Men too stand to gain from gender equity, say experts | Sunday Observer

Men too stand to gain from gender equity, say experts

24 November, 2019

The importance of gender equality and male engagement for social inclusion was highlighted at the Sub-regional Conference on Deconstructing Masculinities: Engaging Men and Boys for Gender Equality and Social Inclusion organised by the Asian Development Bank in Colombo recently.

Concerns also remain around the framing of male engagement for women’s empowerment. Some experts argue that this framing obscures the harm that men experience due to rigid gender norms and the benefits they can gain from a more gender-equitable environment.

These experts instead preferred a focus on gender equity. Others, however, felt that women and girls should remain the center of gender equality work, since they are the ones who have been disadvantaged historically and systematically.

Taking this into consideration, while the ultimate goal is gender equity, asking how male engagement impacts women and girls empowerment is a necessary step along the path to equity, Senior Visiting Scholar at the United Nations University - International Institute for Global Health, James L. Lang said..

Men are harmed by patriarchal gender norms and the benefits men stand to gain from gender equity, and the need to explicitly address unequal power dynamics that privilege men and men’s responsibility in upholding those dynamics has a long way to go.

There is considerable disagreement among experts about how best to involve men in reflective discussions on these topics – including how to motivate their participation and the content of the discussion.

“Many experts stress the importance of avoiding a ‘zero-sum game’ approach, which suggests that men have to give up or lose power to help advance women’s empowerment. However, without addressing the potential shifts in power dynamics that will occur, programming can set up unrealistic expectations and ultimately reinforce benevolent sexism, which are beliefs and attitudes that view women as valuable, but not equal or equally as competent to men. This idea is also dubbed ‘patriarchy light’,” he said.

“While many effective programming strategies are emerging from the male engagement field, gaps remain. For instance, programmatic efforts on positive masculinities often do not touch on sexuality or transgender and gender non-conforming identities. Instead, they employ a predominantly heteronormative framing of gender relations that can be counterproductive to achieving gender equity,” Lang said.

Most male engagement programming focuses on the individual and does not address the broader structures of patriarchy within which individuals and relationships operate. And while the theoretical framing of male engagement programming presumes the ultimate objective of contributing to gender equity, programs often are not structured in this manner on the ground. As such, they often do not incorporate considerations for women’s existing work, voices, and needs throughout their programming. Programs also often fail to measure outcomes for women. This oversight prevents programs from determining whether there are connections between shifts in attitudes, behaviours, and norms, and whether male engagement efforts actually lead to changes in the lives of both men and women, he said.

The South Asia Department or SARD of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) commits to the principle of ‘leaving no one behind’, which is the underlying principle of two of the seven operational priorities of ADB Strategy 2030.

These are to accelerate progress in gender equality and address remaining poverty and reduce inequalities. In so doing, SARD joins other development institutions, including partner governments and civil society, pursue the achievement of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, particularly, SDG 5, that is to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. As defined, gender equality entails the transformation of the relation between women and men, girls and boys in different spheres (social, economic, political) and levels (interpersonal, household, community, organization, society); and we cannot do this by engaging women and girls alone. Men and boys should also be on board,” Principal, Social Development Specialist (GAD) Office of the Director General South Asia Department Asian Development Bank, Francesco Tornieri said.

“To accelerate the progress of gender equality, ADB’s strategy is to ensure that at least 75% of its assisted sovereign and non-sovereign programs and projects contribute to gender equality and women’s empowerment.

“In Sri Lanka, there are about 24 ADB-supported ongoing projects where gender is mainstreamed. This means that each of these projects has a gender action plan or gender equality and social inclusion action plan to be implemented with dedicated resources and carefully monitored with the assistance of gender specialists.

“Most of these projects center on women’s empowerment, which is a key to achieving gender equality. Another key is to engage men and boys and our conference is meant to highlight this and identify innovative approaches,” he said.

Apart from supporting the acceleration of the progress of gender equality, ADB — as stated in its Strategy 2030 — is also committed to achieving social inclusion. The people most likely to be left behind by development are those facing economic deficits intersecting with discrimination and exclusion on the grounds of gender identities, sexual orientations, old age, disabilities, locational disadvantage, and social identities, such as race, caste, ethnicity which have persisted over generations. Social inclusion aims to combat barriers that exclude these vulnerable members of society from participating in decision-making and benefiting from economic and social resources and services. Paving the way for more socially inclusive approaches is one of the key challenges that ADB faces in South Asia, Tornieri said.

With our partners, ADB aims to move forward in these areas too. A key step is to empower women and girls as well as engage men and boys.

It is in this line that the Sri Lanka Resident Mission (SLRM) of ADB in collaboration with the Male Engage Alliance in Sri Lanka has organised this sub regional conference.

This event complements ADB-supported on-going pilot work in Sri Lankan schools and youth.

This conference was aimed at raising awareness on the importance of addressing discriminatory gender norms, stereotypes and behaviour; to provide a forum for sharing of international best practices in engaging men and boys in the pursuit of gender equality and social inclusion within the education sector and to explore opportunities to support the education sector’s initiatives in integrating male engagement in programs and projects designed to pursue gender equality and social inclusion, he said.