By Victoria Sung, VGIF UN Representative
Men and boys are frequently painted as the perpetuators of gender inequality, but new campaigns and programs targeting men and boys have become the subject of discussion in the fight for gender mainstreaming. At the CSW 56 side event “So what about the boys? The role of men and boys in achieving gender equality” hosted by the Mission of Canada and Plan International’s program Because I Am A Girl, panelists discussed the merit of male-targeted programs. Pointing to examples such as the White Ribbon Campaign that started in 1991, which asked men to wear a white ribbon in solidarity and awareness of gender-based violence, the event sought to create a conversation between men and women. This was presented as a necessity to avoid the disempowerment men often feel when presented with the issue of women’s rights.
Ravi Karkara of UNICEF called for intervention to sensitize men and boys to gender inequalities. Although he suggested approaching men and boys of all ages, he stressed that it was important to work with boys as early as possible. “We must do this to unlearn patriarchy and masculine hegemony,” he said, to the applause of the audience. As the founder of the Men Engage Alliance, he gave an example of a program in Nepal, which mapped out unsafe spaces in villages for women and girls, and engaged men and boys in a dialog on why these spaces were unsafe. Another example came from Bangladesh, where local religious leaders were involved in a campaign to “Say no to early marriage.” His suggestion to the audience and other panelists were to hold such participatory and inclusive interactions to create a meaningful exchange.
Bringing voices from the grassroots level, two youth delegates from Because I Am A Girl, Alishba from Pakistan, and Len from Cambodia, addressed the crowd. Alishba shared her own story of educating her father on her rights as a girl, including allowing her the freedom to leave the house on her own and not agreeing to an early marriage. Len stated that men are more likely to listen to other men, and suggested educational policies for fathers. Both youth delegates emphasized that gender equality should start in the home, specifically the relationship between a father and his family.
The sentiment at this event was that working only with women for gender equality provided an incomplete picture of inequality, and that involvement with men was necessary to improve the situation across the globe. This should be considered in future discussions of gender equality.