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Gary Barker – International Director of Promundo
Let me start with an affirmation: I consider myself a pro-feminist man. I believe it’s possible to be a man and to view gender equality as being as important as any social cause on this planet. I have a daughter and a partner and a mother and a sister. I founded an NGO in Brazil that works to engage men and boys in achieving gender equality and ending violence against women. Of course I think there is a place for men in achieving full equality for girls and women. I’ve got skin in this game.
As a man, I celebrate the advancements the world has made toward gender equality. Women are now 40% of the global paid workforce and half of the world’s food producers. With a few exceptions, girls are as likely as boys today to be in primary school. Millions of women in the Global South benefit from microcredit programs, and millions more are being lifted out of poverty with cash transfer programs. Fewer women today die during childbirth. There are more women in politics, in business, in government jobs and working outside of their homes than ever before.
But women’s income continues to be on average at least 20% less than men’s for the same work. About a third of the world’s women will experience violence from a male partner, or some form of sexual violence. Women’s full participation in the highest levels of decision-making, the media and in business is shamefully unequal. Women and girls carry out two to 10 times more of the unpaid care work in the Global South and even the most progressive countries in the global North have not achieved full equality in domestic work and childcare.
I’m outraged at how far we still have to go to achieve equality even as we have achieved so much.
At the same time, I think that too much of the work to achieve full rights for women and girls lets men off the hook. Too much of the women’s rights field ignores that men have skin in the game.
We know that some men are opposed to full equality for women. But we also know that many men and boys support equality. By not shaming the vocal male opponents to women’s equality, and by not capitalizing on the male advocates, many women’s empowerment initiatives ignore men’s and boys’ role in gender equality.
Why do we need to engage men to empower women?
Let’s start with ending violence against women. As Jackson Katz so powerfully reminds us, violence against women is men’s violence against women. There are many reasons men use violence against female partners. But this we know: it’s not genetic. It’s not part of our biological make-up as men; it is learned. The violence men see as children is the violence men use as adults. Our research finds that men who witness violence against their mothers growing up are 2.5 times more likely to use violence against a female partner when they become adults.
Men who grow up with violence are traumatized men. This does not excuse men’s violence against women. It explains why effective prevention must include men and boys, while we also enhance laws and law enforcement. And it makes clear how our lives as men improve when we grow up in households without violence.
What about reproductive health?
Every woman’s integrity over her body and her ability to choose when and if she has children must be a core tenet of women’s rights. But we must include men in this equation. This doesn’t mean taking away women’s right to choose and control their bodies. It means acknowledging that men are half of reproduction. To state the obvious: Except in the fairly limited cases of assisted fertility, men are equally responsible for pregnancy and should be equally responsible for contraception.
Biology determines that only women can become pregnant, but the responsibility for contraceptives and condoms is something men and women can and should share. Family planning that only focuses on women is not a step toward equality and empowerment. It is a resignation that we don’t think men can change; it lets men off the hook. Currently, women are responsible for about 75% of contraceptive use in the world. Equality means that men must take more personal responsibility for their sexual and reproductive health, and must be supportive of women’s contraceptive choices. And it wouldn’t hurt to have men involved as allies to counter the conservative male voices that would take away women’s reproductive rights.
What happens at home?
Achieving full economic equality for women means full and equal access to employment, credit, education and ownership of land and property. And it means that men and boys must do 50% of the world’s unpaid care work: that includes washing dishes and waking up for 2:00 a.m. feedings. The only countries in the world that have achieved something closer to equality for women and girls in the workplace have simultaneously advanced paternity leave and other policies to promote men’s participation at home.
Where do we go from here?
This International Women’s Day, let’s affirm that we’re in this together as women and men. Our lives our intertwined. The second-class status of our partners and daughters and sisters is our loss and our shame. It corrodes our lives as men.
In her eloquent short story, “The Matter of Seggri,” the science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin creates a powerful allegory of a fictional planet where women and girls live in towns and men are banished to the outskirts. Some “tamer” men are allowed occasional interactions (for sex, or for trade) with the townswomen. At the age of 10, boys must leave their mothers and sisters and live with the other banished adult men in a semi-feral state. It’s a powerful, telling fable of what a world of violent men could become.
But back here on Earth, women and men live together. Sex segregation (and ethnic segregation and class segregation) is nearly always a sign of inequality, not a sign of equality. There are men whom we might wish to ban to the outskirts of our towns, but the more realistic path, and the only path to lasting change, is to help (and to obligate, if necessary) men realize the benefits of gender equality.
As a man, I affirm this: Feminism is not exclusively for women or exclusively about women. Feminism is the simple, radical notion that women and girls are human beings. That affirmation means that men are inherently involved in feminism and it means that men’s lives improve when we embrace the full equality of women.
To men who are brave enough to fully accept and support it, feminism offers us the chance to see that we are not born to cause harm to others — that we are not inherently violent and don’t need to be banished to the edges of civilization. That our birthright, and that of women, is to the full range of human potential and human relations, including having close, connected, caring, non-violent and equal relationships with others.
That’s what I want for my daughter and my partner and my mother and my sister. That’s what I want for myself as a man and for all men on International Women’s Day.
MenCare+ South Africa, launched officially in November, has started to show concrete results among South Africans. The program has implemented fatherhood groups, counseling for men who have used violence, as well as sexual courses on reproductive health for young men and women. The goal is to help men become more responsible fathers and to break cycles of violence that can seem part of everyday life.
South Africa is one of the world’s leading countries when it comes to the number of absent fathers. Two out of every three children grow up without their support. There are many reasons for this, such as labour migration and poverty. Also, it is a common understanding in South Africa that men should only be with their children if they can provide for them – otherwise they choose to be absent.
According to a couple who has recently graduated from a fatherhood group, the activity helped them to change their family dynamic for the better:
“We started to treat our sons and daughters more equally and we renewed our appreciation for each other.”
Another couple confirmed that the program is reaching out to South Africans: “We moved from an abusive relationship to one that is free from violence and where we really respect and communicate with each other.”
MenCare+ initiatives in the country also include an advertisement campaign in the Western Cape Province that encourages men to become responsible fathers. Billboards have been installed around train stations, bus stations and shopping malls with the message that being with your child can give both child and father a rewarding and positive energy.
MenCare+ South Africa has been implemented in partnership with Sonke Gender Justice Network and Mosaic and with the support of the City of Cape Town and the Department of Health. The city’s police services are too often confronted with gender based violence and are thankful for initiatives that help to reduce the problem. Meanwhile, the Department of Health has seen how involvement of young fathers during pregnancy and delivery makes for stronger and more equitable relationships, as well as a better approach to prevent vertical transmission of HIV.
Thursday, 21 November 2013 marked an exciting day for MenCare+, with its official South African launch taking place in Khayelitsha’s Desmond Tutu Hall. People poured into the crowded hall for registration; after which fathers, young people, mothers, children, government personnel as well as partner organisations were seated in anticipation for the day’s proceedings. The event’s programme director Patrick Godana – the MenCare media and government relations manager – asked everyone to stand and observe a minute of silence in memory of the women and children who have died at the hands of men, and to reflect on our role in the upcoming 16 days of activism of no violence toward women and children. Then, mixing humour, grace, light- heartedness and immense warmth as he proceeded to do throughout the day, Patrick welcomed the audience and contextualised the MenCare+ campaign.
Next to speak was Wessel van den Berg, MenCare’s programme manager, who explained the role of the MenCare+ campaign as a response to South Africa’s high number of absent fathers; where two out of every three children do not have the support – financial or emotional – of their father. He emphasises that the general understandings and norms of childcare exclude the role of the father. Gender equality and bringing the father into the realm of childcare is therefore central to the MenCare+ campaign. Finally, Wessel explained the different levels of Mencare+; namely:
Patrick then took the stand again, explaining that after each speaker, he would be asking questions concerning what had just been discussed. Correctly answering these questions would earn a person a MenCare+ t-shirt. This was received very well, and established an air of excitement and dynamism throughout the day’s proceedings.
Next up was Kerryn Rehse – MOSAIC’s operations manager – who spoke about the organisation’s twenty year involvement in the fight against gender- based violence in South Africa. She also explained that all members of a society have a role to play in ending gender-based violence, and that this includes men. Community members were urged to take on the responsibility of becoming active participants in promoting gender equality; a sentiment reiterated once more by Patrick. Proceeding this, Joseph, a father who had recently graduated from one of the SONKE MenCare+’s father groups, then recited a moving rendition of a poem he had written which colourfully captured the work and significance of the fathers’ group in which he had participated. What followed this were three testimonials which proved to be among the most moving segments of the launch. The first was delivered by a mother and father who had been through one of the MenCare+ fathers’ group programmes in Mfuleni. They explained that they had developed an appreciation for one another while in the programme and that their relationship had dramatically strengthened in this way. Following this, a mother and father spoke about how a MenCare+ fathers’ group in Gugulethu allowed them an appreciation of gender equality in rearing their children. Finally, a father from Mitchells Plein, who lives with a disability and uses a wheelchair, delivered a stirring and incredibly personal account of his journey toward becoming an activist and making positive choices in his life.
A representative from the City of Cape Town expressed the City’s support for the MenCare+ campaign and encouragd the event’s participants to make the decision to be actively involved in the campaign. Vidar Vetterfalk – of the Swedish organisation Men for Gender Equality – then spoke about how gender norms in Sweden have changed since the fight for gender equality began in the 1970s and that the goals of MenCare+ are both realistic and achievable. The day closed with MenCare trainer Thulani Velebayi thanking Mosaic, Sonke and everyone in attendance for making the launch such a success. A few more t-shirts were then given out with Patrick’s reiteration that each individual has the responsibility of educating others in the fight for gender equality.
After the speakers had finished, everyone in attendance was treated to a nutritious lunch, over which people were able to discuss what had taken place and how individuals are able to situate themselves within the broader aims of the MenCare+ campaign, which seems destined to be a crucial component in the fight for gender equality in South Africa.
Launch of MenCare+ – Laki-Laki Peduli – Jakarta 27 November 2013
Jakarta, November 27th, 2013 – This Wednesday, Rutgers WPF Indonesia, launched Laki-Laki Peduli, the Indonesian adaptation of MenCare+, a four-country initiative to promote gender equality and involved fatherhood and to prevent gender-based violence.
During the launch a remarkable short documentary directed by Indonesian filmmaker Nia Dinata was shown. A broad audience of representatives from the government, NGOs, UN Agencies and the donor community watched ‘A Little Piece of Heaven in Bondowoso.’
The documentary is the moving story of Ustadz Muhammad Nur Salim and his wife Ustadzah Nur Fadillah. Muhammad Nur Salim is an Ustadz, an Islamic teacher, who leads a life in high respect to gender equality in Bondowoso, an area in East Java.
The film shows how Ustadz Muhammad practices what he preaches, respecting and supporting his wife’s leading role in society and setting an example for the broader religious community. Ustadz Muhammad and his wife were present at the launch. Humble but firm and peaceful.
“When I started the documentary I was not sure I would find these enlightening stories in my own country,” says Nia Dinata, the filmmaker. “I was so proud to meet Ustadz Muhammad and tell his story.”
Also two clips were shown of the MenCare+ ambassadors, the famous actor Lukman Sardi and Ersa Mayori, a well-known TV presenter and MC. In Public Service Announcements they lead by example, showing how they and their partners take on the division of care for their children.
Representatives from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment have expressed their full support to Laki-Laki Peduli, and regard it as key to reduce violence against women and maternal mortality. During the launch different voices from Indonesian society agreed that time is ready to move towards a new set of values based on mutual respect, caregiving and non-violence, as part of new forms of masculinities.
At lakilakipeduli.org the films with Lukman Sardi and Ersa Mayori are available, together with the documentary and different posters. Please find pictures from the launch event of MenCare+ Indonesia here.
Laki-Laki Peduli is implemented by Rutgers WPF Indonesia, together with Rifka Annisa, Pulih, PKBI Lampung, PKBI East Java, and Aliansi Laki-Laki Baru. MenCare+ is part of the global MenCare campaign and runs in Brazil, Indonesia, Rwanda and South Africa. MenCare+ is supported by Rutgers WPF and Promundo.
During the 16 days of Activism Against Gender Violence, organizations around the world are called to engage in dialogue and come together to prevent gender-based violence.
At MenCare, we’re working year round with fathers and couples in 25 countries to promote active parenting, and to prevent violence. On Facebook and Twitter during these 16 Days, which begin on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (November 25) and conclude on International Human Rights Day (December 10), we will be highlighting 16 MenCare countries where our partners are working with men to promote caring fatherhood and to prevent violence.
We’re reaching men through initiatives like Program P, which engages men globally in active, non-violent fatherhood from their partners’ pregnancies through their children’s early years, and MenCare+, a four-country, targeted initiative that includes group education with fathers and their partners on gender equality and caregiving, as well as group therapy with men who have used violence.
We believe that through group education and counseling, young men and young fathers have a chance to discuss and challenge what it means to be a man, and to adopt skills that prepare them to have non-violent, respectful relationships with their partners and to raise their children without using violence.
“Based on long standing experience of Promundo in Brazil, as well as extensive surveys and research, it is known that children will copy the behavior of their parents,” says Gary Barker, Director of Promundo-US, Co-Coordinator of MenCare. “Men who have witnessed their fathers using violence are twice as likely to also use violence. In contrast, men whose fathers treated their mothers with respect, whose fathers participated in care when they grew up, and whose fathers did not use violence are likely to do the same. What men do as fathers every day can either create cycles of violence or interrupt cycles of violence, “ said Gary Barker.