What’s The Role Of Men And Boys In The Gender Equality Movement?

Gender Equality Panel

Each year the Skoll Centre invites a small number of Oxford students to the annual Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. Each year they share their unique perspectives of the sessions and events that unfold during this magical time in Oxford.

As a global health nurse with over a decade of experience in gender based violence I will admit a healthy bit of skepticism when I was invited to document a session at the Skoll World Forum on the role of men and boys in gender equality.  Why would we waste precious resources and energy on men that could be spent on marginalized women and girls? What is the role of men and boys in preventing the violence they themselves have created?

My skepticism was greeted in an open and frank dialogue at the Skoll World Forum, a global community of social entrepreneurs and changemakers from over 65 countries, gathered in Oxford for four days to accelerate a future that is fair, inclusive, and sustainable.

Katya Iverson, a personal ‘shero’ of mine, and the CEO of Women Deliver opened the dialogue tackling this tension head-on and provocatively asking the panel to share their personal motivations for involving men in gender equity.  The panel was a powerhouse of gender advocates from Sri Lanka, the USA, Denmark, and Zimbabwe who shared their innovative solutions for tackling gender inequality.  The following key take-aways really resonated with me and I hope they might be useful in your own work:

  1. Elizabeth Nyamayaro, UN Special Advisor, reminds us that revolutions are never built on consensus. To achieve gender equality we need measurable commitments from male leaders like the IMPACT 10x10x10 campaign, comprised of 10 Heads of State, 10 global CEOs and 10 University Presidents.
  2. When you invest in gender equality everyone wins.  Challenging existing gender norms and inequalities means confronting the attitudes, behaviors, and power structures that uphold them and improving the sexual health and reproductive rights of women AND men.
  3. Globally we hide behind the phrase “violence against women” but Gary Barker of Promundo reminded us it is actually “male violence against women.”  Men need to confront their power and privilege and the root causes of toxic masculinity in order for us to make meaningful societal change.
  4.  Dakshitha Wickremarathne, founder of the Youth Advocacy Network Sri Lanka, encouraged men to come forward as feminists and take personal action. Elizabeth further echoed “Don’t underestimate the power of one. If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try spending the night with a mosquito.”
  5. Judith Bruce from the Population Council reminded us that investments in women and girls go further in communities, arguing that not to invest in them is “planned poverty”. She implored the audience to “disrupt planned poverty and replace it with planned parenthood.” and offered tools and a community of practice for our work.
Elizabeth Nyamayaro speaking to a delegate

Ultimately, I left the panel inspired as a mother of two young boys that there is a role for them in this movement and challenged to broaden my own advocacy efforts to better involve everyone in preventing gender-based violence.

About the Author

Meaghan Thumath

Meaghan Thumath is a global health nurse and policy maker. She is a Trudeau Scholar at the University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence Based Intervention (CEBI) researching the impact of drug policy and child welfare systems on maternal mortality. For over a decade Meaghan has provided technical assistance to international organisations such as UNDP, UNAIDS and the Global Fund to End AIDS, TB and Malaria supporting improved access to healthcare for marginalised populations in Central Asia, Eastern Europe and West and Central Africa.

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