Breakthrough India’s Reframe summit discusses ‘Engaging men and boys is critical to achieve gender equality’

NEW DELHI, March 4, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Breakthrough India’s three day Pan-Asia summit “Reframe” started a dialogue on raising awareness on concerns around accountability in the sphere of transforming masculinities and engaging men and boys to achieve gender equality. Initiated by Breakthrough India, the conversation revolved around practices, and challenges in implementing accountability standards.

As India struggles to keep pace with its gender equality targets, national reports of progress against Sustainable Development Goal 5 on Gender Equality evidence the need for an increased understanding and awareness of the unequal power relations between men and women in society. Globally, current trends show that men and boys have largely been excluded from the gender equality discourse. The engagement of men and boys is a crucial element for progress in India and beyond.

Samitha Sugathimala, Director Programs / Advisor on Gender and Development, FISD, Sri Lanka started the discussion by noting, “When it comes to prevention of gender based violence, there have been a lot of male dominated interventions coming in but there has not been any research about the outcomes of these programmes, in terms of accountability, programme designing, policies, etc. There is a lack of consultation with women’s rights organisations, lack of acknowledgement of women’s rights and leadership, and men in the movement have been taking too much space, especially in leadership roles. We have to question all of these to accelerate the outcomes of the programmes.”  

As envisioned in the Beijing Platform for Action, one critical piece for advancing the gender equality agenda is engaging men and boys. The Beijing framework envisioned male engagement as a necessary means to challenge the structures, beliefs, practices, and institutions that sustain men’s aggregate privileges, as well as to address inequalities between women and men.

Anthony Keedi, Program Manager, Masculinities and engaging men in Gender Equality, Lebanon, said “Accountability is about acknowledging and understanding the part one plays in the harm done against women and other groups in patriarchy through our hidden powers and privileges. On the other hand, the work on engaging men and masculinities should be in conversation with women. Women, and other marginalised groups need to be at the forefront of this process to ensure that we recognise who we are doing this for.”

While women become more empowered to assert their rights, many organisations are also realising the importance of engaging men and boys in the conversation in order to break the cycle of violence. Currently, involving men and boys to achieve social equality varies by country and context. But we need to consider the various factors that influence men and boys, and thus, the work on men and masculinities.

Madhumita Das, Feminist Researcher, Faculty, The George Washington University, India, noted, “If you look at growing evidence about involving men and boys in transforming injustices, most initiatives have a very narrow focus and have been adapted as an instrumental approach rather than strategy. It has been observed that these initiatives tend to over justify the reason for integrating the component rather than deeply understanding how this move will help achieve the overall goal of gender equality. Accountability to women’s rights activists, SRHR, and LGBTQIA+ movement will ensure that our efforts are more effective and impactful and it must be central to all our work with men and boys. Accountability starts with us, from the point of recognising our power and privilege, pushing for collaborative actions, and helping in addressing both personal and institutional practices that go against gender equality and equal rights. Additionally, we have to build a relationship with all the movements that are seeking to challenge the current norms of gender equality.”

Adding to this thought, Sanjog Thakuri, Founder, President of Yuwalaya, Kathmandu, said, “While working with men and masculinities, we have seen that it is very easy for men to talk about gender equality. Two things are missing in our initiatives involving men and boys: conceptual planning and movement building. Men and boys are taking the lead in gender based violence but due to the lack of conceptual clarity, they are exaggerating the engagement of men and doing the bare minimum and occupying the space. We need meaningful and ethical participation of men and boys in the feminist discourse.”

The majority of the work with men and boys focuses on individual behaviour change. While this is important, it is equally vital to ensure that work on men and masculinities centres the systems change agenda in order for this field to meaningfully add value to advance the broader feminist agenda of equality and justice.

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