By Sinéad Nolan and Jenny Rodriguez Bruno
Shortly after the movement began, the global secretariat of the MenEngage Alliance, a network (including Voice Male) of more than 700 NGOs in 70 countries working with men and boys to transform masculinities and achieve gender equality, released a statement, “expressing solidarity with the survivors of abuse and highlighting men’s critical roles and responsibilities in putting an end to the persistent culture of violence,” according to Sinéad Nolan, MenEngage programs assistant. It provoked a lively debate among MenEngage Alliance members. (menengage.org/news/hear-believe-and-act/).
“We realized that to appropriately address such a complex issue we would need to engage the membership in further debate, essentially crowdsourcing ideas and solutions,” MenEngage global advocacy coordinator Jennifer Rodriguez Bruno said.
At the end of last year, the Alliance held a virtual roundtable, “Roles and Responsibilities of Men and Boys in Response to #MeToo.” With more than 30 MenEngage Alliance activists from around the world participating—a lively “chat box” for comments was peppered throughout with questions and observations— MenEngage created “a safe-space for both critical reflection and collective exploration of men and boys responding to #MeToo.
Panelists for the roundtable included: Srilatha Batliwala, director of knowledge building at CREA, a nearly two decadesold feminist human rights organization based in New Delhi; Urvashi Gandhi, deputy director of community mobilization for Breakthrough, also based in New Delhi, an NGO addressing women’s empowerment, domestic violence, harassment, and gender discrimination; Humberto Carolo, executive director of the men’s antiviolence organization White Ribbon Canada; and Luis Lineo, president of the Swedish-based MÄN—Men for Gender Equality. The panel was moderated by MenEngage global director Joni van de Sand. What follows is a summary of the vitual roundtable.
#MeToo has had a remarkable impact in almost every corner of the globe, albeit in different ways. Panelists in the MenEngage virutal roundtable shared their experiences during a dialogue that took place across time zones from India to Sweden, and Sweden to Canada and the U.S. In India, for example, #MeToo has created the second major shift in recent times in terms of public awareness of sexual harassment and violence, the first being the reaction to the brutal gang rape of a young female medical student in Delhi in 2012. “The difference this time is the attention drawn to the whole spectrum of sexual violence that women face,” remarked Batliwala, the educator from CREA. “While women in India have been speaking out against this violence for a long time, it seems that they are now finally being heard, and men are realizing the scale of the problem,” added Urvashi Gandhi at Breakthrough. While this increased awareness is encouraging, it is happening at a political moment in the country in which a right-wing fundamentalist regime is reinforcing traditional gender roles in society. These contrasting worldviews are coming up against each other, and in many cases those who have spoken out using #MeToo have faced further violence.
In Canada White Ribbon’s Carolo observed that #MeToo has caused a huge surge in interest among men and boys wanting to get involved in White Ribbon, and a groundswell in media interest in these topics. The momentum has opened doors for White Ribbon to have important conversations with men in positions of power. The organization has been contacted by a range of men in business, tech and politics.
#MeToo also has had a dramatic impact in Sweden, according to Lineo of MÄN—Men for Gender Equality, resulting in the resignation of men in power at all levels of society. It’s been described as a “second revolution” for women where their voices are finally being heard and taken seriously. MÄN has also experienced an enormous increase in interest by men, resulting in the organization’s membership doubling in just three weeks.
Reaching and mobilizing “good men”
#MeToo is about more than individual cases of violence by men against women, but rather ending the widespread culture of (primarily men’s) violence that pervades society, Panelist expressed widespread frustration at the complacency of “good” men who don’t use violence. While #MeToo shocked—and helped to awaken—many men, many others distanced themselves, the panelists agreed, failing to acknowledge their responsibility to intervene. As South African activist Desmond Tutu famously said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Added Srilatha Batliwala, “Reaching “good” men around the world, helping them see that inaction is complicity, and mobilizing them to act is the key challenge—and [the key] opportunity— stemming from the #MeToo movement.”
#MeToo is not an attack on men; it is an invitation for men to be part of the solution to a worldwide problem. For men to accept the invitation, we must provide men with concrete examples of actions they can take, as well as appealing alternatives to traditional masculinity. One way to do it, panelists agreed, is through contextualized toolkits, providing men with steps they can take to bring an end to violence and harassment in their various spheres of influence—the family, the workplace, and the community.
“Our biggest challenge is how we connect with and mobilize the many well-intentioned men out there, to be part of a critical mass to tip the system,” observed Joni van de Sand, global director of the MenEngage Alliance. “We need to identify male changemakers who aren’t using violence and are willing to speak up and inspire others in their communities and beyond. It is the responsibility of these “converted” men to use the opportunities they have to elevate women’s voices and advance the goals of feminist movements.”
The importance of creating opportunities for men to take collective action was stressed. “It is critical that men create spaces to have these difficult—but essential conversations,” said Lineo of MÄN, acknowledging the need “to build support networks and alliances from which to act.” Breakthrough’s Gandhi added, “If men want to take a stand they want to see who’s behind them, who’s supporting them. Everyone can’t go against the tide, that’s also what we’ve told women,” she said.
Being mindful of language was also addressed, including terms such as “action heroes” and “good men.” “We must not reinforce men’s protector role in our appeals to men and boys,” said Carolo of White Ribbon, “or put men who engage in efforts to end gender-based violence on a pedestal simply for doing the right thing—what women’s rights activists have been doing for decades.” Participants agreed that different terminology may be needed to appeal to specific groups of men.
Accountability to women’s rights organizations and women activists was seen as central in any efforts around #MeToo, as well as the need to keep the focus on survivors of sexual harassment and abuse. There was some debate as to the importance of menonly spaces versus mixed-gender spaces. A balance needs to be found between not burdening women with the responsibility for men’s personal transformation, and ensuring women’s voices are heard. It was also recognized that, while engaging men and boys is an important strategy in ending sexual harassment and abuse, it is only one of many strategies needed, including work to empower women and girls.
A key takeaway from the event was the need for multilevel approaches to tackle cultures of violence. “Becoming a male ally is a process,” observed Carolo. “Engaging men 1.0 starts with men’s individual behavior. Stage 2.0 is acting in solidarity with others, and 3.0 is starting to act within institutions to change policies and cultures. It’s important to help men go beyond 1.0—that’s how we create accountability.”
Participants in the dialogue offered examples of concrete initiatives at each level, from individual to institutional, that they have been involved in since #MeToo, as well as ongoing initiatives to engage men and boys in transforming violent masculinities.
The Personal is political—for men too
Personal transformation is often the first step for men and boys, and can spur engagement at other levels. Participants shared examples of how they have been working with men and boys to create change at the individual and relationship level:
- White Ribbon Canada has updated its founding pledge—to “never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls.” The modified pledge asks men to model equitable behavior and calls on men in positions of leadership to look at the systems around them to make sure gender equality is advanced at those levels.
- White Ribbon Canada is also implementing the campaign 20 minutes 4 Change, a platform for action encouraging fathers to pledge at least 20 minutes to talk to their sons about sexual consent.
- MÄN—Men for Gender Equality responded to #MeToo by holding a meeting for men who want to be part of the change and creating men’s discussion groups, to provide men with the opportunity to talk about these issues. The organization trains men to facilitate these groups; more than 40 have been created.
- MÄN has also promoted five actions for men to respond to #MeToo, from listening, to selfreflection, to taking action. (See story, page 22.)
- #Guytalk is a method for starting conversations about what it’s like to be a man—and what gender equality means—started by the Swedish organization Make Equal. The initiative provides men with the tools to hold “guy talks” in their homes, clubs or workplaces.
Active bystanders and action heroes
Participants emphasized the need for men to be “active bystanders” and highlighted initiatives that support men to actively support gender equality in their communities:
- Breakthrough’s Bell Bajao (Ring the Bell) campaign urges local residents to ring the doorbell when they notice domestic violence occurring in their neighborhood in order to interrupt the violence. Through effective video communication, the campaign has reached millions of people in India and around the world.
- A Bangladeshi organization, Blank Noise, mobilizes men and women to become Action Heroes, engaging with men on the streets of their own communities to have challenging conversations about their roles and responsibilities in sexual harassment and gender-based violence.
- HARASSmap is an Egyptian initiative where anyone who experiences or witnesses sexual harassment can report the incident, including identifying the site on a map. HARASSmap volunteers visit the areas where incidents have occurred to raise awareness about what constitutes sexual harassment and to work toward ending it.
- Next Gen Men has developed 10 Tips for Engaging Boys and Young Men in Gender Equity and Transformative Masculinities. It’s based on their experience running school-based programs with young boys.
In business, schools and politics
Individual interest sparked by #MeToo must be translated into the transformation of institutions where gender inequalities are perpetuated, such as in businesses, schools and universities, and the media. In particular, there is a critical need to engage with children on gender issues through the education system, starting at preschool,before harmful norms develop. To that end:
- MÄN—Men for Gender Equality was invited to hold a discussion on men’s behavior and #MeToo with Sweden’s top business and tech leaders, where there was considerable interest in doing more to end violence and harassment in the workplace. MÄN is now seeking to work with five companies as leaders on this topic and exploring ways to engage with the private sector.
- MÄN have also started to create a network of politicians in the Swedish parliament and members of almost all major parties in Sweden have \pledged to make ending gender-based violence their main election campaign promise.
- White Ribbon Canada launched Parker P., a social enterprise arm of White Ribbon, which collaborates with private sector companies, governments, and institutions to promote gender equality.
- White Ribbon Canada has developed curricula on genderbased violence for preschool to high school students and trained teachers to implement these curricula.
- MERGE for Equality has designed a training called “Developing Healthy Boys—Raising Emotionally and Socially Connected Boys” for early childhood educators and allied professionals.
Changing the system
The main focus of attention since #MeToo began has been on individual men, with minimal focus on patriarchy as a system. Participants agreed on the need to connect the issues #MeToo has raised with broader systems of oppression such as racism, homophobia, neoliberal capitalism, etc. If survivors are being taken seriously, and men and boys who are part of the problem begin taking responsibility to call out men’s violence and cultures of violence and impunity more broadly, the #MeToo movement can indeed catalyze a watershed moment for the feminist movement, create lasting positive social change.
Sineád Nolan is programs assistant and Jennifer Rodriguez Bruno is global advocacy coordinator for the MenEngage Alliance.