Not so long ago, the issue of gender equality attracted more involvement from women than it did from men. For example, during the 1995 Beijing Conference for Women, females greatly outnumbered their male counterparts. And while a greater female to male ratio at such meetings is still a trend that continues today (see Pedro C. Moreno’s report), a forum recently held in Rio de Janeiro has challenged traditional norms about who becomes involved in gender equality promotion and who is left on the sidelines.
The first global symposium on Engaging Men and Boys to Achieve Gender Equality was held in Rio March 30-April 3 and with it came representatives from international organizations representing both men’s and women’s interests. About 450 representatives from 80 countries gathered to “to establish dialogue between different actors, in order to define lines of action and foment knowledge and learning from initiatives that have already been implemented.”
The symposium was organised by the Promundo Institute and Instituto Papai (Daddy) of Brazil; the White Ribbon Campaign, based in Canada; Save the Children, an international organisation; MenEngage Global Alliance, a coalition of NGOs and United Nations agencies; and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Among the topics covered were also men’s rights such as paternity leave, and the role of positive care-giving among fathers.
“We are talking about co-responsibility, which is a key word nowadays,” said Minister Nilcea Freire of the Brazilian government’s Special Secretariat of Policies for Women (SPM).
“Engaging men in the debate on equal opportunities for men and women means redistributing responsibilities, so that care-giving and household work no longer fall exclusively on women’s shoulders,” the minister told IPS.
Apparently, the forum took three years to organize and according to Marcos Nascimento, co-director of the non-governmental Promundo Institute, for decades, governments have agreed that involving men is vital in overcoming gender inequalities, yet many governments are reluctant to make a full commitment to that realization. That seems to be the next challenge in the gender gap discussion, although the Rio conference was a promising first step.
Involving men in the dialogue makes sense, and I wonder why it’s taken the world so long to figure this out. How many times have I read about workshops aimed at educating women about domestic violence, victims and potential victims alike, but have excluded (violent) men from the discussion?
Also, let’s not forget that women are not the only victims in this picture. Men must also live up to social expectations that could prove harmful to themselves as well – not just the women who are also at risk:
A qualitative research project carried out in nine Latin American countries revealed that young men and boys aged 10 to 24 are “far more concerned with achieving and preserving their masculinity than their health.”
This study, according to UNFPA, confirms that the dominant ideology underlying masculine attitudes can result in “earlier sexual initiation and more sexual partners,” less intimacy in sexual relationships and a reluctance to use condoms.
Although I did not attend the Rio forum (a Peace Corps colleague of mine did, however and it was she who alerted me to it), it seems from the press I have been reading about the conference that some valuable lessons were learned: Involving men is vital to achieving gender equality; men have gender equality issues and concerns as well; governments need to make a bigger commitment to addressing the role men play in these issues; and gender eqaulity programs need to extend beyond simply targetting women and to include men, too.
It sounds like the forum was a good first step; here’s hoping there are many other steps along that same path that will follow.