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: