16Days: The Male Champion in Me

When we talk about gender-based violence, people still think that it’s a woman’s responsibility to spearhead advocacy movements. Men are often the perpetrators of GBV, and so it’s very important that men stand up as advocates.

Today, we reach the end of the 2018 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence.

Violence against women has recently taken on new, more sophisticated forms. An increasing number of women are, for instance, reporting cyber-bullying and abuse through social media and smartphones.
We need to have ‘male action groups’ consisting of young men and boys from all walks of life – rich, poor, from urban or rural communities, black and white. Groups must be formed or strengthened to raise awareness of positive fatherhood, and to educate community members about healthier and more equitable behaviors for men and women.
Investing in empowering male peer educators and male champions of change to prevent GBV can go a long way in communities that are deeply influenced by cultural and traditional norms.

There is urgent need for community members to hold each other accountable with women and men working together for greater gender equality.

During one of the community dialogues conducted by Peer To Peer Uganda in Buyende District, Uganda, one of the male champions explained how cultural norms, myths and misconceptions discourage gender equality and equity in his community.

To tackle this, male champions are empowered and equipped with information, so that they in turn can sensitize communities about sexual and reproductive health issues.
Today in Uganda, alcohol and drug substance abuse are among the leading cause of domestic violence in homes. Ineffective laws also pose a big challenge to the fight against gender-based violence. Laws such as the Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2007, the Domestic Violence Act 2010, the Sexual Offences Bill and the Marriage Bill do not address key aspects of gender-based violence. For example, none of these laws criminalize marital rape.
Men and women – including boys and girls both in and out of school – must be reached with knowledge and information on gender-based violence. Health facilities, local leaders, police, policy makers and government need to work together to put an end to GBV, and creating male champions will play a critical role in stamping out GBV in our communities.

What do Men have to do with Women’s Reproductive Rights?

On his third day in office, President Trump signed the new and worse global gag rule, a restriction on international organizations that receive U.S. global health assistance that blocks them from using their own, non-U.S. funds to provide or refer women to abortion services. And lest we forget: he signed that presidential memorandum with seven men and zero women standing behind him.

The disturbing image of a group of men literally blocking women’s access to abortion conveys the narrative of centuries of men controlling women’s bodies and lives. So, to the question, what do men have to do with women’s reproductive rights, the obvious answer in these political times seems to be: stay out. It might be that we want men to have little or nothing to do with women’s sexual and reproductive health rights.

But would women be better off? Excluding all men from discussions around sexual and reproductive rights is a disservice to women. It keeps the burden for contraception on women. It halts efforts that encourage men to support the reproductive choices of their female partners, and perpetuates a culture in which no man is perceived to be, or engaged to be, an ally in ensuring reproductive rights of all people.

Clearly, men matter in this discussion. There is the obvious point that, in the context of heterosexual relationships, men are half of the human reproductive process. However, they represent only about one-quarter of total contraceptive use, including withdrawal, vasectomy, and male condoms. That proportion has remained virtually unchanged since the 1980s, despite the fact that vasectomy is cheaper and safer than female sterilization. And, while condoms may not be the long-term contraceptive solution for many couples, they have the added protection of STI and HIV prevention.

There are other male contraceptive methods in various stages of development. The most recent trial of a male hormonal contraceptive method was halted in 2016 due to negative side effects. Some women’s health advocates pointed out that the decision represented a double standard, given that trials for women’s hormonal contraceptives have continued despite multiple side effects experienced by women.

Here’s the other reason we need men on board: millions of women report not using contraceptives because of their husbands. In 2012, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the Gates Foundation and the UK government, among others, created Family Planning 2020 (FP2020), with the goal of reaching 120 million of the world’s poorest women with contraception. At their meeting in London in July, coordinators of the Family Planning 2020 partnership acknowledged they had only achieved about a quarter of their target and that a key obstacle was men’s attitudes toward women’s usage of family planning. Currently, the FP2020 initiative has no target for increasing men’s use of contraceptives. Given the realities of sex and reproduction, we may never achieve a truly equal sharing of the contraceptive burden – but we can do better.

At the very least, donors, governments, and public health agencies need to talk to men about supporting women’s reproductive health. Studies from many of the world’s poorest countries show that many men want more children than their female partners, while in other countries, many men support their wives’ decisions to have fewer children. We cannot rest until that becomes all men.

What about access to safe and legal abortion? Shouldn’t abortion stay in the realm of exclusively women’s decision-making? The answer is a definitive yes. Her body, her decision. In practice, though, many women confide in male partners on this issue. Household surveys coordinated by Promundo in several countries found that between 40% and 90% of women said that they involved a male partner in a decision to have an abortion. We can’t assume this is always a positive involvement on the part of male partners. But we can work to make men’s involvement respectful and supportive. Women and men, boys and girls, of all ages should be educated about contraception and abortion, and why both are critical components of comprehensive health services and rights. In addition, surveys in the U.S. show that men are as likely as women to support keeping abortion legal. Maybe it’s time for those men to speak up.

We need men around the world, from the heads of foreign assistance, to health policymakers, to male partners and husbands to join women and show in their voting, their voices, and their decisions that they stand up every day for women’s reproductive rights. We need fathers and mothers around the world to talk to their children, from early on, in open and feminist ways, about sex, sexuality, gender identity and expression, choice, rights, and contraception. We need men and women to vote for school board members who support comprehensive sexuality education, and speak out against violence against women.

Until every woman in the world has access to modern contraceptives, safe abortion, and bodily autonomy, we all must talk about family planning. At home, in the classroom, and in the halls of power.

Gary Barker is President and CEO of Promundo-US, an NGO that works globally to engage men and boys in gender equality.

Serra Sippel is President of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), a U.S.-based NGO that advocates for the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls globally.

The featured photo for this post was taken as a part of a series for the MenCare+ program in Rwanda, run by RWAMREC, focused in part on promoting discussions on family planning and women’s reproductive rights.

Boys in the GIRL4ce Movement

Written By: Sarah Otto, Help Lesotho Intern 2016

The International Women’s Day (IWD) campaign theme for 2016, #PledgeForParity, means that, “Everyone – men and women – can pledge to take a concrete step in achieving gender parity more quickly.” It is important to note that the IWD campaign highlights both men and women when they speak of taking the pledge, because gender equity will take the investment of both genders for it to become a reality.

As an intern with the Canadian organization , Help Lesotho, in Lesotho, one of the first projects I experienced was the ‘GIRL4ce Movement (ie. Girl-force). The GIRL4ce Movement is doing its part in the fight for gender equity by engaging girls, boys, women and men on the issues of child, early and forced marriages (CEFM), girls’ rights, and sexual and gender-based violence. The GIRL4ce Movement empowers communities to address these issues by bringing awareness to the laws that affect CEFM so that community members can become advocates for themselves, and for girls and women.

In Lesotho, CEFM is still a common practice and 86% of women report they have experienced gender-based violence, while less than 3% of women have reported the violence to the police or a healthcare provider. These issues disproportionately affect girls and women, but it is going to take both girls and boys to address and overcome these issues. Although the GIRL4ce Movement is an advocacy movement primarily led by girls aged 14-24, it engages boys, both inside and outside the Movement in the fight for gender equity. Boys make up 10% of the GIRL4ce Movement’s population.

I caught up with two male GIRL4ce members, Rethabile Mokoena, 17, and Kente Monoana, 18, while they were on their way to a GIRL4ce Movement event. I asked them if they received any pushback from their peers for being boys in a movement led by girls and called ‘GIRL4ce”. They said that they have received some negative comments from boys telling them that they are no longer boys because of their participation in the GIRL4ce Movement.

Kente said that although these comments can get tiresome at times, they do not deter him because now he is aware of the laws that protect girls and women. “I know what I am doing is right,” he says.

When Rethabile was on Radio Lesotho speaking about sexual and gender-based violence on behalf of the GIRL4ce Movement, he admitted that he used to be one of the boys that would whistle at a girl when she wore revealing clothes. When he joined the Movement and learned the laws and values of women’s rights, he discovered that what he was doing was sexual harassment. I asked him what makes him so committed to girls’ and women’s rights, and he replied “When I was made to understand how girls feel when we treat them that way, I realized it was not good.”

He went on to say that this realization compels him to fight for girls’ and women’s rights.

Rethabile and Kente are two examples of the progress that can be made for gender equity when boys are engaged. To bring about global gender equity, societies need to change, but societies cannot change when half of the population is ignored in the pursuit of that change.

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“Kente (left) and Rethabile (right) proudly attend a GIRL4ce Movement event at Help Lesotho’s Leadership Centre in Hlotse, Lesotho.”

The Truth About Adolescent Boys

What do we know about boys? A new publication by Promundo and UNFPA highlights the importance of engaging young men in gender equality and in sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Promundo and UNFPA launched a new report today, Adolescent Boys and Young Men: Engaging Them as Supporters of Gender Equality and Health and Understanding their Vulnerabilities, that takes a deeper look at the daily lives of adolescent boys and young men around the world, and how they can join the movement towards improved health and gender equality.

Exploring global research, the report reveals boys’ and young men’s specific risks and realities in relation to health in general, sexual and reproductive health in particular, sexuality, media violence, sexual exploitation, and other vulnerabilities. It analyzes the implications of these risks and realities not only for boys, but also on the lives of women and girls.

Adolescence is a key period where individuals of all gender identities form attitudes, opinions and beliefs – about themselves, about their sexuality, and about their place in the world. It is a period when ideas about equality can become ingrained. The report emphasizes that a holistic approach to advancing gender equality and sexual and reproductive health must include both adolescent girls and boys. It highlights the need to engage adolescent boys and young men as allies to achieve gender equality and as supporters of women’s empowerment, as well as the importance of addressing the specific health and social development needs of boys themselves.

Key Findings:

  • General Health: Harmful definitions of manhood and masculinity increase young men’s needless vulnerability to premature morbidity and mortality. Young men under 25 are three times more likely than young women to die of a traffic-related injury.
  • Sexuality: Many boys, in numerous settings, question traditional sexual “scripts” and report longing for intimate contact and connection more than they do sexual conquest. This may have benefits in the long-run, as men with more gender-equitable attitudes are more likely to report that they are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their sexual relationship with their primary partner.
  • Sexual and Reproductive Health: Gender norms and sexual scripts place pressure on young men to embody unhealthy versions of masculinity. In many countries, a majority of adolescent males aged 15-19 have engaged in risky, non-marital sexual behavior in the past year.
  • Experiences of Sexual Violence: Stereotypical definitions of masculinity that hinder boys’ help-seeking, as well as deep-seated homophobia, make it difficult for boys to speak out against abuse and sexual exploitation. While women and girls experience the majority of sexual violence, some estimates indicate that one in seven boys experiences sexual violence as a child.
  • Education: Studies have found that boys feel that asking for help and doing well in school is a “girl thing”; they may feel pressure to drop out of school to earn an income to support the family, and they lack male role models in the classroom. Boys are more likely to repeat a primary grade than girls in 90 of 113 countries where data is available.
  • Mental Health: Men are often poor mental health help-seekers, and health systems are less likely to invite them or reach out to them. Poor mental health is among the leading causes of the global burden of disease for adolescents aged 10-19.
  • Media: The media – which includes television shows, films, music, and advertisements – reinforces ideas about hyper-masculinity in which men are rewarded for aggression, toughness, and misogyny. In the United States, almost 21 percent of high school students aged 10 to 18 reported having been cyber-bullied in their lifetime.

Building on this data, the report reviews concrete ways to work with adolescent boys and young men on sexual and reproductive health services, comprehensive sexuality education, fatherhood and caregiving, and the elimination of violence against women and girls, as well as how a masculinity lens contributes to understanding youth violence prevention in general.

Some Strategies:

  • Talk About Gender: Programs that address gender or power are five times as likely to be effective in achieving improved sexual and reproductive health outcomes.
  • Redefine Norms: Comprehensive sexuality education and violence prevention programming in schools or communities can be thought of as a space to redefine gender norms and to question other cross-cutting inequalities, such as those based on ethnicity, social class, or sexual orientation.
  • Improve Access to Services: Engage boys in sexual and reproductive health services (e.g., screenings; clinical diagnosis and treatment; and information, education and counseling) as an entry point to question harmful masculinities.
  • Implement Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Comprehensive sexuality education is an essential approach to remaking and reinforcing gender-equitable norms in connection to health.
  • Harness the Power of Media: The media reinforces ideas about hyper-masculinity in which men are rewarded for aggression, toughness, and misogyny – but it can also be used for positive change.

Read more of the report’s findings here, and learn how everyone, including adolescent boys and young men, stand to reap lifelong benefits when they are engaged in a more holistic approach to gender equality and in sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Tell us what you think! Join the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #AboutBoys and following @Promundo_US and @UNFPA.

 

Originally published on Promundo Global

Convincing “The Other Half” – Men

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, Promundo talked to Nikki van der Gaag about the importance of bringing men on board with feminism. Nikki is the author of Feminism and Men, a Promundo Senior Fellow, and a noted feminist, writer, and communicator.

What do you want everyone to know on International Women’s Day?

That even if sometimes it feels like two steps forward and one step back, the tide is beginning to turn. Women and men need to stand alongside each other and celebrate the many positive changes that have been achieved – at the same time as being realistic about what still needs to be done.

What makes you passionate, personally, about reaching gender equality, and what is your professional “Pledge for Parity”?

I have been a feminist since my late teens, and have worked on gender and women’s rights for more than 25 years. I first heard about Promundo in the early 2000s when working on men and HIV at the Panos Institute. It started me thinking about the role men might and should have in promoting gender equality: could we as feminists go on seeing men as the problem rather than as part of the solution? Then in my travels to write about and work with women and girls, I began to notice the men, and in particular the boys, who wanted to know what was going on and why they were not involved. I began to talk to them, and in 2010, I proposed to Plan International that I write a State of the World’s Girls report on boys and gender equality. The Advisory Editorial Board had representatives from Promundo, White Ribbon, and similar organizations. I have been writing about men alongside my work on women and girls ever since. My pledge? To continue to work for a broader and less binary definition of gender equality so that we can truly move forward together to change the world.

What is the biggest challenge we face in reaching gender equality, and what are some of the key strategies to achieve this goal?

I think we can’t separate the work on men and gender equality and gender justice from the wider context of development. We need to continue to listen to what women and men at the local level have to say, and work with them in small ways as well as big ones.

It remains a big challenge to convince more than a relatively small number of men about the need to become a part of the movement for gender equality. So we also need to work with men in powerful positions, to reinforce the feminist idea that the personal is political. The influence of fundamentalist religions on gender is another growing problem that also needs to be tackled, as is the continuing epidemic of violence against women and girls.

Tell us a little bit about your role as a Promundo Senior Fellow.

This is still very new for me, and in many ways is simply an extension of what I have been doing for a number of years: promoting the ideas and work of Promundo, Sonke Gender Justice, and a range of other key organizations working on men and gender equality in my writing, in talks, and at workshops.

How can working with men and boys help to celebrate and advance the social, economic, cultural, and political achievement of women?

While the work that women have done in the past decades needs to continue, and spaces and resources reserved for this work, I am convinced that we need to engage men if we want to achieve a fairer world.

Nikki-van-der-GaagNikki van der Gaag is a Senior Fellow at Promundo. She is an independent consultant who works on gender in development, with a particular focus on girls and on men and gender equality. She co-authored the first ever State of the World’s Fathers report in 2015. Her latest book is Feminism and Men (Zed Press, 2014). She has also authored The No-Nonsense Guide to Women’s Rights (New Internationalist/Verso, 2008), and six State of the World’s Girls reports for Plan International, including one on boys and gender equality. She is a member of the International Advisory Board for Young Lives, an Oxford University study on child poverty; director of Just Change UK; and an advisory trustee of the Great Men Initiative and New Internationalist magazine.

This interview was originally published on www.promundoglobal.org.

Cover Photo Credit: CIFOR, Flickr Creative Commons

Sexuality, Gender Equality, and the Arab Region

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, Promundo talked to Shereen El Feki about sexuality and gender in the Arab region. Shereen is the author of Sex and the Citadel, a Promundo Senior Fellow, and an acclaimed broadcaster, writer, and academic.

What do you want everyone to know on International Women’s Day?

We must understand the lived realities of men and boys as individuals in order to move toward equality for women and girls, and to effect change. Women face tremendous challenges around the world, but it’s important to keep in mind that, in many cases, authoritarian and patriarchal structures also put men, most of whom are not at the top of the power pyramid, under pressure – thereby undermining their relationships with women.

What makes you passionate, personally, about reaching gender equality, and what is your professional “Pledge for Parity”?

I come from an unusual background in that my father is Egyptian, and my father’s upbringing was very conservative. Yet my mother is British, and my parents raised me in a very liberal and open climate. Growing up in Canada, I was never told, “You can’t do something because you’re a girl or a woman.” It wasn’t until I began researching my book, Sex and the Citadel, and started meeting women across the Arab region of different educational levels, social classes, and geographies, that I began to appreciate the constraints that women in many parts of the world confront in trying to exercise their fundamental human rights. I now realize how fortunate I was not to have encountered these sorts of stereotypes, prejudices, and obstacles that many women – as well as gay men and trans individuals – encounter.

Of course, gender equality is part and parcel of sexuality, which is the focus of my work: including in the promotion of sexual rights for all individuals irrespective of their sexual orientation, or gender identity. My book not only lays out the sexual conundrums and challenges faced by communities across the Arab region, but also offers solutions, highlighting individuals who are pushing back against the taboos and trying to find ways forward. Most recently, since the attacks in Cologne, Germany on New Year’s Eve, there has been tremendous speculation and comment about gender equality and sexuality in the Arab region – much of it dangerously prejudiced and ill-informed. One of the most gratifying outcomes of my book is the chance it has given me to present an alternative view of realities on the ground.

As a Senior Fellow with Promundo, I am also a co-principal investigator of the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) in the Middle East and North Africa, which will make a major contribution, by informing opinion and policy on issues related to gender equality and sexuality in the Arab region. Clearly, a better understanding of what is happening on the ground – amongst men, amongst women, and between the sexes – is very important. I’m delighted to be able to have a chance to work with both researchers and activists on the ground, and raise awareness through public debate in order to shift stereotypes.

What is the biggest challenge we face in reaching gender equality, and what are some of the key strategies to achieve this goal?

In the Arab region, we have real issues with gendered laws. These include laws which restrict women’s economic power; restrict their mobility; prevent them from passing citizenship to their husbands or children; require them, in some cases, to have a male guardian supervise their affairs. The list goes on and on. So the law, and legal reform, is clearly a challenge.

But, changing law is not enough. Progressive laws on gender equality are necessary but not sufficient if you don’t also address community and family attitudes and actions. In many cases, in the Arab region, one sees progressive laws, which actually have very little impact in everyday life because of family controls and constraints on women.

This is why IMAGES, which looks at men’s attitudes and behaviors, is also significant. The dynamic between men and women is very complex. So, it is important to start talking to men and start trying to understand how they feel about decision-making capacities within the family, and also to work with women to get them to rethink their own patriarchal norms.

Tell us a little bit about your role as a Promundo Senior Fellow.

As I mentioned, my primary engagement with Promundo is as co-principal investigator of IMAGES in the Middle East and North Africa. While researching my book – Sex and the Citadel – that looks at both men’s and women’s sexuality in the Arab region, it became very clear to me that we actually know relatively little about men in this part of the world.

It was in Kuala Lumpur that I first met Promundo’s International Director Gary Barker at the 2013 Women Deliver conference. Gary and I started talking about the possibility of bringing IMAGES to the Middle East and North Africa. To cut a long story short, three years later, we are heading into the field with the very first IMAGES study in four countries in the region: Morocco, Egypt, the Palestinian Territories, and Lebanon.

How can working with men and boys help to celebrate and advance the social, economic, cultural, and political achievement of women?

To me, it’s obvious: it takes two to tango. Of course you want to engage men and boys; it’s not easy, as I’m learning from working with Promundo, but it’s absolutely vital. I find it interesting that people think that being a man is some sort of patriarchal picnic. My observation – at least in the Arab context – is that it’s actually really tough being a man, particularly being a young man, at a time when the classic milestones of manhood – getting a job, getting married, getting laid, forming a family – are increasingly difficult to reach due to shifting economic conditions and a conservative social and religious climate.

I think the time is ripe to start engaging with young men and boys, helping them recognize the importance of gender equality not just through the lens of how they feel about women, but also how they feel about their lives as men. I think one of the best ways to do this is to start talking to men and boys, and not to a priori see them as part of the problem, but actually approach them as part of the solution.

I can see this already in some parts of the Arab region. In Egypt, for example, we have some very innovative programs trying to combat sexual harassment. Of course, most sexual harassment is committed by young men, but there are also new non-governmental organizations that have sprung up – like HarrassMap, for instance – that are actively engaging young men, working alongside young women, to stamp out sexual harassment. This work is starting slowly in the Arab region, but I think that it’s a very welcome development and I’m pleased to be a part of an initiative that will hopefully give that movement additional momentum.

shereen-el-feki-300x300Shereen El Feki is a Senior Fellow at Promundo. She is an author-academic-activist who works on sexual rights in the Arab, and broader Islamic, world. Along with Promundo and local partners, she is leading the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES), a multi-country study of men and gender equality, in the Middle East and North African region. Shereen is the author of the award-winning Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World. She is also the former Vice-Chair of the UN’s Global Commission on HIV and the Law, and is a Professor of Global Practice at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. Shereen has a PhD from the University of Cambridge and a BS from the University of Toronto.

This interview was originally published on www.promundoglobal.org.

Cover Photo Credit: Kim Eun Yeul/World Bank, Flickr Creative Commons