Allies not leaders – How we work with men in support of gender equality

by 05th May 2016
Students at a Youth Vocational Training Centre in Dili, Timor-Leste Students at a Youth Vocational Training Centre in Dili, Timor-Leste

In late April the MenEngage Alliance facilitated an online discussion to surface some of the more challenging issues around accountability when working with men and boys on women’s rights and gender justice. One of the things that I really appreciated from the dialogue was the focus on potentially negative impacts and men potentially accruing more power.

Status can be a problematic motivator for men

As part of CARE’s work with supporting women towards claiming their rights, we also work with men to challenge their view of masculinities and support gender equality. Last year, we wanted to get a better idea of what motivated men to join as well as continue with this gender justice work. To answer this question several CARE offices came together to do some participatory research.

One of the key findings from this research showed that men themselves reported that one important motivation for continuing was the increased status it gave them in the community and that some won local leadership positions because of it. It is worth noting that these men often do promote positive attitude change in their communities but the finding can be problematic on many levels when it comes to accountability, including that this can have negative implications for women’s voice and access to decision making and leadership.

Three ways we offset the risk to women’s leadership

The MenEngage Alliance’s understanding of accountability includes openly acknowledging any harm caused, and developing and implementing solutions to make amends, within the purview of the ‘do no harm’ principle. In line with the MenEngage Alliance’s approach, we are continuously revising and adapting our programme design to avoid any negative impact.

In this case of men’s engagement in gender equality work vs women’s voice, it means trying to find the right balance of awareness-raising work on the personal level, which is believed to increase the internal motivation for change, and more practical work towards changing social norms. Here are three things we do:

1. Recognise it starts with us

Work on the personal level deconstructing masculinities and addressing the issues of power and privilege is central if we aim to grow an internal motivation for change. This includes both CARE and partner staff as well as communities we work with. CARE has developed several training packages for this, including our own staff training manual.

2. Keep the goal focused on women

We continuously try to strengthen our work on women’s rights and our engaging men work is always framed within our wider women’s empowerment framework. One practical example of how we might deal with this comes from a project that works with young men and boys to end GBV. To ensure that we do not compromise on women’s access to decision-making, the project is including groups of girls who have space to increase their leadership skills prior to working alongside boys on activism work. The girls also work with female mentors that share their experience and skills.

3. Working with partners

Finally, accountability is not only important on the individual level but also as an organisation. CARE is always working with civil society partners and it is important that these partnerships are accountable to the women we work with. One aspect of this includes strengthening our work with feminist organisations. A discussion about this took place at the recent CI Gender Conference in Dubai. Here it was highlighted that opening ourselves up more deliberately to partnerships with the women’s rights and gender justice movement is a key step in CARE’s own transformation, enabling them to critically review and challenge our work and push us to do more and better.

Hilde Roren

Hilde Roren is CARE Norway’s engaging men advisor with responsibility for supporting projects in Rwanda, Tanzania, DRC, Burundi and Uganda. Together with John Crownover she coordinates the CARE International Engaging Men network. Prior to joining CARE she worked for the International Labour Organisation in India and Geneva and has also lived in Vietnam and the UK. She holds a Masters in Gender and Development from the London School of Economics.