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

Cover Photo Credit: CIFOR, Flickr Creative Commons

Failures in Finance: Lessons Learned in Micro-lending and Savings

The theme for International Women’s Day this year is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”. Part of this is based on the notion of accelerating ‘gender parity’ – defined by UNICEF as the difference between males and females in terms of access to education, and consequently, economic opportunity. At Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU), we focus on these two primary aspects of development work, which we believe are the pillars of gender equality. The latter is of particular importance for young women, who upon securing economic independence gain the ability to participate in society and can avoid financial reliance on men. The need for financial and skills-based support was brought forward to GUIU by the women themselves, and this has attributed to the growing success of the programs – but not without some mistakes along the way. These were nevertheless, failures GUIU had an opportunity to learn from.

What are the issues?


Women’s financial access and inclusion as a tool to alleviate poverty has long been a hot topic, and at the heart of micro-lending, micro-credit, and group savings. GUIU is no stranger to the concept. In Uganda as in many other places, below a certain income range, it becomes increasingly difficult for women to open accounts at traditional banks and receive loans and other services. Lack of formal documentation is also another barrier. Literature and organizations such as Muhammed Yunus’s ‘Banker to the Poor’ and Kiva respectively, are often pointed to for best practices and expertise. GUIU realizes that without economic autonomy, women are unable to meet the basic needs of their children and themselves. In January 2014, we established the Young Women’s Economic Empowerment Program (YWEEP) for young women and mothers ages 16 – 35. The objective is to promote increased income generation through providing access to financial services, literacy, and management.

The Failures:

  • Small start-up capital: GUIU gave nine young women small start-up grants of $40 USD to enable them to start or build on existing business enterprises. However, we found that sudden expenses such as the compromised health of a child or school fees would take priority, and only a few of the women’s businesses were enhanced by the grant.
  • Revolving savings group: The young women also requested that we facilitate a more creative and locally-based financing model – the revolving savings group – where GUIU acted as a bank for the women. The initiative was spurred on by a group of young women seeking a safe space to manage their finances, generate investment capital for their businesses, as well as cover basic necessities within their households. GUIU established the revolving savings group wherein each woman contributed a small amount of money to the group savings, and another woman would receive the cumulative contribution each week. The group started off well, but with time many of the women were finding it difficult to make the payment each week.

Our solutions:

  • girlupuganda_financefailures_2Sewing our Futures Project/ Mazuri Designs: Rather than continuing to provide start-up capital to women, we followed an idea from one of the ladies to offer vocational trainings in tailoring and sewing to generate income. The Sewing our Futures Project started as a 6-month training program in March 2015 and opportunity for three young women to acquire vocational seamstress skills. At the same time, we identified the need to create a sustainable business that could hire the recently trained women and support Girl Up Uganda’s educational and leadership programs. Therefore, the project evolved into a fashion design social enterprise, with an independent website and public face – Mazuri Designs.
  • girlupuganda_financefailures_3Savings group: Since the revolving nature of the savings group did not suite the financial capacities of the members, GUIU restructured the group whereby each woman can save independently of each other and do not feel pressure to pay each week. Their savings are recorded in their savings booklets. This strategy has proven to be powerful — fostering accountability, transparency, trust, and a means to encourage saving.

In November 2015, Girl Up Uganda opened a savings bank account for the funds collected by the members since many of the women lack the proper identification to do so on their own. At the end of the year, one woman saved 1,470,000 UGX ($440 USD), showing the potential of having access to financial savings services.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us not forget that as we step it up for gender equality with our various programmatic work, there are challenges and failures that we must accept along the way, and we can share with one another to create a strong women’s movement that is honest and transparent. As GUIU utilizes a people-centered approach – focused on local ownership and participation for sustainability – we are constantly listening to the needs and responses of the women, which shows us that not all programs work effectively. As a growing organization, we will continue to learn and expand with our beneficiaries leading the change, so  they can access economic opportunities just like the men can!

Cover Photo Credit: Got Credit, Flickr Creative Commons

Equality for Mothers and Newborns on International Women’s Day

Written by Abbey Kocan, Executive Director of Kupona Foundation, and Erwin Telemans, CEO of CCBRT

This International Women’s Day, individuals and organizations across the globe are shining a light on the issue of women’s equality, and celebrating the accomplishments of extraordinary women.

As CEO of CCBRT, a leading provider of quality healthcare in Tanzania, and Executive Director of Kupona Foundation, CCBRT’s US-based sister organization, we are inspired every day by the women we serve in Tanzania. We also have a unique perspective on an inequality facing thousands of women in Tanzania: limited access to high quality maternal healthcare.

It speaks volumes that the majority of expectant mothers with the financial resources to do so will leave Tanzania to deliver their babies in South Africa, Kenya, or Europe. Why do they lack confidence in Tanzanian hospitals? Comprehensive emergency obstetric care is available in only 5% of Tanzania’s public hospitals. Expectant mothers know that if there is a complication during labor, both they and their baby might not survive. They also know that if their baby develops a birth defect during labor, attending medical teams may not be trained to identify and treat the impairment.

In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city, hospitals are overcrowded, under-resourced, and staff are overwhelmed. The healthcare system in Dar es Salaam was designed to support a population of 750,000 people; the population has now reached 4.4 million people.  Despite their best efforts to deliver high quality care to their patients, medical teams in Dar es Salaam have long been without the resources to do so.

Improving care for all women

For us, this work is very personal. We are a father of three and mother of one. When it was time for our children to be born, our only wish was that they arrive safely. We are now seeing that same wish come true for thousands of new mothers in Tanzania as they welcome healthy babies in safe, well-resourced facilities.

We are equipping medical teams to provide high quality care for mothers and babies as we build capacity in Dar es Salaam’s hospitals. Working with 22 health facilities, we train health workers in life saving emergency care, provide equipment, and strengthen existing infrastructure. With the support and partnership of the Government of Tanzania, who are also committed to addressing maternal and newborn mortality, we are making great strides. By filling the gaps, we ensure that fewer births result in complications, disabilities, and maternal deaths, and every woman has access to the care she needs.

Treating disabilities at birth

Last week, we celebrated World Birth Defects Day. March of Dimes reports that each year, almost 8 million babies are born with birth defects, starting their lives at a disadvantage.  Statistically, birth defects increase in severity and frequency in low-income countries like Tanzania.

CCBRT specializes in treating and preventing disabilities and birth defects in its 200-bed hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Every year, we treat thousands of patients living with clubfoot, cleft lip, cerebral palsy and congenital cataracts. Most of these disabilities developed, and could have been prevented, at birth.

In response, we train healthcare workers to recognize preventable defects at birth and raise awareness in the community via text message, radio and TV advertisements, educating parents on the availability and importance of early treatment for their children.

Today, CCBRT and Kupona join the global voice celebrating the extraordinary women in our lives. Our wish, as professionals and as parents, is that by supporting mothers with the care they need and deserve, we will raise the bar to provide safe, high quality care, accessible to all expectant mothers in Tanzania.

To learn more, visit our website, sign-up for our mailing list, and follow us on social media as we celebrate the 15th Anniversary of CCBRT’s Disability Hospital.

An Equal World is a Better World – Don’t Leave Anyone Behind

Tomorrow, Girls’ Globe is celebrating International Women’s Day under the slogan “An equal world is a better world – don’t leave anyone behind.” Through this theme we want to highlight the fact that a world where all gender are treated equally and afforded the same rights and opportunities is not only in the best interest of women and girls, but in fact benefits everyone. While women and girls continue to face the bulk of the negative consequences of gender based discrimination, such discrimination and gender stereotypes are also harmful to boys and men, and women’s inability to reach their full potential and participate in the development, and growth of their societies slows down and negatively impacts progress and well-being for everyone.

We also want to bring attention to the inhumane and unbearable situation facing thousands of refugee women and their families, who find themselves stranded in between borders while fleeing horrible situations in their home countries, but are unable to find refuge in Europe as more and more nations are closing their doors at the face of this global tragedy. We believe today more than ever it is crucial for us to ensure that no woman is left behind in our efforts to build a more gender equal world, and the actions we take and the words we speak reach even the most marginalized, vulnerable and hardest to reach women. Our actions must strive not only towards equality between men and women, but equality between all – meaning that we have to also pay attention to discrimination and gaps between women, and ensure that women’s voices, needs and priorities guide our collective actions and efforts.

You can participate in Girls’ Globe’s IWD2016 activities and celebrations in the following ways:

Follow @GirlsGlobe and share the following Tweets via your Twitter account:

  • On #IWD2016 leave no woman behind! Let’s ensure our efforts include all women of all races, ethnicities, backgrounds, religions & ages!
  • RT if you agree: An Equal World is a Better World -Don’t leave anyone behind! Build a #Planet5050 for all women, men, girls & boys! #IWD2016
  • What are you doing to build a #Planet5050 where all genders are treated equally? Share your actions & inspire others to join you! #IWD2016
  • An equal world is a better world for everyone – together we can build a #Planet5050 where no one is left behind! #IWD2016

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Cover Photo Credit: Elina Toumi 

Inspiring Girls to Run for Parity!

Written by Stephanie Arzate

The sun had barely risen when hundreds of women and girls started to arrive at the Jawalakhel Football Field just outside of Kathmandu, Nepal. It was a little before 7 a.m. and everyone had come ready to run.

After weeks of planning, Women LEAD—along with their partners Higher Ground Bakery, Cycle City Network, and the Ujyalo Foundation—was finally seeing the fruits of their labor: the second annual International Women’s Day Fun Run. The Fun Run, open only to women and girls, was intended to let them “reclaim the streets” in a place where street harassment is common.

The event had another purpose as well: it was a day to celebrate the achievements of women and girls, like internationally renowned runner, Mira Rai, who came to address the crowd at the end of the run.

At the height of Nepal’s Civil war—and at the tender age of 14—Rai joined the Maoist rebels. She was captivated by the Guerilla’s promise to treat both women and men equally and looked up to the female combatants. Rai was too young to fight at the time, but she did train with the rebels. That training, she says, has helped her as she has gone on to become a star athlete.

Photo Credit: Higher Ground
Photo Credit: Higher Ground

It is not unlikely that you have not heard of Mira Rai. In a profile late last year, the Guardian called her a “low profile type of national hero.” But while Rai might not be known well beyond the borders of the Himalayan country, she is certainly an inspiring force in her home country.

Despite her small frame, Rai delivered a message that both captivated and energized the hundreds of young women and girls who had gathered on the field that brisk Saturday morning. Addressing the crowd in Nepali, Rai drew from her own life story and spoke of her struggles as a young girl. She reminded the mostly-female audience that they are just as powerful and strong as men.

“I believe girls can come to any level they want, do what they love to do, and break stereotypes and break records,” she told a group of Women LEAD girls after her speech. “If I can come to this level [in life], then anyone else can. All you gotta do is not give up, but give it your best.”

Women lead girlsIn the end, hearing from a trailblazer like Mira Rai was what made the event that much more special for those in attendance.

“She is a true inspiration,” said Aastha, a 2015 LEADer, who was able to meet the runner at the event. “We come from a society where women are criticized a lot and even we girls criticize ourselves and try to change ourselves for society rather than be ourselves. But Mira Rai has stayed true to herself, and has been able to become a role model to many girls, including myself.”

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

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