Engaging Men as Allies
Complete elimination of systematic gender discrimination needs the active involvement of people of all genders. Violence against women, child marriage, dowry, FGM, and systemic inequality in education, politics, economics, and science negatively impact the entire society. Sadly, the majority of women’s rights and gender equality activists worldwide are women. There are a number of reasons for this. Primarily, a lot of people think feminism is an anti-male movement. But, in reality, feminism is a movement against a system that consistently portrays women as inferior, incapable, and objectifies and oppress them. Moreover, some men consider women’s fights for equal rights as a threat to their power and privileges. It’s not easy for men to engage as allies. In fact, it could be quite challenging for men to come up as a feminist, depending on one’s social and cultural background. In this post, I’ve tried to simplify and break down the issue of gender equality for men. I’ve also outlined actionable guidelines for men to promote gender equality and women empowerment.
1. Understand the concept of Feminism and Gender Equality
Feminisms and gender equality are complex, intersectional issues. The meaning of gender equality could vary depending on one’s social, political, religious, and cultural context. Thus, the first step in participating in the gender equality and women empowerment movement is to understand the issues really well. Please try reading and understanding gender-based issues in the global as well as your local context. Do your own research on the pressing concerns over gender inequality and how it affects the growth and economic development of societies. For instance, achieving Gender Equality by 2030 is one of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.
As the first step, you can explore these valuable resources, facts, programs and campaigns undertaken by the UN and its different agencies. The UN Women has a lot of very useful eLearning resources and training about gender equality and gender mainstreaming for beginners. Please find below a list of other online learning platforms and books that I would recommend for the purposes of gender education and training –
- HREA human rights education
- Institute for Development Studies – Voices for Change ‘Gender Hub’
- Interagency Gender Working Group (IGWG) trainings
- UN Women Training Centre eLearning Campus
- World Bank Open Learning Campus – Gender
- Deakin University Gender and Development Online Course
2. Reflect on your own life and Acknowledge your Privileges
Accepting your privileges as a man is the first critical step in becoming an ally. Look around yourself and your surroundings to figure out signs of gender-based differences and discrimination. Do you and your partner, your mother, and father, brother and sister, son and daughter enjoy the same rights, privileges, and opportunities in their everyday lives towards pursuing their career goals, education, expressing their social and political views or leading their lives the way they want?
Here is a list of self-reflection exercises on the concept of gender roles and norms.
In your culture or society-
- How boys and girls are expected to behave?
- How boys and girls are expected to express their emotions?
- What is not allowed for men and women?
- What qualities are valued in men and women?
- Are both men and women have similar rights and freedom?
- Do men and women have equal access to assets, education, and power?
Once you identify and accept the privileges you have faced as a man, it’s easier to embrace your responsibilities to support your female counterparts’ needs and rights for equality. You can now start thinking about how can you use your privileges to help and support women in different spheres of your life.
You should never forget your responsibility to ensure that our daughters, sisters, and mothers must live in a safer and equal society. Thus, please ensure that your loved ones are not victims of any harmful social practice of the patriarchal society.
3. Challenge your Implicit and Explicit Biases
Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.
As you start working through your plans to work with women as allies to promote gender equality, you would be fighting against the psychological barrier of your own biases. There are many social and cultural customs that oppress women and violate their rights. They probably exist in your life for years but you have never realized that they are harmful. Challenge your own thoughts and unconscious biases using your education and awareness about gender issues. Success in eliminating gender inequality lies to a great extent in accepting the fact that it exists in each of our lives, in each and every family and household, sometimes in a rather subtle way. By now, you are expected to use a gender lens to analyze and understand your life.
4. Identify the Specific Areas you want to Bring Changes In
While working as an ally, please try to identify which areas of your life need immediate attention. You would most likely have some active or passive involvement in promoting gender discrimination. We all do. Think and reflect upon your situation and make an informed decision about where you could be most effective in bringing changes. Think about what you are willing to do to eliminate gender-based biases that are currently existing in your life or in the lives of people around you.
5. Set up a personal goal and Identify your Support System
Identify the causes which you strongly support and the issues which really bother you. Once you know that, outline a plan to achieve your goals so that you could be an effective ally. Then define your short and long-term goals. For instance, you can start with some small goals in your personal life or in your family. Furthermore, as a long-term goal, you can think of educating your community members, spreading awareness about gender issues, or being an advocate of gender equality and women empowerment.
Use the power of the internet to access and communicate with people and groups who are working in this field. HeForShe is United Nation’s Online Global Solidarity Movement for men to stand in solidarity with women to create a bold, visible, and united force for gender equality. They help and support men to take tangible actions.
Men, Boys, and Gender Equality is building an openly accessible basis of evidence and lessons for working with boys and men to promote gender equality.
The Interagency Gender Working Group’s Male Engagement Task Force is an information and knowledge exchange network on what it means to engage men/boys in health promotion and gender equality, why we should engage men, what are the benefits, how to do it, what works and doesn’t work, and what modalities of health services can better reach and include men.
6. Consider stepping out of your comfort zone
It may be quite uncomfortable to identify yourself as a feminist and bring changes in your own life. For instance, if you are a parent who’s always taught your daughter to behave in a certain way, but never thought of educating your son to treat women with respect, you might find it extremely awkward and uncomfortable at the beginning to talk to your son about these issues. It is very pivotal to step out of your comfort zone when are a change maker.
7. Get Going
You are now equipped to be a change-maker and an ally. Don’t waste any more time waiting for the perfect opportunities to come your way. You can start with small changes in your own life. All changes begin at home. Thus your home and family are the perfect places to start bringing changes. For example, start with sharing domestic and care work with your wife, teach your kids about breaking gender barriers, set aside money for your daughter’s higher education, or encourage your wife to be economically independent. Try to ensure the rights and equality of women in your life. You can of course volunteer for other organizations or communities or create your own campaigns to amplify your voice and make a bigger impact.
8. Prepare Yourself to face Obstacles
You would probably face a lot of barriers and backlashes from the people around you. All major social transformation changes face a lot of resistance at the beginning. You may also feel that your efforts are not taking you anywhere. Please stay strong in front of criticism, resistance, or opposition. You may need to remind yourself very often about the higher purpose you are working for. It’s also important for you to have access to other men, women, and support groups who are working for women’s rights and gender equality.
9. Be a Role Model for others
Try to Influence people around you. You can do that by sharing your story, talking about the importance for women to have equal rights, opportunity, and a safe environment. Present yourself in your family, school, workplace, or community as an advocate of gender equality. This will help you to create your own identity as a change-maker. You may not be able to change everything, but you can influence many people to think out of the box. Hope these resources and guidelines for men to promote gender equality and women empowerment was helpful to you.
You may also want to read You Too and Eliminate Gender Discrimination by Building Self Awareness aimed to encourage and support men and boys to fight for a gender-equal world.