United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women

Online Discussion

"The role of men and boys in achieving gender equality"

30 June - 25 July 2003

Week Three (14-18 July 2003)
"The value-added of gender equality for men and boys"

Benefits for men and boys

The colleagues who contributed to the "value" discussion identified a number of ways in which gender equality is valuable for men and boys as well as women and girls. They include:

1. Better work/life balance.

2. Accord with concepts of justice, and with religious principles.

3. Personal emancipation.

4. Better human relations, especially with wives and with children.

5. More complete human personhood, broader masculinity.

6. Better mental health, psychological wellbeing.

7. Social inclusion of all groups of men and boys - less marginalization.

8. Better prospects of overcoming poverty.

9. More flexible employment arrangements.

10. Higher levels of education & resources in the local community.

Costs to men and boys

At the same time, contributors were aware of things that men and boys might lose as society moves towards gender equality:

1. Services from women (e.g. domestic service).

2. Power over women - including indirect pressures on women to make themselves desirable to men.

3. Cultural traditions that give priority to men.

Support for gender equality among men and boys.

Contributors mentioned a number of groups of men and boys, and institutions traditionally controlled by men, who might recognize the value of gender equality for men and boys, or might be sources of support for gender reform:

1. Governments

2. NGOs with responsibilities that connect to gender equality.

3. Company managers, as employers.

4. Religious groups with an ethic of equality.

5. Middle-class and well-educated men.

6. Younger generation.

7. Urban men.

8. Men's movements concerned with gender issues.

Resistance to gender equality among men and boys.

Contributors also recognized the reality of resistance to gender equality, and mentioned some specific sources of this:

1. Middle class men (in terms of family practice).

2. Older generation.

3. Men embedded in patriarchal cultures.

4. Backlash movements among men.


To summarize the discussion as I have just done is to put the issues very abstractly, and that can be no more than a first step. To understand gender issues in practice we must look at the specifics of issues and particular situations. Radhika Chopra has given us a very clear example from India, noting the complex changes in gender relations that occur when women get small credits that enable them to run household-based businesses - a local readjustment of gender relations follows, especially involving the younger men. If it is widely true, as Puspa Dhakal suggests, that urban men are more likely to support gender equality, then we need to think very carefully about the specific situation of rural men and the reasons they might find to support change. These include the benefits to village society of higher levels of education and health among women; they may also include concerns about justice in local cultural traditions. Though patriarchal culture is a reality, cultures are rarely monolithic, and strongly egalitarian ideas may co-exist with appallingly sexist stereotypes. I think this is true of my own culture, in Australia.

Sixtus Kennedy's discussion of young men in Kenya identifies an interesting diversity of reasons for supporting gender equality - education, the process of modernization, the decline of traditional ideas, the influence of women, and commitment to a cause. I suspect an equally complex range of reasons operates in other situations where men have changed. I also bear in mind Michael Meuser's warning that egalitarian attitudes do not necessarily mean egalitarian practice (nor does egalitarian practice always mean commitment to gender equality principles). Also Wayne Martino's warning that programs concerned with an issue such as boys' education may be the vehicle of "backlash" ideas that actually operate against gender equality, while purporting to be concerned with fairness.

Nevertheless we must include men and boys in the search for gender equality. I agree wholeheartedly with Michael Kaufman's summary of the reasons why this inclusion must now occur. We cannot turn the clock back. The reasons include the need for social consensus supporting reforms, the resources we need for reforms, the possibilities of partnership, and the need to respond effectively to "backlash" forces. How best to do this, is a subject for our further discussion.


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Division for the Advancement of Women -- DAW

Website: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
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