In the wake of International Women's day and with Women's History Month nearing its end, I've been reflecting on the momentum generated for awareness and discussion of the gender equality movement worldwide. This year's events and dialogue have focused on numerous aspects of women's social, economic and political rights. One area that received a considerable amount of attention may have been surprising to some -- it was, well, men.
Talk of men having a role to play in expanding women's rights and opportunities is nothing new. What is new is the growing visibility of this perspective -- men's value and importance are moving from the periphery into the mainstream of the movement, and this is great news!
It's encouraging and empowering to see men play a prominent part in this discussion. So many publications, events and international bodies (including the UN) are strongly emphasizing the power and importance of engaging men as defenders, supporters and advocates of women's rights.
Of course, that's not to say that women and girls have a smaller part to play or are anything less than critical to the movement. Nothing's going to change without our continued efforts as well. But we're only one side of the equation, and there are systemic barriers to achieving full equality that need both women's and men's efforts to break down.
So what do women's rights have to do with men?
Think about it. The overwhelming majority of the decision makers in society -- from government, to business to education -- are men. In the U.S., men currently hold the overwhelming majority of political offices; far outnumber women within corporate, public and non-profit leadership; and still make an average of 130 percent of what women make for the same amount and quality of work. Without men's buy-in and active advocacy, swift and sustainable progress is unlikely.
Having mentioned some of the more prominent inequities, it is important to note that we've seen dramatic changes in the last few decades. Currently, we are seeing a shift away from traditional systems of patriarchy, dominance and separate, rigid gender roles, toward a social paradigm of equal partnership between women and men.
In businesses, there is an increasing appreciation for more pronounced female leadership styles. For example, a growing number of companies are changing their structure from hierarchical models featuring "command and control" tactics to ones with higher levels of employee engagement and more collaborative, team driven and inclusive modes of operation.
There is a strong need for partnership between men and women in order to successfully navigate these changing currents together.
And of course, with all of these changes as well as some of the long-standing expectations of men, the road can be quite bumpy for them as well. Just as women face barriers due to social expectations and stigmas, many men face barriers around what it means to be "a man." One common example of this is what happens when we see someone crying. When we see a woman cry we express sympathy and may try to comfort her. A man who cries is often met with scorn and derision. This hindrance of self-expression is a terrible loss for both women and men.
As the conversation about men's role in the advancement of women's social, economic and political rights continues to expand, we will have more and more opportunities to co-create the future of our working and living together. This is our path to open the door to a different, more empowered reality for both sexes.
To continue the shift toward a world with greater equity and freedom for both women and men, we need to be more honest and open with one another about our shared and separate experiences, and what those experiences mean in our day to day lives. As a woman, I am unable to fully appreciate the concerns of men just as men cannot fully appreciate what it's like to live as a woman. Therefore, we have to work together, as partners, to understand what's needed and create something that works for everyone. None of us can do it alone.