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Fifty-ninth Session,
11th & 12th Meetings (AM & PM)

Men, Boys Essential Partners in Challenging Gender Roles, Promoting Equality, Women’s Commission Hears as Experts Share Innovative Strategies

While some advances had been made for women, true change would require the participation of men and boys to challenge dynamics at the personal and professional levels, the Commission on the Status of Women heard today.

During an interactive conversation on the responsibility of men and boys in achieving gender equality, delegates and representatives from civil society and non-governmental organizations examined the role they could play in the empowerment of women and girls.

In moving forward on the post-2015 goals, advancing gender equality was as much a political as a personal agenda, said the conversation’s moderator, Noelene Nabulivou, speaking on behalf of Diverse Voices and Action for Equality (DIVA), the Executive Committee of Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) Asia Pacific Regional Civil Society Advisory Group.  Achieving gender equality and empowerment required stretching and breaking gender stereotypes, including for women, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, she said.

Panellists elaborated on their work in the field of engaging men to bolster gender equality efforts and engaged in discussion with delegates, who raised issues and concerns, from harmful practices to domestic violence.

“Men of quality are not afraid of equality,” said Gary Barker of ProMundo and Men Engage of the United States, which represented a global network of more than 600 non-governmental organizations.  However, he stressed that it was necessary to make sure that the focus remained on women’s empowerment with female partners and that men did not “take over the stage”.  The goal, he emphasized, was to promote the idea that men’s lives and countries as a whole got better when women’s lives were improved.

Other panellists sharing their experiences were:  Bafana Khumalo, Sonke Gender Justice, South Africa; Søren Feldbæk Winther, Special Advisor to the Ministry of Gender Equality in Denmark; Natko Gereš, Director of Status M of Croatia; and Henry Mac-Donald, Permanent Representative of Suriname.  Respondents were:  António Gumende, Permanent Representative of Mozambique; Hiroshi Minami, Deputy Permanent Representative of Japan; Kate Gilmore, Deputy Executive Director (Programme) for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); Ayla Goksel, CEO for Mother Child Education Foundation (AÇEV), Turkey; and Gary Cohen, Founder, Together for Girls Partnership of the United States.

Throughout the dialogue, panellists and respondents alike spoke to the varied and innovative ways that Governments and civil society organizations were working to promote gender equality and reduce violence against women.  Mr. Khumalo said his organization worked through partnerships in nearly 20 countries.  Involving men and boys as agents of change and equal partners had produced results, including facilitating women’s and girls’ access to reproductive health-care services.  It had also engaged men and boys as clients, promoting HIV/AIDS testing to them, benefitting their partners and families.  Among its ongoing projects, its “One Man Can” programme aimed at transforming norms that were currently defining what it meant to be a man, finding ways in which men could make positive contributions in private and in public.

Elaborating on the importance of changing perceptions about men’s roles, Mr. Gereš said having men in caregiver roles, for example, in the day-care sector, both expanded job opportunities for them and could affect how gender roles were perceived.  His organization focused on promoting positive masculinity that was led by tolerant, non-violent and equitable adult men.  Research conducted among young men found that they perceived two ways of being a man.  One way was to be a macho man — the traditional stereotype who dominated women and did not show emotions.  The other way was to be “a man they hoped to be”:  tolerant, positive, non-violent, showed emotions, were respectful to women and able to seek help.

Men’s involvement in efforts were indeed crucial, but progress achieved by women should not be overlooked, said Mr. Mac-Donald, pointing out that in 1975 in Iceland, 90 per cent of women went on strike for equal rights, walking out of their jobs and houses.  It was the largest demonstration in the country’s history and had shut down the entire economy.  Schools were closed and hospitals and airports could not function.  The following year, women made up half of Iceland’s Parliament, the law guaranteed equal pay and paid maternity leave was ensured.  Later, Iceland had the first democratically elected female president in the world and remained among the leading countries of Europe economically.

Turning to football and feminism, Mr. Winther said in Denmark, a campaign called “give violence against women the red card” partnered with the Danish Soccer Association and several young soccer players to act as role models and spokespersons.  The message, he said, was “Don’t hit! We demand fair play on the football ground — and in the families”.

When the floor opened for dialogue, Nepal’s representative described similar initiatives in his country.  Partnerships between footballers and women’s rights activities brought maximum mileage from minimum investment, he said, noting ongoing projects such as awareness-raising activities addressing domestic and gender-based violence, including the trafficking of young girls.

In response to a query on gender equality, Mr. Minami stressed that it was not a “women’s issue”.  Continuing, he said it was important to break gender stereotypes, particularly with regard to work in the home.  Increasingly, women were expected to work both outside and inside the home, shouldering a workload that was disproportionate and unfair.  To remedy that, he said the mindset of men needed to change.  Indeed, Cuba’s speaker said the job of changing mindsets was for everyone, not just men or women separately.

Answering questions raised by delegates, Ms. Gilmore said that it was unusual that there was an opportunity for optimism, but nevertheless today’s topic was infused throughout with hope, promise and solutions.  The work to engage men was a qualitative shift in the understanding of the great human resource that the world needed to invest in if equality was to be given its next leap forward.  Bigotry and prejudice, she said, should not be allowed to deprive the world of the best resources at its disposal to ensure that development could genuinely become more inclusive and sustainable.

Also participating in the conversation were representatives of Switzerland, Germany, Gabon, European Union, Italy, Iran, Mexico, Iraq, Finland, Uganda, Guyana, Sweden, Sudan, Mauritius, Equatorial Guinea, Jordan, Paraguay, Mali, Philippines and Kenya.  A representative of the non-governmental organization New Future Foundation also spoke.

In the afternoon, the Commission held a panel discussion on the related theme of changing social norms to achieve gender equality.  Participating in the discussion were ministers or other high-level representatives of Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Mexico, United Arab Emirates, Finland, Nepal, Indonesia, Niger, Gabon, United Republic of Tanzania, France, Sudan, Guyana, United States, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Japan, Equatorial Guinea, Malawi, Thailand and Jamaica.  Representatives of the civil society organizations Association for Progressive Communications and Men Engaged also participated.

The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 17 March.


This afternoon, the Commission held a panel discussion on the theme, “Changing social norms to achieve gender equality:  expectations and opportunities”, which was moderated by Anita Nayar, Director, Regions ReFocus 2015, Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation.  It featured presentations by:  Stephanie Seguino, Professor of Economics, University of Vermont; Nafissatou Diop, Senior Adviser, Coordinator United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)-United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting:  Accelerating Change ; Olena Suslova, Founding Director and Board Chair of the Women’s Information Consultative Center, and Gender Mainstreaming of the Ukrainian Parliamentary Development Project; Elisa Salinas, CEO, The Women’s Project, Mexico; and Chi Yvonne Leina, World Pulse, Cameroon.

Opening the discussion, Ms. NAYAR said that reassertions of masculinity, “casualization” of women’s labour and other forms of gender discrimination continued to exist in today’s world.  “In thinking about norms and stereotypes, we are dealing with a very complex terrain,” she said.  Therefore, specific evidence was needed on how those stereotypes were being reproduced and sustained in everyday life, as were recommendations on how to move beyond them.

Ms. SEGUINO said much progress had been made in closing educational gaps between men and women, but women still had less in material terms.  Increasingly, economists had begun to focus on the role of gender-unequal norms and stereotypes.  Those concepts were socially constructed, and differed over time and across societies.  “We end up policing ourselves,” she said, adding that “internalized” norms and stereotypes — unconscious biases — often affected children most.  At work, norms and stereotypes influenced the gender division of labour and pay.  They resulted in banks’ lending less to women than to men.  At the macro level, they also affected religious and cultural institutions, labour markets and national economic policymaking.  By women performing certain roles, gender norms and stereotypes would begin to change.  Political quotas often led to a greater acceptance of women as leaders.  Governments had an important role in that regard by advancing policies that supported women.  Labour and social policies could help women engage more in paid work.  Governments could promote work-family balance through maternity and paternity leave.  “Norms are not natural, they are socially constructed, and they can change,” she stressed.

Ms. DIOP said the practice of female genital mutilation today was a global issue.  It was an issue, not only in Africa, but also in Asia, Latin America, and due to immigration, in Australia, and in many European and American countries.  Every year, 3 million girls underwent that painful practice, which had devastating consequences on girls’ physical and emotional health.  A solid strategic framework should continue to focus on women and girls, empower them, engage Governments and influence “gatekeepers”.  To eliminate the practice, the concept and tradition must be reframed and the different “entry points” addressed.  To foster local-level commitment, the meaning of the practice must be identified.  For example, if the practice was based on religious reasons, the entry point should be religion.  If it was based on cultural identity, then the entry point should be through culture with a view to proposing a change.  If it affected babies, then pre-natal and post-natal services, including outreach, must be supported.  Valuing the girl, not attacking tradition, was key.

Ms. SUSLOVA said that there were both positive and negative aspects of formal education.  In fact, education was one of the most violent structures of society, often fraught with bullying, sexual harassment and teachers that transferred their own personal stereotypes onto students.  Schools, parents and communities could all bring something to the table to change those norms; however, teachers, parents and community leaders needed consultations and technical support.  “Gender is not something simple,” she said.  It was important to analyse it appropriately.  Curricula were crucial and educational programming should be completely transparent.  It was important to remember that social norms developed over centuries could not be broken in one moment.  “Soft methods” — including the important principle of communication — were needed to help different cultures and religions address norms and stereotypes.  The recent experience of Ukraine showed that school interventions could be successful in helping girl children better understand their worth.

Ms. SALINAS said mass media and communications were the most powerful tools to communicate, educate and bring about social change in deconstructing gender stereotypes.  Media should continue to change the representation of gender and look into deep-rooted causes of gender inequality, instead of continuing to promote violence against women and portray stereotypical gender roles.  In Mexico, a revolution had been taking place.  Traditional gender roles had been challenged in mass media.  Women were increasingly taking control of their lives and were more involved in public life, while men were presented in a softer way capable of relating to their families and children, and not simply depicted as providers.  As part of the “HeForShe” campaign in Mexico, public figures from different fields had been brought together to talk about new forms of masculinity and engage in public discourse.  In partnership with UN-Women, a range of workshops and talks had been organized to bring people together to change gender stereotypes.

On technological innovation, Ms. LEINA recalled harmful practices that girls and women had to accept in her native Cameroon.  But, she had also witnessed first-hand how information and communications technology could help change those norms and stereotypes, by exposing “well-guarded harmful secrets”, including myths and lies about what would happen to girls if they did not succumb to harmful practices.  She described the case of a woman in Nigeria who was able, for the first time, to express herself via Facebook.  World Pulse empowered women on the ground by advancing their digital skills and leadership, and by amplifying their voices.  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one woman had galvanized tens of thousands of women to pressure the United States to send an envoy to her country.  In India, an online journalist had used the platform to help women learn to use mobile phones if they were in danger.  Through World Pulse, Ms. Leina had been able to gather information on breast ironing in Cameroon, and started a grass-roots campaign against the practice.  In the developing world, more than 200 million fewer women than men had access to the Internet.  Many organizations were now active in this arena, starting women-only cyber cafes where women were safe, or providing women with smart phones, for example.

In the ensuing dialogue, a number of representatives described national legislation, mechanisms and other measures they had taken in order to change negative stereotypes and social norms, as well as their manifestation in daily life.

In that regard, the representative of the European Union said that, in the Union, social patterns were changing from male bread-winner to double-income households.  Such positive changes had not come about by themselves, but through education, legislation and funding.

A number of speakers, including the representative of South Sudan, described specific negative stereotypes and “deeply embedded” patriarchal systems in their own countries.  Changing the mind sets of people across society was critical to combating harmful social norms, they said.

However, other delegates said that not all existing social norms were harmful.  “What works for one country may not work for another one,” said the representative of Iran in that regard.  The representative of China stressed the importance of tradition, and while acknowledging the need for change, warned against “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”.

Consensus emerged around the importance of working with religious and community leaders to change deeply rooted mind sets and stereotypes about men and women.  Several speakers stressed that religious leaders who stood up against gender inequality should be supported and made more visible.  In that vein, the representative of Switzerland asked the panellists about good practices for working with religious leaders to change harmful social norms.

On information and communications technology, the representative of Pakistan said there were growing risks and challenges faced by women online, including bullying and sexual harassment.

Responding to such comments and questions, panelists described further how civil society, Governments and the media could advance gender equality in the midst of challenges posed by the Internet, television and current economic insecurities.  Ms. LEINA said that, for many young girls to “go online” meant to look for a relationship.  They should be encouraged to go online for the “right reasons”, to look at educational or business opportunities, to network, and to share experiences and solutions to gender-based violence.  The Internet should be a space for empowerment and not the further endangerment of women.

Ms. SALINAS said Latin American stereotypes had perpetuated virginity as the highest state of being a woman one could have, tying women to their sexuality.  A Mexican television soap opera, which she had helped write, instead worked to combat the objectification of women by portraying women as they were, able to exercise control over themselves, without guilt or shame.

Noting that progress in gender equality to the extent needed was not possible due to current economic insecurities, Ms. SEGUINO said women were needed “at the table” to make macroeconomic policy.  Organizations that were more diverse, whether in gender, race, ethnicity or others, performed better than homogenous organizations.

For information media. Not an official record.