STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) for girls, but as long as they internalize feminine norms that make self-worth a function of their looks and bodies rather than their brains and ability—not to mention that female "nerds" are considered unsexy and unpopular – we should similarly expect our progress to have a ceiling.)

This was revelatory stuff. I asked my guide at the Bank who could be the audience for a 160 page report? Personally, I'd rather wait for the movie to come out. It's not exactly the kind of thing most policy-makers or funders will sit and read at one sitting (although the brief introduction, "On the Power of Norms and the Norms of Power" is worth the price of admission).  

He explained that it was an internal document, for their own people. The World Bank, one of our largest institutions for improving lives in developing countries, is working hard to educate their own people about gender norms because the data shows it will increase life outcomes and equity for women and girls.

Shouldn't we be doing likewise?

To help provide interested program officers get a leg up on things like terminology, the latest reports, and simple concrete steps they can take, we've launched a new online portal here.

[Portions of this post previously ran in the summer issue of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy newsletter.]

Thursday, December 10, 2015

(1)Huffington Post blog by Nikki van der Gaag; (2)IDS Interactions dialogue between Amel Fahmy and Nikki van der Gaag/Joni van de Sand

I seem to spend a lot of time talking and writing about men these days. Which is perhaps a little weird for a longtime feminist. And I sometimes think I can never get it right.
I recently did a Tedx talk entitled 'Why feminism needs men and why men need feminism'. Controversial perhaps, but certainly not anti-men. I knew about online trolling, but I wasn't expecting such a barrage of misogyny and plain misinterpretation of what I had said.

Then there are some of my feminist friends, who are much more intelligent than the trolls and much more polite, but who basically think that engaging with men is a waste of time.
I have spent most of my life working on women's and girls' rights and I continue to argue strongly against the violence, discrimination and abuse that are still all too common.
But in the last few years I have become increasingly convinced that unless we as feminists engage with men and boys, things will only change so far - and they may even go backwards. Which is why I wrote my book Feminism and Men. And why I have been working with people in organisations, groups and campaigns that are trying to involve men in work on gender equality. For example, the White Ribboncampaign of men against violence against women, Instituto Promundo, which began by working with young men in Brazilian favelas and continues to work on social norms in many parts of the world, Sonke Gender Justice, which works against violence and for a more equal society for all in South Africa, and the MenCare campaign that aims to get more men involved in the home…

Read the entire Huffington Post blog here.

Institute of Development Studies Interactions Dialogue
Engaging men and boys toward gender justice: my ‘aha’ moment
By Amel Fahmy with responses by Nikki van der Gaag and Joni van de Sand

In 2014, I was asked by TEDx Cairo to give a talk on street sexual harassment in Egypt. I was excited about this opportunity as my message would reach thousands of people in Egypt and I might be able to convince some to join the fight against sexual harassment and become agents of change.

 I started my talk by asking the audience to imagine/reflect on the way women walk in the streets and compare it to the way men walk in the street. Egyptian women present in the public streets are always alert in fear and anticipation of sexual harassment, where most of them (99.3 per cent) experience sexual harassment (UN Women 2013).

 During my talk, female audience members were nodding and smiling, while the males were noticeably uncomfortable, (pressing hands, grim features etc. Later, after my talk I was approached by many women who congratulated me and expressed appreciation for highlighting this wide spread violation they experience on daily basis. On the other hand, no men approached me to comment or discuss the talk…

Read the entire IDS Interactions dialogue 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The gender politics of men's anti-violence work

By Michael Flood

The ideal or principle of accountability is widespread in gender-conscious work with men. Its practice may be more uneven, with research in men’s anti-violence groups in the US, for example, finding two problems: definitions of accountability often were absent or diverse or unclear, and the burden of policing men’s sexist behaviour typically fell to women (Macomber 2012). On the other hand, two international initiatives show promise. The Engaging Men through Accountable Practice (EMAP) intervention provides a curriculum for engaging men in change in relation to personal and relational accountability (International Rescue Committee 2014). MenEngage, a global alliance comprising over 700 non-government organisations, country networks, and UN partners, recently developed accountability standards and guidelines for its members (MenEngage 2014).

Around the world, there are few if any instances where violence prevention work with men has directly taken funding away from work with women. One could argue that directing any resources to work with men by definition takes resources away from work with women, given a limited funding pie. However, assessing the implications of this then is a matter in part of assessing their relative value and effectiveness in ending violence against women. Funding support for work with men and boys, as a proportion of all work addressing gender equality, appears to be very small. For example, direct support provided to organisations or programmes targeting men and boys by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) in 2012 comprised only 0.8 percent of its total funding for gender equality (Dover 2014).

There have been tensions between efforts to engage men and boys in preventing violence against women and girls and other feminist efforts focused on women and girls themselves. For example, an international study among representatives of organisations that engage men and boys (in Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania, and North and South America) found that many spoke of experiencing suspicion from or conflict with victims’ organisations and feminist and (other) women’s groups. Interviewees expressed concern regarding the allocation of resources, ideological compatibility, and leadership sharing (Casey et al. 2013).

Another concern is that men may ‘take over’ violence prevention campaigns. While there are international cases of men taking over programmes on gender, there are few if any documented cases of men taking over women’s or feminist violence prevention campaigns. Men in communities often argue for their right to involvement in women-focused events, such as Take Back the Night marches in the USA (Kretschmer and Barber 2014). However, this demand rarely if ever comes from male anti-violence advocates themselves. While men-focused organisations are increasingly visible, especially in North America, most work engaging men in violence prevention around the globe is done by broader women’s and violence prevention organisations (Kimball et al. 2012). Perhaps the greater problem here is not that men will take over, but that they will not turn up, in that few men join efforts to prevent violence against women and much of the work is done by women. In Australia, for example, while the White Ribbon Campaign is described as a ‘male-led’ effort to end violence against women, only one-third of the community events in 2014 were organised by men (L. Davies, pers. comm.).

A more obvious problem is that the small numbers of men who do participate in violence prevention advocacy sometimes do act in patriarchal ways. It is an article of faith in men’s anti-violence work that men should strive for non-violent and gender-equitable practice in their own lives. The small number of studies among male activists and educators – nearly all from North America, and none which are longitudinal –  does find that these men do develop more anti-sexist forms of practice (Flood 2014). At the same time, this research also shows that some male activists and educators espouse stereotypical notions of their roles as protectors and defenders of women, emphasise their homosocial investments in evaluations by male rather than female peers, or respond in defensively homophobic ways to others’ perceptions of their transgressions of masculinity (Flood 2014). Men may not take over entire campaigns, but Macomber’s (2012) careful research among US ‘engaging men’ groups finds that some men in the movement do dominate interactions and interactions, claim unearned expertise, or act in other patriarchal ways. This is not surprising given the patterns of masculine socialisation to which most men are subjected.

Male advocates in the violence prevention field may be given greater status, power, and recognition than women doing similar work and rise more quickly to leadership positions (Macomber 2012). This echoes the ‘glass escalator’ effect documented among men in other feminised professions such as nursing and primary school teaching (Williams 1995). At the same time, other axes of privilege and disadvantage in any particular context are likely to intersect with such processes. Research from the USA on Black men’s experience as male nurses (Wingfield 2009) suggests that the glass escalator effect in men’s violence prevention may more available to white, heterosexual, economically privileged men than to other men.

Excerpted from: Flood, Michael. (2015). Work with men to end violence against women: A critical stocktake. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 2015. Vol. 17, No. S2, S159–S176, Full text available at:

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Men and boys: allies or shareholders in the women’s rights movement? Finding the nexus

I am a Women Deliver Young Leader, recipient of a prestigious fellowship that provides young people working to advance women and girls’ health in their communities across the world an opportunity to learn and share experiences. Within that opportunity is a particularly valuable chance to discuss strategies about movement building.

Various groups, including women’s rights movements and social justice movements, have begun to challenge global patriarchal power structures in an important way. This over time has borne fruit and with it a clarity about the multi-dimensional ways in which power structures present themselves. Most critical to note are the intersectionalities and multiple layers of discrimination some populations -- especially women and girls in their diversity -- have to deal with.

Central to the women’s rights struggles is the issue of how men and boys can support the women’s rights movement, either as allies or distant supporters. One of my fellow Women Deliver Young leaders from Brazil brought the Facebook message below to our attention. This got us thinking and ignited a discourse around men and boys that brought forth very exciting revelations.

As a feminist it is very exciting to constantly engage with issues and define my journey. I acknowledge that I may not fully understand all the issues at all times. Opportunities for  true reflection, movement building and cohesive collective action are presented in spaces that allow for healing and strategic thinking around framing and mobilization with other sisters.

Men and boys who are well-intentioned and set out to support women’s movements may not fully understand how sacred these spaces are for those engaging with them,  so I will take a stab at explaining. The spaces provide safe havens for women -- trans, migrant, women living with disability and those facing various forms of discrimination -- to heal and reflect. The healing comes from critiquing the system that advances these forms of oppression and strategizing how to engage effectively to bring about change.

To effectively support women and girls’ rights and movements working for them, men and boys have to be fully aware of the power dynamics that are brought forth by their engagement. Their advantage in terms of power and privilege is something they should be acutely aware of. Men and boys have been part of socialization that normalizes violence against women in various forms and advances misogynistic culture. Without acute awareness and self-reflection, reproducing these values even in the most subtle ways may jeopardize gains made by and for women and girls. The framing of issues is best understood by those who have been violated by the system, so to be part of the movement would also mean a deliberate effort to enable women and girls to define issues as they are affected by them, as well as whatever strategies and interventions that challenge the status quo.

Unquestioned aggression also means that men and boys may take up spaces --- either sub consciously or not -- and stand in the way of women and girls taking leadership on issues that have been at the forefront of multi-layered discrimination.

The question of engaging men and boys is complex and should be treated as such. While it offers a real and meaningful opportunity to get more allies to support the struggle for women and girls’ rights, it is as well a platform to confront gender relations in a realistic manner.

To all the men and boys who work towards gender equality, we appreciate your support as allies. The movement can only get stronger when all needed hands are on deck.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The risks of men talking about gender

Sebasti√°n Molano
Defying Gender Roles

For decades, women have been struggling relentlessly to fully enjoy the exercise of their rights. As a result of this, vast amounts of knowledge and an iterative critical reflection process have been essential to make visible the challenges that half of the population face for the mere fact of being women. Thanks to this, there are strong conceptual frameworks that help us to understand all matters related with women’s issues: politics, health, sex, violence and their role in society. As a result, the feminist movement has been able to develop a strong narrative supported by extensive research and discussion. As such, most of the feminist groups and the organizations that implement work to foster gender equality rely on a robust body of knowledge and a clear conceptual framework for their work. Women go to universities to be trained on gender issues (usually equated to women’s issues) and the majority of positions dealing with gender in multilateral and international organizations are filled by women.

This is not the case for men and for those who advocate to include men and boys as an integral part of the gender conversation. In the past, the study of men and masculinities has been scattered and it has been usually linked to matters related to mental health. Most of the men (including me) who have gotten involved in pushing for a holistic look at gender issues are self-taught, driven by an interest to bring an integrated vision into the struggle for gender equality. Many of us have learnt about gender issues through the lens of women’s issues, sometimes portrayed as the Other, the enemy or the oppressor. It has been only in recent years that we’ve seen how men and boys can be powerful allies in promoting gender equality. Nowadays, there is a more open discussion about what masculinity means and some wary enthusiasm about men getting involved in gender issues.

Currently, there are more initiatives and efforts to bring men into the gender table: inviting men to participate in gender conferences, including men as beneficiaries of development programs, and hiring men as gender experts. These kinds of initiatives bring new elements needed to nurture and foster a discussion on how to achieve the full exercise of rights for men and women. But they also bring risks that are essential to understand, prevent and mitigate.

To contribute to the needed conversation, here are two of such risks:

 • Lack of solid conceptual framework Many of the men (including me) working on gender issues are self-taught. We have arrived in the gender landscape as a result of different circumstances but rarely due to an ingrained interest. This is explained, typically, as men enjoying a series of privileges that do not push them to question the status quo. Many of us grew up in a household with a strong mother, a father who challenged traditional gender roles or underwent a series of events that marked our ‘before and after’ in terms of how men and women experience life differently. Due to this, men who work on gender issues do not tend to have a solid conceptual framework on gender issues, vis-√†-vis women. This affects their credibility but most importantly, it is exposed when men who are working on these issues try to build bridges of collaboration with women’s organizations. In many instances, it is not possible to work together as men are not aware of the different ideological approaches and how to face them. If working with men and boys is an idea we want to sell, we need to know better the market, the products, the players and overall, the backlash.

 • Appropriation of speech: There is a proliferation of networks, organizations and initiatives that aim to include men in the gender discussion. In the rush to create structures that seem solid or consolidated, many men have started to get more comfortable with the language used to discuss rights, gender equality and elimination of violence. However, this is very risky and problematic. The main reason is that many of these men who are leading efforts on the ground, trying to generate momentum and bring people together for this cause, have learnt the speech but have not made it part of who they are. Imagine a music band that learns how to play a song but does not know the musical notes. This situation generates harmful consequences that undermine a purposeful inclusion of men and boys in the gender arena. Men leading workshops on masculinity unable to answer basic questions about what equality means in practice or saying “we do not talk about gay people, this is a network of men” are examples of such risk. The first step to create solid structures is to develop strong capacity among those who are part of it. Herein lays a tremendous challenge for the work with men.

As there are incredible opportunities for men and men’s organizations to work on gender issues, there are important risks that need to be understood. It is fundamental to reflect and examine the way in which some of the work is being implemented, especially at the grassroots level. Also, to determine clearly the degree of responsibility for organizations pushing to involve men in this line of work.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

An open invitation for further dialogue between the Global Network of Women’s Shelters and MenEngage Alliance

Trigger warning: contains examples of (sexual) violence

On Friday 6 November, the 3rd International Conference on Women’s Shelters ended with a strong plea to end one of the hardest violations of human rights: violence against women and children (see:,-connect-and-act/56/). The conference was organised by the Dutch Foundation of Women's Shelters at the request of the Global Network of Women’s Shelters (GNWS). More than a thousand delegates from across the globe gathered in The Hague to share experiences, increase awareness, and exchange effective approaches for improving safety and support to survivors, and ultimately, ending violence against women and children.

Courageous and ground-breaking work

Four days of intense work followed -- of inspiration and sharing, of being confronted with the deep wounds of violated women transformed into power to overcome the impact of (sexual) violence. We listened to Emma Murphy, a 26-year-old mother and blogger from Ireland, who had posted her story of violence on Youtube and Facebook. She got almost nine million viewers, which demonstrates the great power of social media to amplify the voices of individual women speaking out and breaking the silence. And to Linor Abargil, former Miss World from Israel who was raped and became an activist, and is encouraging other women to speak out. Tears were shed, emotions felt.

The scale, the wide range of forms of violence occurring in all places of the world -- used as weapons of war, in global trafficking, on the Internet (I can’t wait for the day I can ejaculate in your face, shared Ashley Judd who is receiving these kind of mails almost daily), the violence at home, during childhood, adulthood - it became almost too much to digest. You realise, once again, how sick the world is, and how shameful the silence around and acceptance of violence is. How can this be?  

Many speakers presented courageous and ground-breaking work supporting women and children. Dr. Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynaecologist who deals with the consequences of rape for women and girls through surgery in East of Congo, delivered an emotional plea to end the cruel war against women considered the most worthless in society. The presence of the Dutch Queen Maxima and the Crown princess Mary of Denmark gave the conference the profile it merited and lent it a sense of urgency. “Connect & Act” was the theme. Many women and the few men present felt energized and encouraged to continue their work. Violence against women must and will stop! 

Where are the men and what is their role?

We, members of MenEngage,  left the conference inspired but also sobered by the realization of how much more has to be done in order to stop violence against women. We were honoured to be invited to address root causes of violence and glad to see the level of  interest in our workshop ‘Engaging men: Collaboration between women’s and men’s organisations’.  It gave us the opportunity to  share our experiences -- as well as the sense of importance of recognizing men as equal partners in building a future without violence against women. For that we need to enhance our work with men and boys and engage more men. 

But we also left with a sense of uneasiness. Why did so few men attend the conference while most of the violence is perpetrated by men enacting false notions of manhood, power and control?  The problem is largely about men, and the need to be willing to fundamentally transform underlying, deeply entrenched values among boys and men and in our societies. A so called gender transformative approach is needed, together with girls and women. We fear that as long VAW continues to be presented as a predominantly women’s problem, it will not end!

The Australian Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash, brought up the importance of working with boys and men. Princess Mary addressed it very strongly, giving examples of twinning projects between Brothers for Life in Cape Town with Dialogue Against VAW in Denmark. Her words were well appreciated. Unfortunately, her plea for addressing gender inequality by engaging boys and men in prevention of violence is not well reflected in the Call for Action which emerged from the conference. The responsibility of engaging boys and men must not reside as a burden solely on the shoulders of women’s shelters – it is the responsibility of men, of partners and member-organizations of the MenEngage Alliance, and of policy makers. We are therefore extra grateful for the fact that GNWS invited us. We are determined to continue working together with women’s organizations and support, with our actions, the global shift towards gender equality.

Transforming violent masculinities into positive and healthy ones

It is encouraging to note that international campaigns and movements to engage men are growing, such as the White Ribbon Campaign, MenEngage, MenCare etc. In November 2014 more than 1200 women and men came together for the 2nd MenEngage Global Symposium in New Delhi, to strategize on a gender transformative agenda (see MenEngage is a relatively new but growing global alliance, born out of the ground-breaking work of the women’s movement.  Accountability to women and seriously listening to the claims of women’s rights activists are crucial pillars of its work (see, which enable us to address the  real fear that men will take over (again!), and the fear of losing vital funding. MenEngage and other gender justice movements and organisations cannot show enough compassion and deep respect for the women who had the power to survive their violent past. It is inspiring and hopeful at the same time, to see women’s organisations taking up the courage to focus also on men, not only as perpetrators but as part of the solution. These developments need to accelerate.

Quick-wins don’t exist. However, we can hopefully end violence against women and children faster if we do more seriously engage the other side of the gender-coin. This requires unpacking deeply-rooted, destructive and violent notions of masculinity and transforming them into positive and healthy expressions based on respect for women‘s rights and gender justice. The result? Improved wellbeing and health of women, children, men and the society as a whole.

We can and should move forward – together! Let’s open up for intensified dialogue, exchange, and the construction of strategic partnerships, including joint funding strategies. Let’s apply a full gender perspective, with the realisation that we need each other. This will require facing and overcoming internal gender tensions, building respect, trust, and knowing where each of us is coming from. If the International Conference on Women’s Shelters showed us anything, it’s that there is enough courage and determination to go around.

Let’s Connect and Act!
Warm regards,

Rachel Ploem, Rutgers, the Netherlands (
Vidar Vetterfalk, Men for Gender Equality, Sweden (
Marina Pisklakova – Parker, Centre Anna, Russia (
Jens van Tricht – Emancipator, the Netherlands (

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Partnership & Accountability blog series

MenEngage recognizes that its work was born out of a feminist tradition and that women-led organizations have carried out the foundational gender work. As a network mainly comprising activists and civil society organizations we strive to follow this foundational work, collaborating with women’s right groups by working with 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. For MenEngage, being accountable means:

• Being critically aware of one’s own power and privilege;
• Being open to constructive criticism;
• Being responsible for one’s actions;
• Following through on commitments;
• Taking action to address practices, behaviors or beliefs that go against the MenEngage Core Principles;
• Openly acknowledging any harm caused, and developing and implementing solutions to make amends.

Accountability therefore requires the development of a receptive capacity in men and others who have been placed in positions of power and privilege so that they can listen to the perspectives and demands of oppressed groups in order to become authentic allies. Accountability and partnership building also require us to engage in respectful dialogues, and a willingness to constantly address issues and concerns raised by our partners.

We hope that this blog series contributes to these ongoing conversations and serves as another platform to share useful resources for partnership building and tools for putting into practice our accountability commitments.