Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Changed and the Change-makers

Yesterday’s side event The Changed and the Change-makers: Engaging Men and Boys to End Violence against Women and Girls was an example of the increasing consensus that involving men and boys in gender equality issues is essential for change. The session mainly evolved around practical examples for male involvement in ending violence against women.

Even in Finland?!

Jarmo Viinanen, Permanent Representative of Finland to the UN, stated that there is no nation immune to the problem of violence against women. In Finland, an average of 100 women a year loose their life because of domestic violence. The country recently adopted a national action plan to stop violence against women. One of the key strategies is to address attidudes and behaviour models, a key audience of which are young men. Viinanen also expressed that though a lack of resources is a key challenge internationally, we should not overstate their importance. Ending violence against women is essentially about the political will to do so, and about overall equality between women and men in society.

UN Women and men

Michelle Bachelet emphasized that men and boys are key allies for change. Her presence at this event seems to express UN Women’s intention to actively involve men in its agenda. Joni had the honor of briefly talking to her, introducing WO=MEN and handing over our popular = button which expresses the importance of working on gender equality with all stakeholders, including women and girls, men and boys. Bachelet’s speech mainly focussed on the issue of violence against women, which is one of the five focus areas of UN Women, and closely related to the other areas of Peace & Security; Leadership & Participation; and Economic Empowerment.

Though Bachelet mentioned many succesful examples of male involvement worldwide (such as by Instituto Promundo in Brazil) she did not actually speak of any vision for the involvement of men in UN Women itself. Bachelet left after half an hour, rushing to the next event where she would be a key note speaker. We therefore had to pose our question on how UN Women envisions men’s involvement in the organization, to people in the audience. The answers were confusing and varied from a woman saying that it is about increasing political will for gender issues (was she insinuating that political will equals male involvement?!) and a woman from UNIFEM informing us that they have a MOU with MenEngage (a memorandum of understanding that expresses a convergence of will between the parties, indicating an intended common line of action.) As an elderly lady from the audience later entrusted us, UN Women is still developing its strategies and there probably is not clarity yet on how to involve men. In our opinion, ‘branding’ and ‘marketing’ UN Women as a sexless organization that works on gender equality for both women and men, would be a good approach to start from.

Every man has a responsibility for change

Jimmy Briggs, an award winning journalist, explained about Man up: a global campaign to activate youth to stop violence against women and girls. Their call to action challenges each of us to “man up” and declare that violence against women and girls must end, through the universal platforms of sport, music, technology and the arts. Briggs: “Most of us see ourselves as good men, because we do not overtly suppress women. But no man can be allowed to be passive about the issues of women and girls, especially violence.” According to Briggs, ending violence against women in an impossible goal without changing the lives of men and boys around the world. For too long their absence has inhibited change and progress. Never before there was such global consensus for male involvement in VAW.

The Most Understanding Husband of Nepal award

Ronni Goldfarb and Jaya Luintel presented the success story of VOICES project and the ‘Most Understanding Husband campaign’ in Nepal of Equal Access International. Through the nation wide radio programme Samajhdari (“mutual understanding”) listeners present their marital dilemmas, on which other listeners can reflect. The idea is not to give answers, but to open a space for discussion and inform listeners on what their rights are. At first mainly women were listening, then the programme became so popular that men started listening too to keep up with their wives. VOICES decided to do a research asking men the question “what is masculinity?” and found out the main answer was: having control over my wife. In repsonse, VOICES launched the Most Understanding Husband campaign. To identify positive male role models, listeners could send a letter giving 10 reasons why they should be nominated most understanding husband of Nepal. Reactions came from all around the country. The nominees won a certificate with a photo of them and their wife together, which is uncommon in Nepal. As one man said: “I used to beat my wife. Nowadays I tell other husbands to listen to Samajhdari, in the hope that I can clear my sin.” VOICES considered the fact that men say they no longer have sex with their wife without her consent, their main achievement. Goldfarb pointed out that the most understanding husband award can be organized anywhere in any context, and they are going to take the idea global.

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