So What About the Boys? The Role of Men and Boys in Achieving Gender Equality in Rural Communities

Jenna Lodge

Jenna Lodge

By Jenna L. Lodge, YWCA USA

Sponsored by the Canadian delegation, this session focused on engaging men and boys in gender equality initiatives worldwide.  The majority of discussion was founded on the conclusions of Plan International’s 2011 report.

According to Minister Amboise, “gender equality benefits everyone.  It promotes development and inclusion in providing health and human services.”  Men and boys must be educated about gender equality and sensitized about what it means to their country and community.  Participative, inclusive methodologies must be introduced to men and women, boys and girls to create gender equality.

A prime example of gender inequality and male domination can be found in areas of Pakistan.  To this day, women and girls are still considered secondary to men and boys.  Girls cannot go out of the home unaccompanied by a male.  One in seven girls under 18 is forced into child marriage.  In Cambodia, only one in thirteen girls reach high school level due to male dominated suppression.

Best practices of inclusive gender equality initiatives include creating a place to talk about gender equality, child marriages, and the unacceptable use of dowries (that suppress women’s rights) outside mosques.  This initiative directly engages men and boys where they socialize on a daily basis.  It creates a dialogue around these topics and enables men and boys to participate in finding solutions.  In rural India, designated violence-free zones create an environment for the reversal of gender-based violence and increase gender equality among villagers.  The “Bell Bajao!” (Ring the Bell in Hindi) campaign serves as a leading example for intervention in cases of violence against women in the home.  Bell Bajao has reached over 124 million people around the world.

We must engage men and boys in the gender equality discussion because they serve in most decision-making positions in government, community leadership, and in homes around the world.  In fact, women only account for 8% of decision-making positions in governments worldwide.  Men and boys must have a role to play in equality, accountability, and gender equality implementation.

We must change typical gender-based stereotypes.  Enable boys to play a key role in their own development instead of leaning on traditional gender roles.  Enable girls to participate in gender specific sex education curriculum in schools.  We must focus on a life cycle approach to gender equality instead of reinforcing traditional practices as related to gender roles.  Financing equality – by working with UN Women, empowering women politically, identifying rural women and providing them with adequate support and resources – are integral components of gender equality.

In conclusion, to be effective, gender equality must be founded on prevention, protection, and provision of legislation. Gender equality and violence against women is a social issue that calls for everyone to be an active participant in the solution.