All over the globe, many people have come to believe that gender equality is a feminist issue, as if to say the fight for equality is a woman’s fight. That’s just not the case.
First of all, most gender initiatives continue to emphasize women and girl empowerment. This is understandable as women and girls continue to be the largest victims of gender inequality through discrimination, gender-based violence, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, teenage pregnancies, child marriages and so on.
Consequently, such disparities put them at a very big disadvantage in a variety of ways: from reducing their power to act independently, to being less educated and poor, to remaining submissive and always being vulnerable in society compared to the rights of men and boys.
Let’s look at the figures of Uganda in East Africa for an example. The 2006 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS) found that six in 10 women (60 percent) have experienced physical violence since the age of 15 and 86 percent of the violence is from at the hands of their current or former intimate partner (Intimate Partner Violence). The numbers haven’t changed much in 2016. In the same East African country, 20 percent of girls aged 15 to 19 are currently married and 49 percent of girls are married before their 18th birthday.
The above makes the fight for equality a justifiably feminist issue, but the questions remains: How long will we continue looking at men as perpetrators, not companions? Have we approached the ones interested in dialogue? How can we best engage them as partners if we make them understand the dangers of gender disparities?
If we want a gender-equitable society, ‘gender equality’ movements only engaging women is not enough. Men and boys must be involved in this process.
Most policies that strive for equality still focus exclusively on empowering women and neglect the role that men can play in the effort. Men and boys are the gatekeepers of the current patriarchy and are potential resistors of change. If we do not effectively reach them, many of our efforts will be either thwarted or simply ignored.
We need interventions that urge men and boys to get involved. They can only help and speed up progress if they are made to believe in it.
This is what we at Reach A Hand, Uganda found out during our International Women’s Day outreach. The campaign named “Boys for Girls and Men for Women”, was meant to emphasize why they should take center stage in the fight to achieve gender equality.
Men should be involved in areas such as reproductive health, gender-based violence via a wide range of approaches, gender transformation programmes, peer education among young men, informal learning methods, workshops, technology and social media tools, leadership models and listening to and rethinking ideas of masculinity.
Therefore with the global debate on gender equality under sustainable development goal (SDG) goal. no.5, there must be a growing emphasis on men and boys not only as holders of privileges or as perpetrators of violence, but also as potential and actual contributors to gender equality.
The SDGs can and should be used to build a world that prioritizes inclusive development; a world where the commitment to ‘leave no one behind’ translates into practical actions to ‘do development’ better.
Gender equality is everyone’s issue. It is our collective fight to give every person the opportunity to live a life free of discrimination, prohibition or abuse based on gender.