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, 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).

Thursday, February 4, 2016

'She will say yes eventually, that's what happens in films'

By Bilquis Tahira

Bilquis Tahira
Will any man speak up? 

I keep wondering as I watch the eight o’clock prime-time TV play on either the national hook-up or a private channel.

Look at this ‘hero’! He has three girlfriends but is shouting self-righteously, getting more and more purple in the face, threatening us – the viewers – that he is about to have a stroke when he finds out his sister has a boyfriend.

Here’s another young man who is in love with a young woman who is NOT in love with him. Lo and behold! He kidnaps her and forces her into a marriage contract! AND expects her to be an obedient wife!!!

Every day I wake up thinking ‘today I will see a comment/blog protesting against such portrayal of men in media’. Disappointment. Disappointment!

What is it that keeps men quiet in the face of such portrayals? my feminist brain asks. Is it the lure of seeming ‘powerful’ that makes them immune to such blatantly negative portrayals? Or is it denial?

Forgive me, friends, is it arrogance?

There has to be some level of accountability to the young people – girls and boys both – who receive messages such as the ones portrayed in both these depictions. Otherwise, we’re effectively saying that it’s OK to have double standards for men and women…and it is OK to kidnap and force a woman into marriage…AND it is OK then to expect her to be the goody-goody, obedient wife.

Let me share a real-life incident with you. One of my younger friends – 20 years-old perhaps, fell in love with a young woman. She refused him several times but he kept stalking her. When asked why he kept following her, he said, ‘She will say yes eventually, that’s what happens in films.’

My male feminist friends feel the acute pain and suffering that patriarchy has inflicted on them. More men and women need to reject such images and actively do something about it.

Bilquis Tahira is a feminist activist and has been part of the women's movement and human rights movement in Pakistan since 1988. She is a social development and gender expert; a writer and researcher; and is currently the Executive Director of a national Pakistani women's group, Shirakat - Partnership for Development. She is also the National Coordinator of MenEngage Alliance Pakistan - Shirakat being its Secretariat.