Sunday, March 8 marked International Women's Day, a celebration of women worldwide that dates back to 1977 when the UN General Assembly challenged its members to declare a day for women's rights and world peace. The 2015 theme is: 'Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!'
We must continue to empower women. Women continue to face disadvantages in almost all spheres. But if we want a gender equitable society, empowering women is not enough.
We must also 'Empower Men'
We must also empower men. Of course, not in the conventional sense by giving men more power over women. Rather, by empowering men to challenge prevailing norms and change their behaviors. This is logical even though it has not been the prevailing approach. Gender is a "system" and both women and men are integral parts of this system. If we want to see meaningful change, both men and women are implicated. It is not enough to enlighten and empower women and expect men to follow.
This is not an easy thing. Men are critically judged and assessed - by themselves, by their peers, by their elders and by most women themselves - based on the dominant ideals of manhood. And across many societies, this still means exercising control over women, being tough, being strong. It also means achieving something, as terms such as "man-up" suggest, and many men, including low-income men struggle with this societal expectation. If men can't achieve and don't conform to these societal expectations, they are often socially sanctioned, belittled or ridiculed.
Challenging norms and behaviors is thus a collective challenge for men. It is also a challenge for women, who consciously or unconsciously often perpetuate these same social norms in the way they raise their sons or interact with men.
Make Available Resource for Men
Most gender initiatives continue to focus on women. This is understandable. But as we argue, we need interventions targeting and supporting men for change.
The largest and most extensive resource available for men is MenEngage, a global alliance made up of dozens of country networks spread across many regions of the world, hundreds of non-governmental organizations, and UN partners, that provides a collective voice to engage men and boys on gender issues. There are also other smaller more localized interventions, with the most innovative programming coming from the fields of HIV/AIDS, reproductive health and family planning, parenting, and domestic violence.
But we need to do much more.
Central to this premise of engaging and empowering men for change is understanding and unbundling this homogenous term called 'men'. In the case of gender-based violence for example, we identified five groups of men, each with different needs and potential roles:
Men who are victims of violence: need to break their silence and seek help
Men who use violence: need to seek help
Men who are silence spectators: need to speak out
Men who speak out: need to become agents of change
Men who are agents of change: need to continue to speak out and mobilize others
In coming up with a typology, we see how acute the needs are in supporting men. For example, how many hotlines are out there to support the men that need help? There is much work to do.
Empower Women by Empowering Men
As we just celebrated International Women's Day, let us continue to recognize women for all the advances and contributions they have made. But let us also 'empower women by empowering men' and recognize that we need new approaches and huge efforts to achieve this objective.
For more information how to get involved in the WEvolve campaign visit the website http://www.wevolveglobal.org.
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