Given the substantive gains we have made in the last twenty years in establishing the rights framework for women, we need to leverage the post 2015 development discourse to engage with men and build on scale the purposeful program of action for gender equality -Kate Gilmore, Deputy Director, UNFPA
Delhi, 11 November, 2014: Taking stock of the progress made since the International Conference on Population and Development (ICDP) in 1994 and the Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing in 1995, both of which brought to the fore the role of men and boys in advancing gender outcomes, a high powered panel assessed the possibility of building on the achievements of involvement of men and boys in gender equality work.
Speaking about the gains made in the last two decades, Kate Gilmore, Deputy Director UNFPA, recalled the key milestones, such as the Vienna Convention of 1993, which had articulated the indivisibility of women’s rights. This had made it possible to further expand it at the Cairo Conference of 1994 and the Beijing Conference of 1994 to include the recognition of right to make choices, assert personal autonomy, uphold dignity and last but not the least recognize that women’s rights are human rights.
“We have clinching evidence to show that engaging men has worked in different parts of the world be it in 11000 men stepping forward to oppose female genital mutilation in Niger or taking responsibility for the care and nurturing of children in Cambodia and other parts of the world,” she added.
However the real challenge, she stated, was in changing the ambit of male engagement. “We need to recognize that men are engaged in problematic ways and have been mobilized in large numbers for advancing armed conflicts; hence the ‘He- for-She’ Campaign launched by UN Women excites me as it strives to build on positive deviation from the existing norms and challenge the status quo on scale”. She went on to urge the delegates “to take the discourse beyond the genteel precincts to the margins.”
With 6 out of 10 men admitting to violence in the recent UNFPA-ICRW study on Building Evidence on Masculinity: Intimate Partner Violence and Son Preference: Insights from a Multi-Centric Survey in India, the focus of the plenary session at the Symposium was on strengthening ways of engaging men effectively to perceive gender justice and gender equality as win-win for both men and women.
Gary Barker, Co-Chair MenEngage Alliance, USA, opined that this would require men to shed their privileges, their entrenched views on masculinity and recognize their vulnerability. He also stressed on the fact that “the gender revolution cannot be reduced to a log frame” and that the big challenge was that of bringing men into the care economy. “It is an uphill task and the evidence is extremely discouraging” he added.
In this context, Mr Barker mentioned a study in Brazil on gender differential which had revealed that, while men’s share of work as care givers had increased negligibly from 10 hours to a mere 10 hours eight minutes, in comparison women had barely reduced their work burden from 24 to 22 hours. At this pace of change it would take no less than 240 years for this inequality to be addressed, he stated.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director UN Women agreed that, “unless men and boys take full responsibility and it a truly transformative experience, we will end up by short changing and not being able to achieve of gender equality in the manner we need to.” She went on to add that “men’s support is most essential if we want to put an end to harmful practices such as early marriage and in the contemporary context, the most dangerous practice that needs to tackled effectively were the host of video games teaching boys as young as 11 years on how to commit rape, practice violence against women.”
Professor Michael Kimmel, New York University, meanwhile pointed out that the challenge was in motivating men and getting them to realize that the pursuit of gender justice was not a zero-sum game but was in fact a win –win for both men and women.
Meanwhile, the session “Borders and Bodies”, explored the contemporary construction on masculinity based on religious identity in India and the many challenges that women and girls have to confront in their every lives, in the guise of male protection. Urvashi Butalia, Zubaan, felt that, “the focus should be on raising questions, standing up for what you believe in and countering the language of protection with the language of rights.”
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