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

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.