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, January 28, 2016

My gender-based privilege workshop

By Terry Howard

WARNING: What follows isn't for the feint-of-heart. It may be hazardous to your health because it may uncork a range of possible reactions – shock, empathy, anger and denial (plus a few choice four-letter words).

Terry Howard
But by the time you finish this, I will have been whisked off under heavy guard to one of my safe houses under a writer's protection program. So don't come gunning for my head, okay?

With that opening salvo, I pry open another diversity "undiscussable": privilege. Unearned privilege, that is.

But before we take the leap, understand that the negative connotation of the word privilege makes it difficult to talk about. Believe me folks, I know, having been stonewalled with silence and stiff-armed with denials the few times I was brave, or naïve, enough to attempt open a dialogue on the topic. I quickly learned that broaching privilege is akin to telling someone that their newborn baby isn't cute; they don't want to hear it.

Need further evidence of the desire to avoid the word privilege? Well, I got some friendly advice from a fellow that we replace the word with the more palatable "systemic advantage." Otherwise, he warns, you won't be listened to. The word is that powerful, that discomfiting, that disabling.

But despite some testiness over the word, privilege does deserve a place in any sincere talk of an inclusive environment. So whatever the risk, I'll poke at a topic that's high up on the list of unmentionables for those who have bought into the myth of meritocracy, or that just can't, or refuse to, see their privilege. The focus here will be on male privilege, or systemic male advantage, if the former is too off-putting for some readers.

Now the question I grappled with is how best to get my readers to come to grips with the reality of privilege, particularly those who have it but can't see it. Research backed up by reams of empirical data was one approach. Having Wellesley College’s renowned expert in privilege, Peggy McIntosh, come to speak on the topic briefly crossed my mind.

Then suddenly, the thought occurred to me that, hey, maybe I could just do a "workshop" on privilege in this space (and from the security of my safe house).

So here goes.

Imagine yourself in a large room of 30 people from different backgrounds (ethnic, economic, age, job function, etc.). Imagine further that the group is evenly split, women and men, and that you're all standing up against a wall in the room facing outward. I'm the facilitator and I'm standing on the other side of the room directly across from you.

As I read each of the following statements, take one step toward me each time you can answer "yes" to the statement:

·    I can be confident that others won't think I got a job or promotion because of my gender.
·    I can be assertive without fear of being called the "b-word."
·    I will never be expected to change my name upon marriage, or questioned if I don't.
·    The decision to hire me will never be based on assumptions about whether or not I might choose to start a family anytime soon.

Okay, now turn around and face those left behind. Who's there? What could be going through their minds right now? Now remain where you are and either step forward or stay put based on your response to the following statements:

·    I can be somewhat sure that if I ask to see the "person in charge," it will be a person of my gender; the higher up in the organization the person is, the surer I can be.
·    The odds of my being sexually harassed are so low as to be negligible.
·    My ability to make decisions and my capabilities in general will never be questioned depending on what time of the month it is.
·    If I'm unattractive, the disadvantages are relatively easy to ignore.

Stop. Don't stalk out. Take a deep breath. Here, take an extra strength Excedrin. You'll get through this, I promise. Let's continue.

Take a step forward if you can honestly say 'yes' to the following:
·    I am not taught to fear walking alone after dark in public places.
·    I can speak in a large group without putting my gender on trial.
·    There are value-neutral clothing choices available to me; it is possible for me to choose clothing that does not send any particular message to the world.
·    It is unlikely that I will be beaten up by a spouse or lover.

Naughty, naughty. Put that chair down, Biffy. It's not nice to throw stuff at the facilitator.

Turn and see who is left standing at the wall. Any surprises? Now for a final round:

·    If I have children and pursue a career, chances are no one will think that I'm selfish for not staying at home.
·    If I fail in my job or career, I can feel sure that that won't be seen as a mark against my entire gender's capabilities.
·    In public places with large crowds, there are seldom long lines of people trying to get into my gender's restroom.

Okay, take your seats and a deep breath while you process what just happened. Now, close your eyes and imagine that one of those consistently left standing at the wall is someone dear to you; perhaps your daughter, wife or partner. Hey, hey, hey, don't throw that cell phone at me. Would someone call Security?

Can unearned privilege be undone?

First, realize that almost everyone has experienced privilege and subordination – we all know what it feels like to be an outsider. So the hope is that sheer empathy can be a strong enough motivator; that members of the privileged can somehow develop the capacity to see themselves from the perspective of those less privileged and either share their privilege or, at a minimum, work to ensure that others are not disadvantaged by their lack of privilege.

Second, understand that protecting privilege is strong because we're taught not to recognize it, says Wellesley's Peggy McIntosh. Systemic advantage – recognized or not – is just not something that people will willingly give up without compelling enough reasons or incentive to do so.

Now it's also important to understand that not all privileged group members have a shared interest in benefiting from their privilege. Thus it's possible for courageous members to challenge the privileges their group takes for granted by refusing to reproduce their privilege and calling into question the privilege-based attitudes, comments and behaviors of fellow group members.

So what else could possibly motivate us to confront the reality of male privilege?

In part, the answer begins with the hard question of adverse business impact – engagement, commitment, productivity – on the part of those women "left standing at the wall." How do you keep them from leaving the wall and heading to the nearest exit, taking with them some much-needed skills and talents? And what's the message, the chilling message, to those promising women who aspire one day to "be like" those who left?

Uh oh, I must run now. A disguise and an undisclosed safe house await me.
© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer, story-teller and global trainer. He is currently a senior associate with DiversityWealth( a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, the American Diversity Report and New York-based Catalyst’s “Men Advocating Real Change.” He can be reached at To read more from Terry Howard, go to

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Accountability of boys, men and fathers in the gender equality process: a progress framework

by Markus Theunert
There can be no doubt: It is crucial that men reflect on their (fundamental and everyday) accountability if they are to engage in gender equality work. But we have to be aware at the same time that accountability is something like felicity: It always makes sense to look for it but it’s seldom that we experience it to its fulfilment. That is, as long as we perceive and are perceived as men, we can’t act ungendered, we can’t disclaim male privileges, we can’t have the same experiences of inequality as women do. Therefore, our struggle for accountability will never be won: We just can try to get as close as possible again and again. But it will remain an approximation.  
Humans are used to living with tasks which never can’t be finished. So, what’s the problem in pointing this out? There is a danger connected to the accountability approach: The danger that we reflect so hard about acting accountably that we neglect to act or even don’t dare to act at all. Since getting paralyzed can’t be the goal of men moving toward gender equality, we have to look for smart ways to integrate and anchor accountability in a broader framework, as Sebastián Molano demands in his contribution to this blog series. This framework should provide orientation for what we can do (and not only state what we should not do). is the umbrella association of progressive men’s and father’s organizations in Switzerland. During the last decade we developed a conceptual framework which is based on  practical experiences with Michael Messner’s valuable ‘triangle of politics of masculinities’ (1997), differentiating privileges, costs and inequalities of masculinities. While Messner’s triangle proved to be highly helpful for developing positions and alliances, other practical challenges remained unsolved.
We suggest a Triple Advocacy or Triple Accountability model as a complementary concept for gathering and framing progressive contributions of boys, men and fathers to gender equality (e.g. Theunert 2014). The concept simply says that roles and contributions to gender equality that can be provided by boys, men and fathers simultaneously and equivalently enfold three different responsibilities and tasks:
-       Primarily, we are supporters of women’s rights movements and issues (allies);
-       Secondly, we are spokesmen and interceders for the vulnerabilitites and concerns of boys, men and fathers in pursuit of gender equality;
-       Thirdly, we are partners in a larger alliance evolving for social justice and equality for all genders.
The center of the triangle is deemed to be the area of progressive men’s contributions.

Our experience shows that the Triple Advocacy or Triple Accountability framework can prove helpful to deal with challenges and contradictions such as: How can men deal with their institutionalised privileges without denying them or losing themselves in an altruistic, knightly – and therefore still patriarchal – battle for ”the weak ones”?

Markus Theunert (1973) is a Swiss expert for masculinities and gender issues, president of, umbrella association of progressive men’s and father’s organizations in Switzerland, and program manager of MenCare Switzerland. Mail

Messner, Michael (1997). Politics of Masculinities. Men in Movements. Thousand Oaks/London/New Delhi: Sage
Theunert, Markus (2014). Gleichstellungsorientierte Männerpolitik(en) – Konzept und Spannungsfelder. Eine Positionierung. GENDER, Heft 2/2014, S. 128–139

Friday, January 8, 2016

'It's not like I can take my privileges off like a coat. How do I attend to them?'

By Tim Harwood

Chuck Derry, co-founder, Gender Violence Institute
Accountability. It’s an odd word to attach to the work of gender equality, it may be argued. Evoking financial standard-keeping as it does, and a whiff of Puritanical rectitude, the term deserves a careful airing-out, particularly as we take it from academic circles to the wider public.

What exactly are we talking about when we discuss accountability in gender equality? And why is it important to the goal of gender equality?

Those were the very questions tackled by a webinar hosted by the North America MenEngage Network (NAMEN) Program Working Group last November 9. Entitled (aptly enough) Conceptualizing and implementing accountability in men’s gender equity efforts, the online event tasked three veterans of accountability work – Emiliano Diaz de Leon, Men’s Engagement Specialist for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault; Shafferan Sonneveld, Global Advocacy Director for Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV); and Chuck Derry, co-founder of the Gender Violence Institute in Minnesota (and a Global Governance Board member of the MenEngage Alliance) – with explaining the term and how it is practically applied to men and women who engage in gender equality work.

After a cautious start, the webinar began to roll and tongues to loosen when Derry described how a 17-year-old Chuck Derry, back in 1973, reckoned – very honestly – with the concept of actual equality between men and women. And this from a then-young man committed to gender equality.

“What would it mean to me personally if men and women were really equal?” Derry said he asked his teenaged self.

“Within two minutes I had the answer: I’d have to give some stuff up. And I thought to myself: ‘Naaah, I don’t think so.’

“I didn’t grow another head; I made this very moral decision not to care. I had a better understanding of what it what a great deal it was to be a guy…but I was really aware of my privilege.”

But then Derry began to work for gender equality, for an organization led by women. And he had an epiphany: “If I’m going to be accountable, I am going to have to give some stuff up.”

“It’s not like I can take off my privileges like a coat. I have them all the time. How do I attend to them? How do I use them to subvert patriarchy? How do I use my influence to support gender justice? How do I engage feminist partners – how do I talk to them, to those most harmed by oppression, because they are living this experience and are most impacted? I really need to talk to my allies: how does this look to you?”

And so when Derry created the Minnesota Men’s Action Network: Alliance to Prevent Sexual and Domestic Violence in 2004, he built the notion of accountability directly into its foundation. He solicited feedback from seven advocacy focus groups in the state in order to “give women a chance to check us out,” and discuss the challenges, opportunities, and threats of male involvement.

That resonated with Shafferan and Diaz de Leon.

For Shafferan and Muslims for Progressive Values – the mission of which is to hold accountable state and non-state actors who use Islam in perpetrating human rights abuses,

“Accountability starts with education, understanding what your rights are, understanding at what point they’re taken away, and then learning whom to call on for accountability – whether it’s the perpetrators themselves, or the enforcers of those rights, who acted negligently.”  For MPV, that means using accessible resources such as infographics and short videos to simplify complicated religious lingo and international human rights law for different audiences.

And while she said MPV is confronted on a daily basis by patriarchal interpretations of Islamic tradition, there is a growing movement of Islamic feminists who promote gender equality. The challenge is to recruit male religious leaders to debunk harmful interpretations and hold men accountable. “There are many imams who are true advocates of women’s rights. They need a boost so that their voices become the dominant narrative,” she said. “We believe that violence can only be eradicated once mindsets are changed, and we transform societal norms through communities.”

For Diaz de Leon and the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, accountability on an individual, practical level requires “ongoing conversations with prevention educators in local communities, who have the capacity to go around at a state and local level.

Most of the time, we are invited by women to be in those spaces, to do this work…In the work that I do, there’s a lot of work that men have to do when they come to a local program: we have to ensure sure that these men are willing to engage in a process of transformation. It’s difficult work; this is not easy. It can be painful, but it’s part of the responsibility of the work we’re doing.”
He said it come down to relationship building within organizations.

“We’ve had positive and negative experiences, not always with positive outcomes. But it’s important to have conversations. What are the things we need to have in place to ensure that these conversations take place in a safe space; and then develop policies and procedures to hold men accountable?

“We haven’t found the perfect model – each situation is really different. But our responses have to be flexible, and appropriate and well-timed.”

Thanks are also owed to webinar moderator Omair Paul, who very ably steered the discussion to its many insights; and to Dr. Alan Heisterkamp, director of the Center for Violence Prevention at the University of Northern Iowa, which kindly served as the webinar host site.