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

Friday, September 9, 2016

In disquiet, the seed of a new understanding: a way forward for men and gender equality

By Abhijit Das

Abhijit Das
Every day the news is becoming painfully similar. A man in the US has shot students in a school or college, a gang of young men had a street fight somewhere leaving many dead and wounded, a young man is arrested in a European country for being part of a terrorist plot that killed and maimed many people somewhere else, a man has raped a girl, a brother has shot his sister for planning to marry a man of her choice in Pakistan, a father killed his children and then his wife before hanging himself somewhere deep in the central part of India. The list is endless.

Men all over the world are in the news for killing, shooting, raping, road rage, domestic violence, honour killing, acid attacks and many more forms of violence against others – women, men, children, sisters, children, wives. Society has often glorified violence and killing, especially in wars aimed at political gain and public safety, where the other ‘party’ is cast as the enemy. But in recent times such ‘heroic’ acts of violence seem to be replaced by more inter-personal violence, or violence which is not aimed at any obvious enemy. And this disease seems to affect men everywhere.

In the last few weeks I have had discussions with the leadership of a number of development organisations who have asked me about ways they could start a conversation with men in the communities that they work in. All these organisations have been working with women for years, in some cases decades. Women had organized into community groups, they were engaged in different kinds of economic activity, were bringing more money into their households, but now because they were more articulate and mobile and had more aspirations for themselves they  faced resistance from men in their families and in their communities. The request was that we work with men at community and family levels to create a more supportive and enabling environment for these obviously empowered women.

You may be wondering, what is the relationship between the violence by men that I have described in the first instance and the societal and familial control exerted by men in the second? For me the relationship lies in our expectation of men in the family and in society. In the second case there is an expectation now that the men become facilitative of women’s new aspirations, provide them with encouragement, or at least space and opportunity. While I can understand where the anxiety of the organisations comes from, and respect their understanding of women’s rights, I feel that they have failed to understand how patriarchy -- a society based on men’s primacy -- creates men and leads to a kind of ‘hegemonic’ masculinity which controls not only through boundaries, orders, coercion and force but equally through a kind of overweening concern and protectiveness. Men are comfortable being in a position of authority tinged by fear, and if we work with men to make them understand women’s need for more opportunity and space, moving men to this different position can become equally problematic, as some can become violent or cruelly controlling when their  control is challenged.

This phenomenon, of men becoming cruel and violent when their comfort levels are upset or challenged, is at the core of the high levels of violence that we are witnessing everywhere.

Violence, control and coercion are key to expressions of power, and as mentioned earlier, society often valorizes these expressions for purposes of ‘safety’ and ‘discipline’. Boys are trained to become men in all families, internalizing masculine roles through myths, stories, games, toys, comic books, video games, TV serials  -- this list is endless, too. Even the most well-meaning mother prepares her son for his future role by encouraging study, sports and outdoor life, and discouraging the practice of household work, or of art, music or dolls.

Among the emotions allowed by masculinity, being sad is discouraged, and anger is allowed but immediately pacified or satisfied so that disappointment doesn’t linger. Today boys are encouraged to be happy and successful at all costs, and they are not at all trained to manage disappointment. So we raise boys to be men who are familiar with being in positions where their needs are satisfied -- in other words, to be in positions of authority and power. They know they can express dissatisfaction through anger and believe that violence by people in positions of authority can be morally justified if it is against an ‘enemy’. Taken together this can become a very toxic mix.             

But the real world is very different from the cocoon of the family. It is full of potential disappointments and frustrations. Today the world order is changing rapidly. Subordinate social classes are now much more assertive, livelihood opportunities are evaporating, jobs are insecure and there is increasing poverty. In many cases, the security of the home is becoming lost due to patterns of migration. There are more men who find their world topsy-turvy and fewer reside in the comfort zone of continued privilege and authority. In this confusion many try to hang on to  earlier security blankets of caste, ethnic, race or religious--based superiority. And many groups are in turn preying on this insecurity of young men. The killing of bloggers in Bangladesh or the ISIS, they all seem to be feeding off this phenomenon. Men now see the ‘enemy’ everywhere and thus their violence is justified. This sense now has come to infuse politics everywhere as well.

The staggering economic growth of neo-liberal capitalism, coupled with the technological revolution have not only given the world unprecedented rates of change, but have also led to increasing social and economic division all over the world. Women have been aspiring for social, economic and political changes and achieving them for the last hundred years. Women have fought for changes and so are adapting to the overall environment of change much better than men. The fact that women at home are aspiring for change and adapting to change so easily also makes enemies out of them. This may explain some of the violence that is happening at home and in the community. At the same time men’s inability to cope with change sometimes induces a deep sense of failure. Failure is a phenomenon men are not trained to deal with. From childhood onwards success is the only credo they have learnt – in school, in the field, in the battle field. Believing that a man who has lost has no honour, many failed farmers in India have opted for suicide, leaving their families to manage their inherited debt. Women, better trained to manage failure, and continue on in their absence.

Where does this analysis leave us in our dealings with men? What pathways to a different future does it indicate? Some of us who have been engaged in women’s empowerment have been experimenting with how to work with men as allies in this process. In the last two decades or so we have learnt some lessons about how we may work towards a better future.

Many men find the incidents of violence that I mentioned in the first paragraph ‘upsetting’, or ‘gross’, or ‘unacceptable’. It is a matter of hope that there are such men, because in this feeling of disquiet is the seed of a new understanding of human relations. In many cases this sense of disquiet is followed by a rationalization that such violence happens among ‘others,’ or by avoiding such news, or in some cases by  an intellectual discussion about the state of the world which creates sufficient distance between such events and our personal world to render them harmless.

The beginning to a different future lies in the acknowledgment that the problem is not in ‘those’ men or communities, but in the men we ourselves bring up -- our boys -- through our own unconscious reinforcement of hegemonic masculinity. The most enlightened parent concerned about equality between the sexes will say “I bring up my daughter like a son” but it is never the reverse. Boys are never taught the values of nurturing and empathy, of managing adversity and failure, and to manage for themselves. Among all classes it is nearly universal for a boy not to clean his own dishes or his own clothes. This is not just a training for future participation in domestic work but  a valuable lesson in self-sufficiency. Of course there is a pressure to succeed, but rarely an emphasis on collaboration, cooperation or respect for others. Equally if not even more important is the need to train boys to manage disappointment.

Now let me come to the afore-mentioned discussions I’ve had with leaders of development organisations and the problem that they see women in their communities facing. Here too the solution does not lie in the most obvious approaches, i.e., asking men to loosen control at home and to protect women in public places. These approaches, as I mentioned earlier, can inadvertently create greater paternalistic concern and control.

We have found through our work that to create greater gender collaboration between women and men we need to work from the place where there is the least contest. In the typical patriarchal set-up, public space belongs to men and private space is the women’s domain, but under masculine control. This control is maintained either directly or indirectly through other senior women like the mother-in-law. There is little interaction between women and men, even husbands and wives, in the home or personal space. An obvious symptom of this dynamic is men not sharing housework. However, even child care is often the sole domain of women. In rural India we have found that there are many physical barriers between husbands and wives interacting with any degree of intimacy. Similarly, brothers and sisters often drift apart after puberty. Fathers are not close to young children, since the latter reside within the women’s domain and only when sons become men through a coming-of-age ritual does the ‘man-to-man’ bond strengthen. We have found some men regret the lack of closer interaction with their wives, with their daughters, or even their sisters and sisters-in-law.

In our work we have found that building closer relations with women at home has enabled men to understand the value of empathy. In forging closer relations with their children, men have come to value the virtues of care, nurture and sharing. And this has happened with adult men in their twenties and thirties, and even older. In addition, men can be encouraged to develop a new sense of fairness which is able to see through the limitations of social arrangements of patriarchy. Taking this a step forward, we have successfully encouraged men to take stands on caste and religious discrimination as well. But the initial step was taken via the roles and relations in the family.

I have heard friends say that this kind of work is essentially ‘reformist’ and not sufficiently political, as it does not adequately address deeply ingrained power inequalities embedded in society. Others have said that it lays too much emphasis on the private and personal sphere and not the public or political space. I hear them and I understand their anxiety. My justification of our approach is not only through my own personal practice and some small- and large-scale community-based interventions, but also draws on a nuanced understanding of power and privilege and how it is exercised and experienced.

A politically-sound approach towards social justice or an envisioned world with less violence and more mediated solutions to it cannot come from work with the violent and the under- privileged alone. Many political movements have been born from a sense of injustice and claims for rights and justice. However, acknowledgement of this reality requires people in positions of power and privilege to change their own actions and exercise of power accordingly. In the battlefield the loser loses power; in a negotiated settlement a third party is often asked to mediate so that there is acceptable ‘loss of face’ for the party which is required to cede most in the settlement.

In society there is often no third party. To get where we want to get – to gender equality - men need to give up their positions of authority, which requires first that they acknowledge that their present advantages of power and privilege are often one-sided and lead to the subordination of others. But they have never given up power without loss of face. At home and within intimate relationships they can give up power without loss of face and become used to a sense of comfort without wielding power and authority. This can serve as is valuable practice for creative use of men’s ability to share power and yield authority in public spaces without a sense of loss. We have seen it happen, over and over and in different situations.

We believe that there is no better time than the present to take these lessons to scale. If we feel that what we see around is unacceptable, if we believe in the fundamental equality among all humans, then we can adopt these simple ways of behaving towards others and the way we raise our children, especially our boys. In it lies the only hope for the profound changes that we all want to see for the world which we leave behind for our children. If you agree, share this with you friends.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

"I can do it all by myself:" Why increased male caregiving may find resistance from women

By Oswaldo Montoya

Oswaldo Montoya
I found Bayano Valy’s post, Men seeing themselves as full partners in care work, very revealing. It makes us think about the complexity of working with men to transform patriarchal relations with women. In its intervention “Men in the Kitchen,” Rede HOPEM of Mozambique combines skill building, related to domestic chores and attitudinal change, in turn related to gender and masculinity, so that doing care work is not seen by men merely as supporting women but as a joint responsibility. HOPEM is enabling men to move from a helping-out mentality to the equal sharing of caregiving work in an effort to challenge power relations among genders.

Bayano points out the apparent contradictory responses from most women when their male partners engaged in care work. Some women felt “an invasion of their private space,” he reports; others even questioned their partners’ manhood as a result of their performing domestic work.

The solution proposed is to engage women in gender work as well, using gender-synchronised approaches. I agree with this conclusion, however I think it is important to dig deeper about why men encounter resistance from women when they increase their involvement in house care work. Are we really challenging power relations when we support men assuming 50 percent of care work? Is it really gender transformative when men discard the helping-out mentality and fully embrace care work? My hypothesis is, we may be challenging these power relations, but we may not, too.

Patriarchy has a tremendous capacity to re-accommodate in times of gender-roles change. In some contexts, the fact that men do care work in similar amounts as women may not necessarily equalize power among them. Actually, it may exacerbate power differentials, with men gaining more legitimacy and self-sufficiency. Men’s egos can become further inflated by such an “I can do it all by myself” mentality, thus relegating women to more marginalized positions.

Therefore, we not only have to think about sensitizing women to the need to appreciate, and not feel threatened by, men’s involvement in care work. We also need to keep raising awareness among men in relation to the meanings attached to their new domestic practices. We men should not be in competition with women about who is more capable or who does more care work. It is not from such a patriarchal sense of rivalry that we should engage in this work. If done that way, there is a greater chance that women will resist our efforts, and will regard them as an invasion.

In addition to working with men on these deeper meanings, it is important that our work with men also enable them to support women’s economic empowerment and other forms of women’s empowerment that expand their horizons. If projects focused on changing men lack efforts to empower women, then women may indeed resist changes to the domestic gender order, in which the kitchen has been one of their few spaces of sovereignty. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Men seeing themselves as full partners in care work

by Bayano Valy

Bayano Valy
Anecdotal evidence in Mozambique shows that there are men who perform care and household workbelieving they are helping their partners – this is grounded in evidence from pre- and post-evaluation courses of the programme “Men in the Kitchen.”  

“Men in the Kitchen” is a programme designed and implemented by Rede HOPEM (Men for Change) which seeks to challenge power relations by getting men to question hegemonic masculinities using a gender transformative approach. The course has trained more than 200 men since its inception in 2014. Alongside “Men in the Kitchen”, the men are trained in further care work such as child care through their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The men who participate in the courses say they are more than interested in gender-progressive activities within the household but are not exactly comfortable expressing such behaviour publicly due to societal pressure.

Incidentally, when the men come in to hone their skills, they believe they are doing so in order to better “help” their partners. It is after going through the theoretical component of the programmes that they realise that as men doing care and household work, they are not helping but sharing the house care workload.

This notion is dispelled in the courses. Rather, they should in fact increase their workload within the household in order to promote gender equality. The courses also encourage them to develop their abilities in the household and make choices to continue doing the work without regard to societal pressure, stereotypes and prejudices, as well as lead them to realise that it is their responsibility to work in the household as full partners.

Perhaps the most appealing feature of male involvement in gender promotion is that men themselves stand to gain much from a gender-equal society. However, this is still a tough sell for most men brought up in a society in which patriarchy still reigns supreme – not only is swimming against the patriarchal tide socially costly but it also requires a support network which is still incipient.

Paradoxically, the people who should real be the happier from the toils of their men-folk in care and household work seem to be ambivalent. When consulted months after taking part in the courses, a larger group of men said that their partners saw their newfound enthusiasm for engaging in care work as an invasion of their private space. A smaller group reported that their womenfolk were happy to see the transformation.

But worryingly, a third group said that their partners were questioning their manhood, and rather than welcoming the change, they started displaying hegemonic masculinity traits – maybe this is because the only reference women have of “leadership” are men who are constrained by the ossified edifice of patriarchy.

What the evaluations suggest is that that there is a need for the implementation of gender synchronised approaches in order to ensure that their partners encourage them to share the workload rather than question their manhood or even belittle them.

It is crucially to put in place strategies for the creation of an enabling environment for men who seek to break away from the yoke of patriarchy. Such spaces could simply be club houses where men could go and mingle with other like-minded men, as well as share their experiences.

That is likely to ensure that not only more and more men perform care and household work but do so in the knowledge that their work is appreciated by their partners and society, and that they are not helpers but partners who want to achieve gender equality in all aspects of the concept.

Bayano Valy is the Advocacy, Research and Network Programme Manager for Rede HOPEM and a proudly avowed feminist. In his previous life he worked as a journalist tackling a plethora of issues with a focus on politics, economics, gender and development. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The promotion of positive masculinities in public policies: the experience of Instituto WEM and the Costa Rican MenEngage Network

by Alvaro Campos Guadamuz
Founder and President, InstitutoCostarricense de Masculinidad, Pareja y Sexualidad (Instituto WEM)

[Versión en Español abajo.]

Alvaro Campos Guadamuz
Costa Rica continues to advance in designing public policies favoring equality between women and men and in the eradication of violence against women. Undoubtedly the woman’s rights movement merits the greatest credit for these advances. The work that the Costa Rican MenEngage Network and Instituto WEM have done, promoting positive masculinities in young and adult men, brings its bit to these successes, especially by involving men in these social changes.

The Instituto WEM is the coordinator of the Costa Rican MenEngage Network (RMECR) and the focal point for the White Ribbon, Paternal Leave and Men’s Health campaigns. IWEM offers personal growth groups for adult men and adolescents, as well as public education called “Men’s School”, which examines with men themes from their everyday lives. In addition, we have positioned the masculinities component into the national public agenda and in dialogues with feminist and governmental institutions whose mission is gender equity and work with women, in this case the National Women's Institute - INAMU.

Since 2013 we have been advocating for the Positive Masculinity component to be added to the public agenda and in state-institution work plans. This allows for political influence beyond the work done with men’s groups by creating public policy and pilot programming in best practices for equality.  These processes are:

  • Men’s Health Act passed in 2013. This law encompasses a broad concept of men’s health, including aspects having to do with changes in lifestyle characteristics of hegemonic masculinity and promotion of emotional ties that foster peaceful coexistence. The same act proposes the formulation of a National Men’s Health Policy and regulation. At this time, the final version of the regulation is being completed for submission for national review.
  • National Policy for the Promotion of Positive Masculinity and the prevention of Men’s Violence towards Women, currently being produced.  The state, through the INAMU, has entrusted Instituto WEM to develop this policy, which will be part of the National System for Attention to and Prevention of Violence against Women and Domestic Violence in Costa Rica (PALNOVI). The formulation of this policy has involved IWEM and RMECR in an intense process of dialogue, consultation and reflection with Costa Rican institutions, feminist and other sectors.
  • The “Primary Prevention of Violence at the Local Community Level” Program, sponsored by the National Institute for Women, is a program in which non-governmental organizations working with distinct populations and issues participate with IWEM, and from which it aims to build a model of community work.
  • The MACHIS-NO Program and Campaign. This program aims to prevent violence in the context of soccer, supported by the state and involving all the first-division Costa Rican soccer clubs, from major to minor leagues. IWEM is commissioned to design and implement the training, which will take place within the 12 stadiums of the first division (for football captains, coaches, administrative personnel and players from all clubs). This campaign will culminate in the adoption of a code of ethics by the football players, the basis of which will be the Global MenEngage Code of Ethics.

It should be added that the innovation in this entire advocacy experience resulted from the recognition of research, publications, recommendations and calls to action that MenEngage Alliance and its Latin American network promoted through the Global Symposia (Brazil, 2009; New Delhi, 2014) and International Symposia on Men and Masculinity. And, the contribution of the three international campaigns (White Ribbon, Men Care Parental Leave and Men’s Sexual and Reproductive Health), as well as the MenEngage Code of Conduct, are the basis for documents being developed to support these policies and programs.

This advocacy work has been very important to show that there exists some lack of trust towards the work that men’s organization can carry out in the name of equity/equality and the eradication/prevention of violence against women. MenEngage is not only an alliance of organizations; it is also an ideological and ethical framework to guide us toward and from which to work with men. The harmony and solidarity with feminism and human rights, as well as calls to action during the international meetings promoted by MenEngage, have made some Costa Rican government civil society sectors and the women's movement see work with men more reliably and visualize men as allies of equity and in the culture of peace.

Partnerships with feminism and the women's movement

Advocacy in support of a masculinities component should be done in partnership or dialogue with feminism and the women’s movement. In fact, from an ideological point of view, work with masculinities and men has as its goal the dismantling of the system and patriarchal order, with its corresponding sexist, adult-centered, discriminatory and homophobic order. Overcoming gender inequities and injustices is the objective of the work.

We endorse the call to action following the declaration of Rio de Janeiro (2009):

“Work with men and boys comes from and honors the pioneering work and ongoing leadership of the women's movement and feminist. (…) Working in close synergy with women’s rights organizations, we seek to change attitudes and practices of individual men, and to transform the imbalance of power between men and women in relationships, families, communities, institutions and nations."

Work with men must respect, support and strengthen women’s rights, and abide by the international commitments of the United Nations. These commitments urge us to take actions to involve men and boys in achieving gender equality. The alliance with feminism requires time, dialogue, flexibility and negotiation. As suggested by the feminist Escalante (2002), "To achieve equity, to change the power relations between the sexes, we must include discussion about men and masculinity. The problem is the traditional roles, not the men. " And the author concludes as follows:

"From my perspective, work with men should be based on the following ethical principles:

  • Recognition that masculinity studies and work with men has emerged and developed through its link to the process of struggle for equality provided by women's movements and feminism.
  • Research on masculinity and work with men should be the initiative and primary responsibility of men, without excluding the contribution of women who are interested in this topic.
  • Groups or movements of men who should be supported or promoted are those who seek change towards gender equality and not those who seek to maintain or reproduce patriarchal oppression.
  • Those who work on masculinity and men should maintain an open and respectful dialogue with those working on femininity and with women.
  • This work should be guided by what Marcela Lagarde proposes as an ethic based on solidarity and cooperation, equal opportunities, equitable distribution of goods and positive powers, processes of individualization and community approach, as well as social and political participation as a way to ensure political democracy and a regime of respected rights. "

 For IWEM, building public policies that encourage new masculinities is framed as a political project, and at the same time as a humanist project in search of meaning, in the construction of the "new man". Osho (2014) suggests that it is not about being a better man; it is about being a new man. We cannot build public policy without this dimension of utopia. And so, it is enshrined in a revolutionary project of a society without patriarchy.

La promoción de las masculinidades positivas en las políticas públicas: Experiencia del Instituto WEM y la Red MenEngage en Costa Rica

por Alvaro Campos Guadamuz
Presidente y Fundador del InstitutoCostarricense de Masculinidad, Pareja y Sexualidad (Instituto WEM)

Alvaro Campos Guadamuz
Costa Rica sigue avanzando en el diseño de políticas públicas favorecedoras de la igualdad entre mujeres y hombres y de la erradicación de la violencia contra las mujeres. Sin duda, el movimiento por los derechos de las mujeres merece el mayor crédito por estos avances. El trabajo que hemos hecho desde la Red MenEngage Costa Rica y el Instituto WEM, promoviendo masculinidades positivas en los hombres jóvenes y adultos, aporta su grano de arena a estos logros, sobre todo en cuanto a involucrar a los hombres en estos cambios sociales.

El Instituto WEM es el punto focal y coordinador de la Red Men Engage en Costa Rica (RMECR) y el punto focal de las campañas Lazo Blanco, Paternidades y Salud Masculina. WEM ofrece grupos de crecimiento personal para hombres adultos y adolescentes, así como una oferta de Educación popular llamada “Escuela para hombres”, en la cual se revisan con los hombres temáticas de su vida cotidiana. Hemos además posicionado el componente masculinidades en la agenda pública nacional y en diálogos con el feminismo y las instituciones gubernamentales que tienen como misión la equidad de género y el trabajo con las mujeres, en este caso el Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres – INAMU-.

Desde el 2013 estamos aportando incidiendo para que el componente Masculinidades Positivas exista  en la agenda pública y en los planes de trabajo de las instituciones del estado.  Esto permite incidir políticamente más allá del trabajo con grupos de hombres, mediante la creación de políticas públicas y programas demostrativos de buenas prácticas de equidad. Dichos procesos son los siguientes:

  • Ley de Salud Masculina, aprobada en el 2013.   Esta ley propone un concepto amplio de salud masculina,  ya que se incluyen aspectos que tienen que ver con cambios en los estilos de vida propios de la masculinidad hegemónica y de promoción de vínculos afectivos que propicien una convivencia pacífica. La misma ley propone la formulación de una Política Nacional de Salud Masculina y un reglamento. En estos momentos se está concluyendo la versión del reglamento para someter a consulta nacional.
  • Política Nacional para el Fomento de Masculinidades Positivas y prevención de la violencia masculina hacia las mujeres, en proceso de producción.  El estado, a través del INAMU, encarga al Instituto WEM la elaboración de dicha política que será parte del  Sistema Nacional para la Atención y Prevención de la Violencia contra las Mujeres y Violencia Intrafamiliar de Costa Rica (PLANOVI).  La formulación de esta política ha implicado para el IWEM y la RMECR un proceso intenso de dialogo, consulta, reflexión, con la institucionalidad costarricense, el feminismo  y sectores diversos de la realidad nacional.
  • El Programa “Prevención Primaria de la Violencia en el nivel local comunitario”, auspiciado por el Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres, es un programa en el que participan otras organizaciones no gubernamentales que trabajan con otras poblaciones y temas, junto con el IWEM, programa desde el cual  se pretende construir un modelo de trabajo comunitario.       
  • El Programa y Campaña “MACHIS-NO”.  Este programa busca prevenir la violencia en el contexto del futbol, apoyado desde el estado e involucrando a todos los clubes de la primera división de futbol costarricense, desde ligas mayores hasta ligas menores. Le encargan al IWEM el diseño y ejecución de la capacitación que se va a desarrollar en los 12 estadios de la primera división (los capitanes de futbol, directores técnicos, personal administrativo y jugadores de todos los clubes).  Esta campaña culmina con la adopción de un código de ética por parte de los jugadores de fútbol, cuya base será el Código de Ética de Men Engage Global.

Cabe agregar que lo innovador de toda esta experiencia de incidencia política es que se ha hecho un reconocimiento de las investigaciones, publicaciones, recomendaciones y llamados a la acción que la Red MenEngage Global y Latinoamericana ha promovido a través de  los  Simposios Globales (Brasil, 2009; New Delhi, 2014) y los Coloquios Internacionales sobre Varones y Masculinidades.  Y el aporte de las tres campañas internacionales (Lazo Blanco, Paternidades –Men Care y Salud Sexual reproductiva, al igual que el Código de Conducta de Men Engage son la base para los documentos que se están elaborando para sustentar dichas políticas y programas.

Este trabajo de incidencia política ha sido muy importante para evidenciar que existe aún desconfianza hacia el trabajo que pueden llevar a cabo las organizaciones de hombres por la equidad/igualdad y por la erradicación/prevención de la violencia machista.  MenEngage no es solamente una alianza de organizaciones, es también un referente ideológico y ético que guía hacia dónde y desde dónde se debe trabajar con los hombres.  La sintonía y solidaridad con el feminismo y los derechos humanos, así como los llamados a la acción de los Encuentros Internacionales promovidos por MenEngage han hecho en Costa Rica   algunos sectores gubernamentales, de la sociedad civil y del movimiento de mujeres miren  de manera más confiable al trabajo con los hombres y visualicen a los hombres como aliados de la equidad y la cultura de paz.  

Las articulaciones con el feminismo y el movimiento de mujeres

Las acciones de incidencia política en favor del componente masculinidades deben hacerse en alianza o en diálogo con el feminismo y el movimiento de mujeres.  De hecho, desde el punto de vista ideológico, el trabajo con las masculinidades y con los hombres que se desea impulsar es aquel que  tiene como utopía política la desarticulación del sistema y orden patriarcal, con su correspondiente orden de género sexista, adultocéntrico, discriminatorio y homofóbico.  La superación de las inequidades e injusticias de género es el norte del trabajo.

Hacemos nuestro el siguiente llamado a la acción de la declaración de Río de Janeiro (2009):

“El trabajo con hombres y niños proviene y honra el trabajo pionero y el liderazgo continuo de los movimientos de mujeres y feministas. (…). Trabajando en estrecha sinergia con las organizaciones de derechos de las mujeres buscamos cambiar las actitudes y prácticas de hombres individuales, y transformar el desequilibrio de poder entre hombres y mujeres en las relaciones, familias, comunidades, instituciones y naciones”.

El trabajo con hombres debe respetar, apoyar y fortalecer los derechos de las mujeres, y acatar los compromisos Internacionales de Naciones Unidades.  Estos compromisos instan a tomar acciones para   involucrar a hombres y niños en el logro de la equidad de género. La  alianza con el feminismo requiere tiempo, diálogo, flexibilidad, negociación.  Como lo plantea la feminista Escalante (2002), Para lograr la equidad, para cambiar las relaciones de poder entre los sexos, hay que incluir discusión sobre los hombres y la masculinidad.  El problema son los roles tradicionales, no los hombres.”. Y la autora concluye de la siguiente manera.

“Desde mi perspectiva, el trabajo con los hombres debe basarse en los siguientes principios éticos:

  • Partir del reconocimiento de que los estudios sobre la masculinidad y el trabajo con los hombres ha surgido y se ha desarrollado vinculado al proceso de lucha por la igualdad que han dado los movimientos de mujeres y feministas.
  • La investigación sobre la masculinidad y el trabajo con hombres debe ser iniciativa y responsabilidad principal de los hombres, sin excluir el aporte de las mujeres que tengan interés en este tema.
  • Los grupos o movimientos de hombres que se deben apoyar o promover son aquellos que buscan el cambio hacia la equidad de género y no los que buscan mantener o reproducir la opresión patriarcal.
  • Quienes trabajan sobre la masculinidad y con los hombres debe mantener un diálogo abierto y respetuoso con quienes trabajan sobre la feminidad y con las mujeres.
  • Este trabajo debe estar orientado por lo que propone Marcela Lagarde como una ética basada en la solidaridad y la cooperación, la igualdad de oportunidades, la distribución equitativa de los bienes y poderes positivos, los procesos de individualización y de acercamiento comunitarios, así como la participación social y política como vía para asegurar la democracia política y un régimen de derechos respetados.”

 Construir políticas públicas que fomenten nuevas masculinidades se enmarca, para el IWEM, en un proyecto político y a la vez en un proyecto humanista de búsqueda de sentido, en la construcción del “hombre nuevo”. Osho (2014) plantea que no se trata de un hombre mejorado, se trata de un hombre nuevo. No podemos construir políticas públicas sin esta dimensión de la utopía. Así se engarza en un proyecto revolucionario, de una sociedad sin patriarcado.  

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Transforming masculinities: the twists and turns of feminist men's history in the Caribbean

By Dr. Gabrielle Hosein

Gabrielle Hosein
Last Thursday, students in my Men and Masculinities in the Caribbean course engaged in pro-feminist men’s movement building on the University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine campus, Trinidad and Tobago. They created games, posters, pamphlets and popular theatre that tackled issues related to fatherhood, violence, pornography, suicide, health, homophobia and popular culture. This assignment aimed to create peer learning outside of the classroom, challenging students’ real-life capacity to explain patriarchy as a source of both men’s privilege and pain.

There are many kinds of men’s movements, differentiated by their politics regarding race, sexuality, capitalism, militarism, religion and women-led feminist struggles. Pro-feminist men’s movements, which are also called feminist men’s movements, are not motivated by a desire to return women to ‘traditional’ or subordinate roles. They are not compelled by competition with women in the struggle for rights nor by an empirically-unfounded position that women now have too much power and men are the ‘real’ victims. Thus, such men’s movements are best for achieving gender justice, which requires us to dismantle and transform the hierarchies created by our ideals of manhood and womanhood.

While masculinity studies seems new, the study of men in the Caribbean emerged in earlier studies on the family. Since at the least the 1930s, anthropologists looked at Afro-Caribbean families, which didn’t fit colonial nuclear-family models, and concluded that men were marginal to them. Later feminist scholarship debunked that, arguing that while Afro-Caribbean fathers may not reside within families, which may therefore end up mother-centred, other men such as sons, uncles, brothers and grandfathers were not marginal to family life at all.

By the 1980s, a new discourse, not of marginality, but of marginalization was introduced. It argued that women’s gains were a direct consequence of black men being held back from advancement in the teaching profession in Jamaica. Men were being marginalized to keep them subordinated and prevent them from threatening colonial rule, it claimed. Despite the inaccuracy of this interpretation, and its denial of women’s own efforts to advance in the labour market, the myth of male marginalization caught fire across the Anglophone region as those who saw women’s advances in terms of men’s feelings of emasculation found a flag to wave in backlash to Caribbean feminism.

Nonetheless, from Jamaica to Trinidad were experiments with pro-feminist men’s organizing. Anyone active in men’s movement building in 1990s Trinidad and Tobago would remember MAVAW, Men Against Violence Against Women. UWI Lecturer Jerome Teelucksingh revived International Men’s Day commemorations on November 19th, his dad’s birthday, to mobilize men to improve gender relations and promote gender equality, through a focus on men’s health, positive male role models, and men’s contributions to community and family.  

Unfortunately, the turn of the century witnessed an about-face by campus principals, state bureaucrats, politicians, policy makers and fathers’ groups.  A language of ‘balance’ began to displace one of equity. A vocal men’s rights movement emerged, increasingly attacking rather than collaborating with feminists. A once visible (pro-)feminist men’s movement shrank, leaving those men who continued to invest in challenging patriarchal relations feeling isolated, and reproducing the fear, shame, silence that Michael Kimmel describes. That said, a vibrant gay men’s movement emerged in this very period, but it too gets little love from the men’s rights approach. This is one example of where pro-feminist men’s movements can take responsibility for challenging men’s rights groups as well as discrimination that men still face.

This turn ignored women’s long solidarity with men’s movement-building, and men’s solidarities with women’s rights in the region. In the 1990s, I often worked with young male activists from the YMCA who sought to transform masculinities to create a kinder, gentler world for subordinated boys. Women in UN organizations and university departments generated funds and developed curricula for masculinity studies, facilitated workshops for men, established peace-building programmes, and supported networking amongst men across the region. Neither the women nor men always got it right, but we were not enemies. Rather, we shared struggles from different, contradictory and shifting sites of power.

In a globally right-wing moment, it remains necessary to mentor men and women to change the nexus of power, privilege, pain and powerlessness in boys and men’s lives. My students engage in pro-feminist movement building to better understand the project of men’s movements, like women’s movements, to fairly and lovingly value us all simply because we are human. When that pedagogy works, it garlands the bread of solidarity with roses of hope.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Challenging Male Supremacy: Accountability and the experiences of a New York collective

by Alan Greig (with Aazam Otero, Gaurav Jashnani and RJ Maccani)

Alan Greig
It was partly out of a desire to confront our own gender practices, and the ways in which these challenge or bolster the legitimacy of patriarchy, that a small group of us came together in 2008 to form the Challenging Male Supremacy Project (CMS). As an all-volunteer collective in New York City, we have since created spaces and developed tools for working with men and masculine-identified people to challenge male supremacist practices as part of a broader movement for collective liberation.

The push to create CMS came from a range of people and experiences. All of us have, at different times, been called upon by women, whether in our intimate relationships or political communities, to do more not only to change our own sexist attitudes and behaviours but also to work more actively to support liberatory practices and spaces within our communities, in part by holding other men accountable for their oppressive behaviour. Simply by growing up as men in societies such as the USA and UK, we have lived with the privileges of being male-identified and participated in the harm and injustice produced by systemic male supremacy.

We have also experienced, in different ways, the violence of men, whether at home, at school or in the street.  When we first met together to discuss forming CMS, one of us had begun to speak publicly about his own experiences of being sexually abused when he was a boy. Some of us were getting involved in processes to hold accountable men in our activist communities who had used violence against women.  We saw the damage being done to women and gender non-conforming people by the sexual violence being used against them by men within social justice movements, and what this violence was doing to weaken movements’ struggles for greater justice in the world. We recognized that left unaddressed, male violence within our communities reinforces the status quo of existing oppressive systems and undermines the belief that a better world is within our collective grasp.

It became increasingly clear as we met that our everyday practices of male privilege are the hardest to acknowledge, let alone address, because they are so thoroughly normalized. And because too often we have operated within a good/bad binary, in which “we”, the radical activists, saw ourselves as different from “them”, the sexists and patriarchs. The words of US anti-racist organizer Chris Crass resonated with us, in his account of being called upon to change by an intimate partner: 

"What do you mean I'm sexist?" I was shocked. I wasn't a jock, I didn’t hate women, I wasn't an evil person. "But how can I be a sexist, I'm an anarchist?" I was anxious, nervous, and my defenses were up. I believed in liberation, for fighting against capitalism and the state. There were those who defended and benefited from injustice and then there’s us, right?”

Our initial conversations focused on how to name and frame our work. Some of us were inspired by the work of the Challenging White Supremacy (CWS) Workshops, founded by Sharon Martinas and Mickey Ellinger in 1993. The CWS emphasis on consciousness-raising and skills-building toward transformative organizing, and on mobilizing the people most privileged by a system of oppression to challenge that oppression in solidarity with those targeted by it, resonated strongly with us.

Taking steps to challenge male supremacy
We devoted much of our energy in the first three years to developing a nine-session Study-into-Action process, which focused on consciousness-raising and skills-building. Between 2009 and 2011, we ran two Study-into-Action processes for a total of 25 men, chosen through our personal networks on the basis of their social justice activism.

In designing the Study-into-Action process, we drew on the teachings of Somatics, an integrative approach to healing and transformation that understands and treats human beings as a complex of mind, body, and spirit. Challenging male supremacy requires fundamental transformations in the ways we act, individually and collectively, and the Somatics exercises proved to be powerful ways of getting in touch with not just the conceptual idea but also the felt experience of transformation.

Incorporating partners’ suggestions, we fashioned a process in which we explored issues ranging from our own experiences of masculinity to manifestations of male violence in our communities; practical actions we could take to change harmful behaviours; and what practices of accountability outside the criminal penal system could look like. In our final session, we evaluated the process and discussed commitments to challenging male supremacy in our intimate relationships and political work.

Accountability, as a practice and a process that can truly generate transformation in harmful behaviours and oppressive systems, was a key theme throughout Study-into-Action. Given the violence perpetrated by the police, by courts and prisons against communities of colour and low income communities in the US, it is clear that we need to find other ways to respond to male violence, without relying on state coercion and punitive sanctions. The question we still face is how to respond to the harms of male violence in ways that build solidarity and create community, whilst supporting reparation and healing for those who have been harmed and demanding accountability from perpetrators.

Since the end of the Study-into-Action process, CMS members have remained active in co-facilitating or supporting accountability processes for men who have used violence within our social justice networks. In common with other activist groups, we still struggle with the challenge of sustaining our work. Questions about where best to focus our energies persist. We like many others face the similarly urgent tasks of creating more liberatory practices and spaces within our own communities and holding the state to account for its policy failures and abuses of power. We know that we can only do this collectively, and CMS is committed to continue working on challenging male supremacy as our contribution to broader struggles for collective liberation.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Open the bedroom window: Achieving gender justice in sexual and reproductive health

By Jon Hopkins and Seri Wendoh
International Planned Parenthood Federation

In conversations with women in a rural community in Zambia a few years ago one of the women said “we have all these workshops and talk about opening the window and shining a light on this and that, but why does nobody ever talk about the ‘bedroom window?” In this one sentence she captured the essence of the inherent power dynamics that determine who controls the relationship and the resulting repercussions. In a British context, the teasing question “who wears the trousers in your relationship?” shows the same recognition of power in relationships.

It may seem a little crass to talk about relationships as a “power struggle” of one person against another, but in the world of sexual and reproductive health, this is key to understanding many of the problems brought about by gender inequality.

The excellent blog from February 11 on ‘engendering accountability’ by the ATHENA Network clearly outlined what achieving gender justice should look like and the role that everyone has to play in achieving this through meaningful partnership and accountability. Nowhere more than in the arena of sex, relationships and having children are the consequences of a lack of gender justice in this world magnified.

For a long time sexual and reproductive health has been the sole responsibility of women, particularly as women face a disproportionate burden for using contraception as well as child bearing and child rearing. As a consequence, women who want to avoid pregnancy lack access to effective contraception and there were over 300,000 maternal deaths in 2014. Moreover, more than two out of three new HIV infections are among women in sub-Saharan Africa; and as the February 11 blog pointed out, gender-based violence is predominantly suffered by women mainly committed by men.

Clearly there needs to be an equal and shared responsibility taken by men and women in all areas of sexual and reproductive health. This requires working at different levels with varying partners to address the policies and norms that undermine access and enhance gender inequality. At the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) – which sees 69 million clients a year in more than 170 countries across the globe – here are five areas where we see efforts need to be stepped up:

  • Increase and improve sexual and reproductive health (SRH) service provision for men: Accessible and targeted sexual and reproductive health services need to be provided to all, including men in all their diversity, while ensuring that any changes to services do not have unintended negative consequences on the quality and/or availability of services provided, especially for women and girls. Data commissioned for a recent high level consultation on Men and HIV convened by UNAIDS, Sonke Gender Justice and IPPF showed that whilst HIV transmission is higher among women, anti-retroviral therapy (ART) coverage is lower and AIDS-related deaths are much higher among men [more info here]. Access to a broad range of sexual and reproductive health and HIV services therefore needs to be improved. This can be done by adapting existing services to remove identified barriers and make them more attractive and responsive to men’s needs, and expand those services. To support this, a Platform for Action from the Men and HIV consultation will be released by UNAIDS soon, and IPPF and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) are in the process of developing a Global Package on SRH services for men and adolescent boys to provide information on this which will be ready in the next few months.
  • Get out of the clinic: When men do not have access to services, this is harmful to them, harmful to their partners and harmful to their families. It is critical that policies include more focus on reaching men and adolescent boys with innovative service delivery methods in workplaces, places of worship, sports gatherings and other community venues. Similar approaches should also be used to challenge harmful gender norms that lead to men’s unwillingness to seek healthcare services and gender-based violence.
  • Promote shared responsibility: more messaging should be provided to men and adolescent boys on the shared responsibility they have for decisions around contraception, preventing HIV or other sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy and child birth, and as parents and caregivers. The 2015 State of the Worlds Fathers Report provides further information, analysis and recommendations in this area.
  • Advocate to change harmful laws and policies that affect access to sexual and reproductive health and right (SRHR) for both men and women: these include laws that prohibit access to safe abortion and comprehensive sexuality education and criminalise key populations and the transmission of HIV. It is also important that there be supportive laws in place that criminalise sexual and gender based violence, rape within marriage and female genital mutilation and where these laws exist their implementation needs to be ensured.
  • More evidence and research needed building on programmes that work: a more concerted effort needs to be made at all levels to collect, analyse and disseminate data that is disaggregated by both sexes and can be used to understand how gender relations and other dynamics of power shape sexual and reproductive health, including HIV. We should also ensure that we are building on programmes that are proven to work such as SASA! and Stepping Stones which recently published a newsletter with a focus on engaging men and boys [here]. One area of medical research that needs increased focus and more resources is developing new male led reversible contraceptive methods beyond male condoms, for example in developing a “male pill”.

Cross-cutting all of the above is the need to actively promote women’s empowerment – this can be supported through partnering with women’s rights networks and organisations and promoting women’s leadership, in particular through mentorship programmes with young women and girls.

There is no magic bullet to achieving gender justice in sexual and reproductive health and perfecting the above five areas and having an explicit focus on women’s empowerment will not automatically lead to an end of gender inequality – far from it. But working together in an accountable partnership with everyone in the gender justice movement, it will be possible to readdress some of the complex power relations of the bedroom. We need to open the bedroom window wide, bring in fresh air and so all who live in it can breathe and make their own choices! Wouldn’t it be great if to the question ‘Who’s wearing the trousers?’ the answer is ‘we don’t need trousers, it’s much more fun without them!’

Thursday, February 25, 2016

My journey to the MenEngage Alliance Board

By Sonali Khan
Sonali Khan
Timing is everything. I was attending my first Commission on the Status of Women in 2008, where I had made a presentation about the recently-launched Bell Bajao! Campaign in India, a cultural and media campaign that calls on men and boys to take a stand against domestic violence.
Bell Bajao! would later go on to great success, training more than 15,000 youth and community leaders across India, its PSAs receiving more than 130 million views, its multi-media components – games, street theatre and other cultural tools designed to change hearts and minds – reaching more than 240 million people altogether.
But all that was still ahead of us in 2008 – it was early days in understanding the role of men and boys could play in ending domestic violence – when I accepted an invitation to dinner from Mary Ellsberg, then-vice president at the International Center for Research on Women, along with a bunch of men and women who had a similar agenda.
It was a noisy dinner, the kind you experience in New York where you make contacts from every part of the world. I remember meeting Gary Barker, Laxman Belbase and Todd Minerson from the MenEngage Alliance. It was my first encounter with the Alliance.  
Looking back on it now, the conversation was not an easy one. I was skeptical about where this new focus on men and boys would lead, and had many questions: How will this play out? How can partnerships be forged between men and women when so far there has been suspicion and separate agendas? How can male participation be enhanced while securing women’s agency? Will it be easy to share privileges?
We’ve come a long, long way since then.
Nearly ten years on, I’ve seen Bell Bajao! help shape Breakthrough’s journey by strengthening the bridges we sought to build across genders and for gender equality – based on a culture of mutual respect and freedom from violence and discrimination. Everyone speaks the language now of how unless men partner with women, domestic violence and other forms of violence against women and girls will not end.
And last year I came full circle: I was elected to the MenEngage Alliance Global Governance Board, representing Breakthrough. For me, it was the culmination of eight years of coming to know a group of likeminded men who have absorbed all manner of cynicism in order to define the role men can play in challenging patriarchy.   
And of that role – the many roles can play, in fact – I know longer need any convincing.
Let me offer up one that that particularly interested me during the first MenEngage Board meeting I attended, last October: the role of fathers. Over the last couple of years in Breakthrough’s work on early/child marriage the role of fathers in preventing the same has emerged as key. Not only in preventing underaged marriage, but in ensuring that daughters are healthy, attend and finish school, and are able to explore livelihood options.
MenEngage members and partners – among them MenCare and Promundo – have been thinking (and researching) deeply about this issue as well, I saw first-hand at the Board meeting, a process which was captured comprehensively in last year’s State of the World’s Fathers report, which should be required reading for anyone who has a daughter or a son, or plans to have either.
In our work it is clear that fathers not only play a role in looking after the wellbeing of their families but in reinforcing – and, potentially, challenging – deeply-rooted patriarchal values. As just one example, they could (if they chose) help to change unequal structures and social systems by securing for women and girls the right to inheritance and access to resources. Consider this:  today women own less than one percent of resources while they contribute 60 percent of the labour in both organized and unorganized sectors.
And this:
·         in Breakthrough’s work on early marriage in the states of Bihar and Jharkhand, research showed that there is still a very traditional understanding of labour whereby women are expected to take care of household chores.
·         When it comes to property inheritance 90 percent of people surveyed in a recent Breakthrough randomized controlled trial said they were still in favour of men receiving inheritances.
·         Girls and women have limited say in family decision-making.
·         When it comes to the question of marriage, brides never have a say and mothers merely endorse their husbands’ decision. In some instances the bride is even not aware about the marriage until the last moment.
·         The level of education acquired by the children – in particular girls – also depends on the head of the household. In most poor families the father has not seen the inside of a classroom. In such cases he is more likely not to value education particularly for his daughter.
But attitudes can change, sometimes within the span of one family. Here’s an example: Hari (name(s) changed) had got his elder daughter married at 14. This is not uncommon in the small village in Ranchi District in Jharkhand where he lives. But when it came to his second daughter Sumita, he did things differently. At a Breakthrough community event Hari sat through a description of the challenges a girl who is married early faces.  This pushed him to decide to educate Sumita, who is now finishing school and is still unmarried.  Therefore, to break both the cycle of poverty and prevent early marriage, working with fathers becomes critical.
In many ways life has come full circle. It is not surprising that I find myself on the MenEngage Global Board, meeting fellow members and learning how the discussions can become more nuanced. Working with men and boys has become a key part of all we do. In fact, being on the Alliance Board has pushed my status up a few notches with all my male colleagues at Breakthrough.
But seriously, working alongside the men at Breakthrough has been inspiring. It requires guts for men to stand up and admit to ways by which they may have abused their male privileges, and even more to challenge patriarchy in their own lives. They’ve shown me that this process is indeed possible – and is deserving of supportive space and dialogue. To move from skepticism to suspending judgement to enabling men to feel included in ending violence against women is a long journey but a doable one.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Engendering accountability

By Jacqui Stevenson, ATHENA Network

Jacqui Stevenson
The global movement for gender equality is a transformational social justice movement, comprised of feminist, women’s rights and intersectional advocates, networks, groups and organisations. Achieving gender justice is a uniting goal bringing together diverse groups and individuals, who share the understanding that overturning harmful, limiting and violent gender norms offers benefits to everyone, across the gender spectrum. There is a space within this movement for men and boys, as partners and allies and as beneficiaries. And there is space in the movement for the activity of engaging men and boys, to achieve shifts in gender attitudes and practices.

The MenEngage Alliance is an important partner in the gender justice effort. ATHENA has been a partner and/or a part of the governance of MenEngage and MenEngage Africa since 2008.

The author and contributors to this blog welcome MenEngage’s efforts to practise and promote accountability, and the opportunity to be part of a dialogue towards defining that accountability. This blog series is a valuable platform to engage and define together what accountability looks like. In any social justice effort, we all must be accountable to ourselves, each other and the movements we participate in, as well as to our shared goals.

In the spirit of collaboration, we offer our recommendations to promote what meaningful partnership and accountability looks like (or would be) to us.

  • Partnership rests on listening and engaging from a position of equality and respect. For men engaging in the struggle for gender equality, this means not just listening to the perspectives and demands of oppressed groups in order to become authentic allies. It should not be utilitarian, or transactional. Women have the intrinsic right to be at any table as equals, and to create the table and define the conversation, not just to be heard. As a woman, a feminist and an activist I expect to be heard because I have knowledge, experience and expectations that are legitimate and have value. My being heard should not rest on my having been ‘oppressed’ nor should it be for the benefit of self-defined ‘allies’. Let everyone have an equal seat at the table. This includes engaging purposively in ensuring the right people are part of the conversation – through seeking diverse partners in gender identity, race, age, community and geographic location, and investing in promoting and widening participation.
  • We believe MenEngage are right to include “being critically aware of one’s own power and privilege” in their definition of accountable practice. It is important to recognise that privilege does not have to be exercised in order to function. We have all been socialised into gender roles, and it is an ongoing, conscious process to overcome them, including through choosing and accepting a loss of power where the status quo confers this. For men in the gender justice movement, this means consistently being conscious of the power and privilege their gender has conferred. It means thinking about who is speaking and whether this is easier for men than women (through social norms, education, or confidence). Who speaks first? Who speaks longest? Who interrupts? Who is doing the meeting ‘housework’ – getting coffee, handing out papers? We all carry ‘gender baggage’, and being mindful of fulfilling or enacting – or subverting – socialised gender roles is critical.
  • In addition to gender privilege, intersecting factors including race, ethnicity and North/South hierarchies influence who is heard. As activists, we all must be committed to opening up spaces and access to resources and platforms, to ensure that diverse voices are heard. Accountable practice is intersectional practice – recognising multiple layers of exclusion and marginalisation and how this intersects with gender to prevent or enable a voice being heard.
  • Accountability for all gender justice advocates also includes overcoming or opposing heteronormavity and a rigid gender binary. One danger of the ‘engaging men and boys’ approach is reinforcing an understanding of gender equality as being about men and women, constructed in a heterosexual dynamic with men as victors and women as victims. As feminists, we recognise that gender identity and sexual orientation are not binary, and that we need to recognise and respect diversity across the spectrums of gender and sexuality, and that there is no ‘them and us’ approach that will lead to transformation – gender justice isn’t about men vs women but people of all genders achieving equality.
  • Creating safe parallel spaces can be an effective means to engage everyone in gender dialogue, including different age groups, gender identities and other diversities. Certain spaces and discussions are legitimately limited to a particular group: there are settings where male involvement is not appropriate or welcome, and being an ally means recognising this. Of course, this applies for men too – there are discussions and spaces on masculinity and the impact on men of gender norms that women shouldn’t join. It’s vital that opportunities and resources are channelled towards creating spaces for everyone to engage.
  • Within this need for diverse safe spaces, women-only or women-led spaces are critically valuable and important. It is hard to overstate the power and potential of these spaces. In some cases men can be very welcome in them, such as in the Women’s Networking Zone at International AIDS Conferences, but it’s vital that men come into these spaces as allies, listening not leading. There is a valid role for allies in any social justice movement, but this does not extend to leadership, parallel organising and in separate, exclusive movements and organisations.
  • Engaging men as partners cannot negate the space and ability to name men as perpetrators. When we discuss, for example, gender-based violence, there are roles for men as partners to address and re-define gender norms, to take action to achieve social change and to foster transformation. And we also need to recognise and articulate that violence against women is overwhelmingly – though by no means exclusively -- committed by men.
  • We also need to acknowledge that feminist and women’s organisations are not only working with women – we have been engaging with men and boys, and challenging the gender binary, since the beginning. Work to achieve transformational gender change has always recognised that shifting gender norms means, in part, changing gendered ideas and practices and subverting and changing social constructs around gender. Achieving gender justice means everyone changing their gender norms and behaviour, and everyone has to be engaged in that process. Change requires everyone.
  • Leadership is vital. Commitment to gender equality is key, but so too is knowledge and experience. Women have defined, shaped, and led the movement for gender justice for generations; defined the intellectual and conceptual frameworks and done the leg work for centuries. This leadership and deep knowledge is a vital asset for the movement, and accountable practice respects this and ensures that this legacy continues to be supported and begins to be properly financed.

Feminist and women’s organisations are in a difficult political moment. Donor funds are drying up, political interest is vanishing and momentum is fading. ATHENA has previously developed a 3-part blog series on funding for women’s rights (part 1 is here). In this we outlined the perilous financial position feminist and women-led organisations are in as a result of the lack of funding. The partnership between men- and boys-focused organisations and the wider feminist movement has been challenged by this financial reality. While there is great focus on ‘women and girls’ at the present moment, this is too often constructed with women and girls as beneficiaries rather than actors. There is a shared struggle between all gender justice advocates to resource political, feminist advocacy – we should be partners in this, not competitors. It is not as simple as ‘funding for women’ for indeed, ‘funding for men’ but sustained and significant resourcing to support advocacy to realise political change. That means increasing and opening up funding, and moving beyond a beneficiary model.

More, these changes are emerging alongside global drives for austerity and cuts in funding and delivery of services and programmes including legal aid, shelters, care services and women’s organising. In this climate, there is a responsibility for multi- and bi-lateral agencies to prioritise delivering services to women including survivor-centric services, and to invest in women’s work to address gender equity. It is vital that attention and investment continues to be paid to all aspects of gender justice including delivery of services and women’s advocacy. Engaging men and boys is one strand of gender justice, but not the only priority.

This isn’t the gender justice movement we have struggled and fought to create. Men should be our allies, our partners, and should ensure that we feel respected and treated as equals and ready to accept their partnership. In our shared movement, we must be accountable to each other and our shared values, and ensure that our work supports and upholds our shared principles, towards our shared goals.

Contributors:  Susana T. Fried (Fellow, Yale Global Health Justice Partnership), Neelanjana Mukhia (Independent consultant), Alice Welbourn (Salamander Trust), Tyler Crone, Ebony Johnson, Alex Murphy & Luisa Orza (ATHENA Network).