Is gender Equality only about Women? #WCY2014
When we talk about Gender Equality, we usually talk exclusively about women and we forget that gender includes men and women. Gender based violence for instance, is mainly empowering women and excluding the essential contribution of men as perpetrators of violence in most cases.
During the World Conference on Youth, taking place now in Sri Lanka, I met Natko Gereš from Croatia. He is advocating for a different perspective to tackle gender equality. He is the director of youth organization Status M and coordinator at MenEngaged which is a global alliance established since 2006.
Natko explained some of the many projects his organization conducts such as "Be A Man campaign" for high school boys where they provide training about social skills. He sarcastically said "men are raised idiots and cannot express their emotions". So they try through this campaign to make men express their emotions and break the assumptions based on which all boys grow up believing "Men don't cry". Another campaign is called "Be A Man Be Sober" which educates men on how alcohol affects them, their relationships and lead them eventually to violence.
"Men can change the society because they are part of the committed violence against women". Such a statement from a young man like Natko engaging in men awareness of gender issues, can definitely make a lot of men out there questioning their involvement to the problem and the solution related to gender equality.
Most importantly, Natko emphasized that, we should not fall into the same paradigm of "men doing something for women" but rather make them understand that gender issues affect them as well as the community and society as a whole. "at least they will feel comfortable to ask for help" since recent researches show that men ask for medical help 7 to 8 years later than women.
I think Natko is a role model for many men to challenge the traditional understanding of manhood and masculinity. He believes that Manhood is "building relationships based on respect and equality, speaking our against violence in the society, having the strength to ask for help, shared decision-making and shared power and it's by how much you are able to respect the diverity and rights of those around you"
My conversation with Natko reminded me of a great TEDtalk by on of leading anti-sexist male activists in the US, Jackson Katz. He points out in his talk that domestic violence and sexual abuse are intrinsically men's issues and shows how these violent behaviors are tied to efinitions of manhood.
Surprisingly this issue has been also the at the heart of the discussion during the sessions of Gender Equality.
Pippa Gardner, a Scout Leader from the UK stated that :" Men and Women in the same sentence is not what gender equality is about. Nothing much has been done on including men in the discussion about gender because they think empowerment of women is the dis-empowerment of men".
Fair enough, among the speakers, facilitators and the audience of Gender Equality round tales and the breakout sessions, there have been men and women which confirms that gender issues is about and for us all.
Let's reflect on the terms we have been using and believing as "women roles" instead of "gender roles"... "women issues" instead of "gender issues"... and "women empowerment instead of "society empowerment"
Goal 3 of the Millennium Development Goals is about "promoting gender equality and empowering women". So let's ask ourselves, WHY after 15 years of allocated fund, projects and continuous gender advocacy; sexual abuse, rape and domestic abuse remain a problem and came up over and over at the Post 2015 Agenda?