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.

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