Let’s Get Men Talking about Gender Equality

Last week was International Women’s Day. The very name is enough, for some men, to get their head raging and their tweeting fingers typing. ‘A day for women?! But when is International Men’s Day?’ they quip, hopelessly unaware of their male privilege (and also ignorant of the facts – it’s on the 19th November in case you were wondering).

But, aside from the fact that there is actually a parallel day for men, the more pertinent point is that they are questioning the need for a day for women – a day to celebrate the achievements of women the world over, and a day to campaign for so many still-unsolved women’s issues.

Why did millions of people mark a special day last week for women?

Even in 2016, hundreds of thousands of women and girls are at risk of FGM (female genital mutilation), women and girls are forced into unwanted marriages, and honor violence is rampant. And not just in what some may see as the ‘third world’, some far-away existence removed from their everyday lives. These issues – these affronts to the basic human rights of women – are happening right here in America and other countries.

Honor Diaries – a documentary film that highlights female activists tackling these issues, and that was launched two years ago on International Women’s Day 2014 – has released never-before-seen footage, and is calling on us to get men talking.

In the same way that the HeForShe campaign is based on the idea that gender equality is an issue that affects all people—socially, economically and politically—, men must also face up to the abuses against women taking place and highlighted in Honor Diaries.

And in the same way that HeForShe seeks to actively involve men in the gender equality movement (which has traditionally been dominated by women), the same must be done in the fight against FGM, honor violence and forced marriage. Only by engaging men, and ensuring that they don’t feel left out of the picture, can we tackle such important, and widespread, global issues.

Women have achieved so much on so many issues. Women are only half of the global population, and it is imperative that men get involved in the conversation, and join the brave women campaigning for change.

 

Cover Photo Credit: Arne Hoel/World Bank, Flickr Creative Commons

A Men’s Issue

On Monday, December 7, Vital Voices hosted their annual Voices of Solidarity awards to honor five men “who have shown courage and compassion in advocating on behalf of women and girls in the United States and around the world.” The five honorees were Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, former peacekeeper and diplomat; Gary Barker, founder of Promundo and global leader in engaging men to prevent violence against women; Sadou Lemankreo, a police officer and human rights defender in Cameroon; John Prendergast, activist and author working to support women survivors of conflict in Africa; and Tom Wilson, chairman and CEO of The Allstate Corporation.

The five honorees have impressive experience working to empower women and engage men to change their attitudes and behaviors towards women. They are rightly honored for their work and should be held as models for how men should act worldwide. But my thoughts on the event, and the issue of violence against women in general, can be summed up with six words from Cindy Dyer early in the night:

“Violence against women is a men’s issue” Cindy Dyer, Vice President of Human Rights, Vital Voices

When I looked around the room on Monday night, it was filled with an overwhelming majority of women. This gender imbalance has been the norm in my experience of attending similar events and herein lays the problem; women, who are victims and allies to victims of male violence, bravely come together while the perpetrators are disengaged from the conversation. This needs to change.

Violence against women stems from a daunting web of social norms, patriarchy, power dynamics, greed and injustice. For example, rape is used as a weapon of war and justice systems around the world drastically vary in their efficiency. With these larger structural barriers in the mix, can one individual make a difference in these issues? The answer is yes.

Dyer and Barker acknowledged the many men who would never hurt a woman and are champions for equality in the workplace and the home. However, when these men remain silent or refrain from participating in gender equality conversations, their actions (or inactions) have an impact. Speaking on her experiences with female victims, Dyer said that the “silence of male leaders speaks louder than women’s actions.” Men can be tremendous activists in the fight to end violence against women by actively taking a stance against the injustice.

So, to the men who believe in gender equality and justice, but are possibly unsure about how to engage in this conversation, I’m here to say: speak up! As a woman I welcome your voice to this discussion! A few conversation starters are below based on my own experiences and reported successes from the Vital Voices event this week.

Men, how can you get involved?

  • Ask questions: do you feel safe walking down the street? What resources are available for women who have experienced violence? Speak with the women in your life and ask about their experience.
  • Share news articles. Use the news as a way to start the conversation, learn about the nuances of the issues and take a stance.
  • Be a mentor. Young boys who witness violence growing up are more likely to exhibit those behaviors as an adult. As a positive influence in a young boy’s life, you can have a lasting change.

Women, how can we engage the men in our life?

  • Speak openly with the men you trust. For example, if you experience harassment in the workplace, debrief with a trusted male friend.
  • Invite your male friends to any conferences or events you attend on issues related to violence against women. Let’s get more men at the table.

As the 16 days of activism to end gender based violence comes to a close, I challenge you to speak with the people closest to you about the atrocities committed against women every day. It is time to end the silence surrounding violence against women and hold men accountable for their actions.

This post is part of Girls’ Globe’s #16Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Post series. Learn more about the #16Days campaign here, and join the discussion on social media with #16Days.

Photo Credit: Holly Curtis

 

Periods Change Lives: Clueless Dad

An Original Poem Written by Yvonne Nyatundo – Maseno University

Daddy listen to me
Please listen
I barely slept last night
The pain was exhilarating
What is happening to me?

Daddy listen to me
Please listen
My abdomen hurts
It’s bloated
What is happening to me?

Daddy listen to me
Please listen
Boys laughed at me
When they saw blood on my skirt
What is happening to me?

Daddy listen to me
Please listen
My hips are broadening
Don’t you see?
What is happening to me?

Daddy listen to me
Please listen
You shook your head puzzled
Your expression clueless
What is happening to me?

Daddy listen to me
Please listen
I’m scared
I’m ashamed
What is happening to me?

Daddy listen to me
Please listen
You should know
I need answers
What is happening to me?

All dad’s please participate in the World Menstrual hygiene day (28th May, MH day) so as to be more knowledgeable on menstruation and evade such clueless moments with your daughters.

Watch the Periods Change Lives video