Women have acted as gender equality advocates for generations, dating back to the Middle Ages when author Christine de Pisan wrote The Book of the City of Ladies in which she penned, “For you know that any evil spoken of women so generally only hurts those who say it, not women themselves.” Since then, female rights’ advocates have continued the fight for gender equality, becoming household names such as Susan B. Anthony, Betty Friedan, Aung San Suu Kyi, Coco Chanel, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Gloria Steinem.
When considering gender equality advocates of the past and present, I challenge you to name a man. Throughout history, relatively few women’s rights activists have been men while prominent female advocates number in the hundreds. Additionally, there is a high probability that you, the reader, are female since women comprise the vast majority of the Girls’ Globe fan base. Therefore, one question remains:
Where are all the men?
In recent years, the discussion of men’s role in promoting gender equality has gained momentum. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) claims that “women cannot achieve gender equality and sexual and reproductive health without the cooperation and participation of men.” Additionally, Dr. Jackson Katz’s argues in his TED Talk, a lecture that has recently gone viral across the internet, that gender equality is not solely a women’s issue but also a men’s issue, as men around the world are most often the violent perpetrators. Therefore, he argues, men must demonstrate positive leadership by raising their collective voice in opposition to violence against women.
“We need more men who have the courage and the strength to stand with women and not against them…There has been an awful lot of silence in male culture about this ongoing tragedy of men’s violence against women and children. We need to break that silence.” ~ Dr. Jackson Katz
Ranked at the bottom of the 2010 UNDP Gender Equality Index (142 of 148), Nigerien culture favors men over women across a variety of demographic issues. The country serves as a perfect example of the widespread societal consequences resulting from gender inequality, as national statistics demonstrate an under-5 mortality rate, female literacy rate, life expectancy, GDP per capital annual growth rate, and child marriage percentage that rank among the worst in the world. In order to eliminate the socio-cultural barrier currently preventing the growth of gender equality, the societal paradigm suggesting that men are better than women must change.
In some Niger communities, men are working on just that.
In the Bandé rural community of Niger, four ‘Schools for Husbands’ exist whereby men, aged 25 to 50 years, gather to discuss the importance of family planning, perinatal health visits, maternal health during childbirth, and vaccinations. Over 137 such schools exist in the Zinder region of southern Niger, with more development planned throughout western regions.
Although attending the School for Husbands is voluntary, members must meet strict requirements.
- Members’ wife(s) must use available reproductive health services;
- Members must be at least 25 years old; and
- Members must demonstrate good moral conduct and acceptance of women’s participation in community life.
Some may argue that the Schools for Husbands reach only those men already accepting of women’s importance to society. However, after attending the school, members serve as guides and positive role models within not only their own families, but also the community.
More impressive is the fact that the schools have produced amazing results. Since establishing the schools in Bandé, use of family planning services has tripled, the number of childbirths attended by a skilled health professional has doubled, and the rate of antenatal visits has risen from 28.62 percent to 87.30 percent.
According to Yahya Louche, the head of Niger’s Bandé district, “Since the establishment of Schools of Husbands, visits to the integrated health centre and the utilization of contraceptive methods have increased.” Female community members have had similar reactions, “We have seen many changes since the schools were set up. The men have become more aware. It is the men who take their wives now to the Community Health Centres.”
Perhaps the rest of the world can learn from the extraordinary example set by these Nigerien men. Perhaps, in the future, the world will no longer blame the victim in cases of domestic violence and rape. Perhaps maternal deaths caused by preventative causes will be a thing of the past.
Who knows what the future holds. But there is one thing of which I am certain – in order for women to ever achieve gender equality, men must stand up and loudly raise their voice.
For organizations specifically working to promote men and boys’ involvement in gender equality, please visit the following:
Images Courtesy of Gratitudeingrief.blogspot.com & TheCultureist.com