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 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).

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