We held a Live-Chat with people from 6 UK based organisations who gave us invaluable tips, tricks and insights into gender focused campaigning; specifically about how to get men and boys involved.
Often when we talk about ‘gender’ we think ‘women’, but it’s important to understand that gender equality is everyone’s space and is not to the detriment of men and boys.
For example, The Great Initiative works with boys to challenge stereotypes of masculinity in order to engage men and boys in the movement towards gender equality.
Similarly, the Women’s Equality Party Manifesto says:
“We Will: Encourage and support men who wish to take on caring roles in work and in the home, including by tackling gender stereotyping, encouraging more men into the teaching profession, and making parental leave a reality for fathers and same-sex partners.”
Breaking down the assumptions people associate with gender focused campaigns is important, as is creating a space in which people don’t feel intimidated, can be involved and champion the work.
How do we involve men and boys?
1) Understand the space, context and culture
It’s important to recognise that sometimes a space needs to be created solely for men or solely for women, even if both groups are working towards a common goal. For example, Restless Development’s Making Periods Normal project in India runs separate workshops for girls and boys to talk about puberty and menstrual health in a safe space, with their peers, where they can ask questions and breakdown stigma.
Having said that, some spaces can be directed at men or women but open and accessible for all. For example, for Women of the World Festival, there is Being A Man Festival, for the documentary Miss Representation there is The Mask You Live In.
“The best way for men to support women when it comes to Feminism is to listen,” says a campaigner from What Women Want.
The same can be said about supporting the rights, fights and plights of all genders, we must actively listen to everyone.
3) The importance of male involvement
Even when the space or conversation is directly aimed at or for women, men can still support this work and get involved. For example, the What Women Want survey was just for women, but men were invited to the parliamentary hand-in and male volunteers supported the event.
4) Start the conversation
It’s important to have male role models for other males to look up to and to invite male perspectives, i.e. asking “How have gender norms and sexism affected you as a man?” The Great Initiative is run by men who run workshops with boys in school that challenge stereotypes of masculinity, and the Good Lad Initiative aims to promote ‘Positive Masculinity’, enabling men to become agents of positive change within their social circles and broader communities.
5) Make it personal. Make it relatable.
Youth For Change advocates recently looked at how power imbalances can lead to gender based violence. By looking at things like gender stereotypes – outdated perceptions that boys should be strong and not sensitive – it’s easier to explore issues that might particularly resonate with boys and men, whilst working towards positive outcomes for all. The key lies in making it personal; talk to them about issues they can identify with and then take them on a journey as to how these fit within broader inequalities.
6) Get comfortable
The Great Initiative makes sure that boys feel comfortable to discuss anything and everything to do with gender and not be judged (by the facilitators or by each other). As a group they set rules at the beginning of every session which always include things like “No laughing at someone else’s expense” and “There are no stupid questions”.
7) Understanding and The Bigger Picture
At one of the above workshops with The Great Initiative boys were asked how they thought a girl would feel if she’d been pushed into a sexual activity she didn’t feel comfortable with, and how that would impact her future relationships. One boy said ‘She’d probably think that if it happened once, it would happen again, so she’d be scared to get with any boy ever again.’
This changed the perspective for all the boys in the group; they realised their actions can have a huge impact – not just as individuals but on each other, for life. They very quickly understood the damage caused by gender stereotypes to them, to their friends, their parents, their siblings and to people they’ll never meet. These are not ‘women’s issues’, they’re issues for all of us.
8) Be an advocate
Let UN women tell you the best ways you can be an advocate for women’s rights.
Part 2 of a 2 part blog on Gender Focused Campaigning
Click here to jump to Part 1 – Top Tips For Gender Focused Campaigning
Laura Beresford is the Youth Networks Coordinator at Restless Development, based in our London office.