Illustrations by Lulu Kitololo
In the aftermath of a seven-month global symposium committed to advancing gender equality through transforming patriarchal masculinities and working with men and boys, organizers produced a stirring statement and call to action. The Ubuntu Declaration and Call to Action reflects key outcomes of the third MenEngage Alliance global symposium held from November 2020 through June 2021.
The MenEngage Alliance (MEA), which works to transform masculinities and engage men and boys in women’s rights, gender justice, human rights, racial justice, LGBTQI rights, climate justice and other interconnected social justice issues, collaborated with organizations in Rwanda and elsewhere in Africa to put on what was called the Ubuntu symposium. Ubuntu is often translated as “humanity towards others” or “I am because you are.” It is a Nguni Bantu term from Southern Africa that represents the universal connection between every person. Organizers wanted to honor this wisdom, recognizing its origins, roots, traditions and thought-leadership as central to the African continent where the symposium was to have taken place.
When the coronavirus pandemic prevented MenEngage from holding a live event in Rwanda (it was expected to attract more than a thousand delegates from dozens of countries traveling to Kigali), organizers zoomed into action. A planning team including the Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre, Rwanda MenEngage Network, MenEngage Africa, and the Rwandan Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, worked closely with staff at MEA’s global secretariat office in Washington, DC. Beginning last November and continuing for seven months, 5,000 participants took part in more than 300 hours of discussion. More than 600 speakers and panelists participated, from grassroots activists, researchers, students, civil society actors, development partners, governments, policymakers, and businesses. Altogether, they took part in more than 180 sessions at regional, country, and global levels around the world. (The Spring 2021 issue of the magazine featured a special section on the symposium.)
Organizers devised a dazzling mix of programs across regions, languages, and backgrounds, all sharing “a vision for change against the backdrop of a world facing urgent challenges,” as MEA codirectors Joni van de Sand and Laxman Belbase put it. A working group and editorial group worked tirelessly for months, meeting 13 times and going through eight rounds of revisions, to produce the final Declaration and Call to Action excerpted below.
In September, symposium organizers began sharing the Ubuntu Declaration and Call to Action on social media. If you are interested in being part of efforts to successfully meet the Ubuntu symposium commitments, MEA invites you, using the hashtag #UbuntuDeclaration, to join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In a statement, codirectors Van de Sand and Belbase wrote, “We hope you find the Ubuntu Declaration and Call to Action valuable for our shared work to engage men and boys, and transform masculinities for gender justice, women’s rights, LGBTQI rights, and social justice for all.”
What follows are excerpts from the full document, along with some of the many illustrations Lulu Kitololo drew (she provided graphics throughout the symposium). To read the full declaration, go to bit.ly/UbuntuDeclaration.
Declaration and Call to Action
We, standing together—activists, thinkers, learners, doers, and change-makers from all corners of the world, have joined hands and voices at the 3rd MenEngage Global Symposium—the Ubuntu Symposium.
It is in a context of interrelated challenges, converging crises, and alarming regression that we meet with a deep sense of urgency. Humanity is at a critical turning point, and must act decisively.
We have come together with a shared vision of gender, social, economic and environmental justice for all, everywhere, now and in the future.
We are united under the banner of Ubuntu “I am because you are,” with the belief in the universal bond of solidarity and interconnectedness of all people and planet, and as an aspiration to build collective movements to take us into the future. We cherish the diversities that exist among us and welcome the richness of the different regions, histories, and contexts from which we come.
We acknowledge and build on the work of feminist women’s rights defenders who articulated gender and patriarchy in connection with systems of oppression; LGBTIQA+ rights activists who fought for inclusion and dignity in our journey for equal rights; and racial, social justice and environmental movements who paved the way before us.
We accept the responsibility to join the broader call for systems change by intersectional feminist and social justice movements.
Commitments and Calls to Action
Intersectional feminist approaches
We commit to firmly rooting our work with men and boys to transform patriarchal masculinities in intersectional feminist principles and analysis.
Feminist Systems Change
We commit to working to dismantle unequal power structures and patriarchal systems to advance the feminist systems change agenda
We commit to accountability and taking responsibility as the only way forward.
We, including young leaders, commit to valuing the agency, perspectives and leadership of youth movements and young people in all our diversities.
We commit to questioning and unpacking how colonial, Eurocentric, Global-North centered and hegemonic structures of power and dominance, continue to produce inequalities around the world.
Inner Work for Social Change
We commit to an ongoing reflective practice that increases transformative awareness of self and others, as well as of the systems from which complex social problems arise.
Power-With, Allyship, and Movement-Building
We commit to supporting and acting in solidarity, as meaningful allies, to intersectional feminist and social justice movements and organizing.
For nearly two decades, the MenEngage Alliance has been working to advance a gender just society. Today it has 900 member organizations, NGOs and individuals working in 76 countries and spanning five continents. To learn more go to menengage.org. Commitments and Calls to Action: