Held in Brazil—a country undergoing tremendous turmoil, and facing the resurgence of a conservative wave—the AWID Forum was a space of empowerment, and one that amplified the need to carry on the struggle for women’s rights and gender justice. From creative ideas, strong articulation of women in (in)formal spaces, and the activism and innovation of particularly young feminists, overall, the Forum was a hit. At the same time however, a critical voice in me kept on questioning where were the spaces for strategising at the Forum; what were their key outcomes; and how, as a collective, can we take the political agenda a step further? Or, was it simply a safe space for women to share their (harsh) realities, for awareness raising and networking? And, within this consolidation of creative power, where were the men?
Different takes on engaging men
While talking to various participants, I realised that there were divergent views on the place of men and boys in feminist futures. There were women who opted for AWID to exclusively be a woman’s space. There were those who considered collaboration with boys and men a logical step forward, and were expecting for this to be reflected in the programme. Others realised that they should involve more men in their gender work, and were in (desperate) search for tools and methodologies. I personally had hoped for more spaces to discuss men’s engagement, and partner with them for gender justice and change. Questioning patriarchy without engaging the other half of gender, in my view, runs the risk of being caught in the rhetoric, rather than turning this into a reality.
Engaging men in feminist futures not a one-off slogan
There is no way to separate movement building, it is a matter of men as activists within the feminist movement.Lopa BanerjeeChief, Civil Society at UN Women
One of the few sessions on engaging men in ending violence against women was organised by Promundo and Breakthrough, facilitated by the MenEngage Alliance. Although male engagement in reshaping power relations was acknowledged as one viable strategy, several fears were shared by the audience. These included the fear of losing much-needed funding for women to men; and the risk of men ‘re-claiming’ hard-won women’s spaces. Stressing that men must and will remain accountable for their (violent) behaviour, and engaging men must not be viewed as an ‘end’, but a ‘mean’ towards gender equality—Gary Barker, Director of Promundo, mentioned the dangers of engaging men as just another ‘flavour of the month’, a trend among donors, or one-off slogans expressed in workshops and film clips.
The biggest challenge and risk to the engaging men field is to make sure the work is deep enough, thoughtful enough, connected enough, and long-standing enough to actually achieve change.Gary BarkerDirector, Promundo
Bright horizons for feminist futures
The women’s movement has a long history of pushing the boundaries, and AWID has been successful in translating this in the Forum. My take away from the Forum is to continue celebrating ‘diversity’, while aiming for deeper analyses and strategies that connect diverse and more inclusive perspectives for change. In our dialoguing spaces, we will continue with building synergies.
One step at a time, let’s expand our creative imaginations, and let more people (such as men and boys) be part of achieving sustained systems change!
* At Rutgers, we are taking this challenge forward through our co-implementation of Prevention+: Partnering with Men to End GBV, with Promundo, Sonke, the MenEngage Alliance, and partners in respective countries. *
Advisor, Women's Health & Gender