- Partnership rests on listening and engaging from a position of equality and respect. For men engaging in the struggle for gender equality, this means not just listening to the perspectives and demands of oppressed groups in order to become authentic allies. It should not be utilitarian, or transactional. Women have the intrinsic right to be at any table as equals, and to create the table and define the conversation, not just to be heard. As a woman, a feminist and an activist I expect to be heard because I have knowledge, experience and expectations that are legitimate and have value. My being heard should not rest on my having been ‘oppressed’ nor should it be for the benefit of self-defined ‘allies’. Let everyone have an equal seat at the table. This includes engaging purposively in ensuring the right people are part of the conversation – through seeking diverse partners in gender identity, race, age, community and geographic location, and investing in promoting and widening participation.
- We believe MenEngage are right to include “being critically aware of one’s own power and privilege” in their definition of accountable practice. It is important to recognise that privilege does not have to be exercised in order to function. We have all been socialised into gender roles, and it is an ongoing, conscious process to overcome them, including through choosing and accepting a loss of power where the status quo confers this. For men in the gender justice movement, this means consistently being conscious of the power and privilege their gender has conferred. It means thinking about who is speaking and whether this is easier for men than women (through social norms, education, or confidence). Who speaks first? Who speaks longest? Who interrupts? Who is doing the meeting ‘housework’ – getting coffee, handing out papers? We all carry ‘gender baggage’, and being mindful of fulfilling or enacting – or subverting – socialised gender roles is critical.
- In addition to gender privilege, intersecting factors including race, ethnicity and North/South hierarchies influence who is heard. As activists, we all must be committed to opening up spaces and access to resources and platforms, to ensure that diverse voices are heard. Accountable practice is intersectional practice – recognising multiple layers of exclusion and marginalisation and how this intersects with gender to prevent or enable a voice being heard.
- Accountability for all gender justice advocates also includes overcoming or opposing heteronormavity and a rigid gender binary. One danger of the ‘engaging men and boys’ approach is reinforcing an understanding of gender equality as being about men and women, constructed in a heterosexual dynamic with men as victors and women as victims. As feminists, we recognise that gender identity and sexual orientation are not binary, and that we need to recognise and respect diversity across the spectrums of gender and sexuality, and that there is no ‘them and us’ approach that will lead to transformation – gender justice isn’t about men vs women but people of all genders achieving equality.
- Creating safe parallel spaces can be an effective means to engage everyone in gender dialogue, including different age groups, gender identities and other diversities. Certain spaces and discussions are legitimately limited to a particular group: there are settings where male involvement is not appropriate or welcome, and being an ally means recognising this. Of course, this applies for men too – there are discussions and spaces on masculinity and the impact on men of gender norms that women shouldn’t join. It’s vital that opportunities and resources are channelled towards creating spaces for everyone to engage.
- Within this need for diverse safe spaces, women-only or women-led spaces are critically valuable and important. It is hard to overstate the power and potential of these spaces. In some cases men can be very welcome in them, such as in the Women’s Networking Zone at International AIDS Conferences, but it’s vital that men come into these spaces as allies, listening not leading. There is a valid role for allies in any social justice movement, but this does not extend to leadership, parallel organising and in separate, exclusive movements and organisations.
- Engaging men as partners cannot negate the space and ability to name men as perpetrators. When we discuss, for example, gender-based violence, there are roles for men as partners to address and re-define gender norms, to take action to achieve social change and to foster transformation. And we also need to recognise and articulate that violence against women is overwhelmingly – though by no means exclusively -- committed by men.
- We also need to acknowledge that feminist and women’s organisations are not only working with women – we have been engaging with men and boys, and challenging the gender binary, since the beginning. Work to achieve transformational gender change has always recognised that shifting gender norms means, in part, changing gendered ideas and practices and subverting and changing social constructs around gender. Achieving gender justice means everyone changing their gender norms and behaviour, and everyone has to be engaged in that process. Change requires everyone.
- Leadership is vital. Commitment to gender equality is key, but so too is knowledge and experience. Women have defined, shaped, and led the movement for gender justice for generations; defined the intellectual and conceptual frameworks and done the leg work for centuries. This leadership and deep knowledge is a vital asset for the movement, and accountable practice respects this and ensures that this legacy continues to be supported and begins to be properly financed.