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, 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.

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