Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Patriarchy is a multi-headed shape-shifting beast

Gender equality is about the relationships between women and men. Take a second to really absorb this apparently simple statement. Though the overall majority of the people walking around the CSW56 premises are women (with the exception of government delegates where the balance is about 50/50), we – as the network called “Women Equals Men” - are happy to share that men’s organizations working on gender equality are present here as well.

Male gender champions Gary Barker from Instituto Promundo (Brazil), and Tim Shand and Aviwe Mtibe from the Sonke Gender Justice Network (South Africa) shared stories of change when working with men at the grassroots. Representatives from UNFPA and UNICEF also reaffirmed that without men, there can be no gender justice. These organizations therefore havetargeted programmes with men, as well as mainstreamed work with men in projects related to a.o. violence against women and family planning.

Gary Barker explained about the recently lounged MenCare campaign, a cooperation between Promundo, Sonke and MenEngage. It takes men’s care giving roles as departure point for gender equality, for the benefit of all. In father’s groups men share their experiences as fathers, sons and men. It helps them to see alternatives, to change thoughts on what these roles are like.

What are challenges?
: “This is the power to transform the community. Men who step outside the box, get better lives as well. The women’s rights revolution affects men, they are part of it: some experience it screaming and kicking, but others are really getting it. We use the carrot and the stick when we tell men: ‘Your lives get better when you are in contact with your child(ren).’ We have done extensive studies on men’s experiences. These show that when men have deeper relationships with the people around, this can lead to better mental health, less depression, less violence. And relationships with women get better. For example, when men do more work around the house, both women and men report better relationships and better sex-lives. We have not been talking much to men about fatherhood. But from our survey we know 4 in 5 men around the world will be fathers in their life.”

Gary: “If its just a handful of men, it will not lead to the structural change that we want to see. Besides change in men, we need to have sectors attuned. For example the health-sector; work-regulations and time-off for men; poverty alleviation and empowerment: when we see women’s work-time going up, where is the care-work time of men? We do not want to counterbalance maternity leave with paternity leave. What we want is family leave. We work on how to put dialogues up. We always want to do this together with women.”

Joni van de Sand on behalf of WO=MEN contributed to the discussion. At CSW we tend to talk about practical issues such as women’s empowerment, access to health and financial services, political participation, etc. These are all essential. We however also have to address the underlying causes of gender inequalities, such as traditional values, cultural barriers, gender stereotypes, etc. Yes, it is indeed patriarchy stupid! If we do not address the question of why gender norms favor the masculine over the feminine all around the world, we are not going to achieve structural change.

The panel replied in agreed, indeed we often fail to address the rights issue. This also includes sexual rights and reproductive rights, added UNFPA. In the words of Lulu Xingwana, Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, South Africa (in public) “Patriarchy is a multi-headed shape-shifting beast.” Nurper Ulkuer from UNICEF: “If we just push women in the same structures that are in place now, we will replace the patriarch with the matriarch. But it is about social justice. We have to change social norms, by working with young boys and girls to change how they are socialized.”

Last but not least, GBC Health from the private sector explained why they are involved in the MenCare campaign. The rhetoric gives them access to male workers. To change the new generation of men. And to bring male engagement angle in on maternal health, childhood care, etc. They thanked organizations like Promundo and Sonke to pave the way and provide the materials to work on these issues.

On March 7, at the eve of International Women’s Day, Gary Barker will speak at de Globaliseringsezing in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. WO=MEN Dutch Gender Platform co-organizes this event.

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