Male Allies for Gender Equality

Getting Started

Gender equality benefits all members of society. It is critical to achieving the national goals of universal human rights, democratic governance, sustainable development, and economic prosperity across the Caribbean.

Although women's empowerment is a critical element of gender equality, gender equality is not a "women's issue," nor can it be advanced solely through women's efforts in public or private spheres. Men are important actors who can share the responsibility and participate actively in this agenda.

Men's action is furthermore necessary in the gender equality equation, because men continue to hold most of the influential decision-making positions in the region. Working in partnership with women, male parliamentarians can be game-changers in transforming the political cultures and institutions that uphold harmful gender norms.

This toolkit provides resources for parliamentarians to deepen their understanding of the dynamics and impacts of gender inequality. It provides simple techniques for addressing these shared concerns through legislative functions and in day-to-day life. The tools can also be employed to motivate colleagues to join in these efforts.

By proceeding through the modules below, you will learn about:

  1. The value of men's roles as change agents in achieving gender equality
  2. What it means to be a "male ally"
  3. The subtler forms of inequality prevalent in legislatures
  4. Practical ways to take action in your capacity as a politician
  5. Civil society partners and campaigns

While these resources were designed for male-identified individuals, all people may find them of use.

Getting Started

Gender equality benefits all members of society. It is critical to achieving the national goals of universal human rights, democratic governance, sustainable development, and economic prosperity across the Caribbean.

Although women's empowerment is a critical element of gender equality, gender equality is not a "women's issue," nor can it be advanced solely through women's efforts in public or private spheres. Men are important actors who can share the responsibility and participate actively in this agenda.

Men's action is furthermore necessary in the gender equality equation, because men continue to hold most of the influential decision-making positions in the region. Working in partnership with women, male parliamentarians can be game-changers in transforming the political cultures and institutions that uphold harmful gender norms.

This toolkit provides resources for parliamentarians to deepen their understanding of the dynamics and impacts of gender inequality. It provides simple techniques for addressing these shared concerns through legislative functions and in day-to-day life. The tools can also be employed to motivate colleagues to join in these efforts.

By proceeding through the modules below, you will learn about:

  1. The value of men's roles as change agents in achieving gender equality
  2. What it means to be a "male ally"
  3. The subtler forms of inequality prevalent in legislatures
  4. Practical ways to take action in your capacity as a politician
  5. Civil society partners and campaigns

While these resources were designed for male-identified individuals, all people may find them of use.

Did You Know?

Paragraph 20 of the resolution on the UN's 2030 Agenda, which accompanies the Sustainable Development Goals and targets, states that "all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls will be eliminated, including through the engagement of men and boys."

"Gender equality is not only an issue for women and girls. All of us benefit when women and girls have the same opportunities as men and boys—and it’s on all of us to make that a reality. Our sons have the power and the responsibility to change our culture of sexism."

JUSTIN TRUDEAU

Prime Minister of Canada

Recent decades have seen greater attention paid to men's roles and responsibilities to advance gender equality. The 1995 Fourth World Conference of Women in Beijing, China, inspired a shift in thinking, with the Platform for Action calling for “a radical transformation of the relationship between women and men” and “a commitment to inspiring a new generation of women and men to work together for a more just society.”

Unpacking masculinities has been a central aspect of global conversations on improving gender relations. In nearly all cultures, traditional masculinity is defined in rigid and narrow ways. It is shaped by toxic ideals about manhood that begin to be imparted during early childhood socialisation and which can perpetuate inequality by reinforcing notions of men's dominance. Competitive violence and sexual aggression may be encouraged, while expressing most emotion; taking on an equitable share of domestic and caregiving work; and/or seeking help for pain, abuse or trauma may be discouraged.

In the Anglophone Caribbean, the academic discipline of masculinity studies has emerged as an important area of enquiry on these issues. This body of research analyses cultural, historical, and postcolonial specificities as well as local opportunities and resistances. Among scholars and practitioners alike, concern over high rates of sexual violence, youth crime, and LGBTQI-phobia has lent momentum to the examination of masculinities in the region.

While the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action has been uneven and interventions have primarily targeted only a few areas (e.g. health, violence prevention, parenthood, and corporate workplaces), the success of current efforts has led to a growing body of evidence that corroborates such an approach to gender equality. This has supported the expansion of policy, international development frameworks, and public and private sector initiatives recognising men’s involvement as essential to closing gender gaps.

Men in parliament can play a vital role in furthering progress in these areas and helping to disrupt negative gender norms in different social and political spaces. Applying an understanding of the ways in which toxic masculinity contributes to gender inequality can lead to innovative, effective strategies.

Allies are individuals who actively partner, on the basis of solidarity, with marginalised groups in their fight for equality and social justice. Allies work to achieve meaningful change in ways that are informed by the groups themselves, ensuring that their support does not reinforce patterns of oppression or undermine the agency, voice, and leadership of these groups.

Male allies for gender equality are advocates who work in partnership with women to uproot and transform harmful gender relations and stereotypes. Effective allies carefully consider and uphold the principles below.

 

Consciousness of male privilege

Being a male ally first involves recognising the ways men as a group hold political, economic, and social privilege. While men may also face discrimination because of their gender and/or intersectional elements of their identities – including class, sexuality, ethnicity, age, and (dis)ability, among others – they are ultimately privileged over women in the current gender order. Allies understand, acknowledge, and, where appropriate, leverage their male privilege to help remedy gendered power imbalances.

 

Continuous pursuit of learning opportunities

Male allies are committed above all to educating themselves on key issues related to gender inequality. This will help to build knowledge of the many perspectives and lived realities of women and other social groups that are disadvantaged by normative gender relations. Education of this kind will inform appropriate, respectful action.

Key sources of information include testimonies of women of various backgrounds, news disseminated through the social media accounts of gender equality organisations, and women-created content including opinion pieces, lectures, and policy analyses.

 

Accountability to women's rights groups

Male allies engage in critical reflection on how their elevated position to advocate in the public sphere is possible because other groups are subordinated. In certain circumstances, men’s participation in gender equality work can understandably be met with apprehension by women’s organisations and movements. Using your spaces of privilege to advance equal rights is necessary, but it should be done ways that do not divert the spotlight from women and the hard-won victories of feminism over the past centuries.

Working alongside diverse women’s rights groups and fostering relationships of trust will help guide the direction of allies’ contributions. Allies can commit to ensuring that the broader public recognises women’s agency and hears their voices as amplified, rather than seeing others speak on women’s behalf or acting in line with traditional understandings of gender where men are seen as the protectors of women.

 

Supporting words with action

While many men agree with gender equality in principle, real progress requires this support to be translated into concrete action. Male allies therefore proactively level the playing field and diffuse some of their historical privileges. This could include supporting temporary special measures for women, making room for women in top leadership positions, or sharing responsibility for tasks pejoratively viewed as feminine.

As a parliamentarian, your ability to make an impact is heightened, as you can maximize the unique avenues available for moving words to action, and for influencing the political will to advance gender equality at the highest levels. Such contributions are expanded upon in the toolkit's next modules, and they can establish and uphold a new standard for men in power.

 

Encouraging others to partake

Sharing your knowledge and engaging other men in gender equality initiatives are invaluable contributions by male allies. Studies show that men generally respond better to men than women on these issues; while men’s social legitimacy over women is at the root of the problem itself, it is an example of privilege that can be leveraged to effectively challenge patriarchy and alter this reality.

Taking on the responsibility of motivating others to approach gender and women's equality in a new way – with men as key players – can also lessen the burden of this work on women.

As social institutions where gender relations are simultaneously reinforced, negotiated, and challenged, parliaments have the potential to positively shape the country’s vision of gender equality. It can be challenging to mobilise change in legislatures, however, as their operations are the result of long-standing traditions and hierarchies. Parliaments were originally designed by and for men, and remain mostly male-dominated around the world.

Furthering understanding of how inequality plays out in this setting is a primary task for gender equality allies in parliament. From there, building awareness of the need for context-specific solutions will support the achievement of SDG 5 on gender equality and SDG 16 on good governance and strong institutions.

 

Low representation

The number of women elected and appointed to parliament, known as descriptive representation, is one of the most standard measures of women’s empowerment in global comparative terms. A higher percentage of women in national parliaments is associated with numerous benefits for social and economic development. Substantive representation refers to women’s ability to influence the legislative agenda and address their diverse concerns, and to do so free of discrimination. Men’s advocacy for women’s rights and leadership is part of the pursuit of this goal, as is ensuring this work is well-resourced in the legislature.

Though much discussion on gender equality in politics revolves around descriptive representation – the numbers – attention must also be paid to the qualitative aspects of women’s participation. It is important to examine the number of women serving in top positions, such as ministers and committee chairs -- and whether the portfolios are considered “hard” (finance, external affairs, commerce, industry, etc.) or “soft” (culture, education, social transformation, etc.). Increased descriptive representation does not necessarily translate into substantive representation; women must be guaranteed not only seats but strong voices in parliament in favour of gender equality. For this reason, experts highlight the importance of “critical actors” like male allies who advance feminist objectives in the legislature.

 

Discriminatory institutional practices

Inequality is most recognisable in explicit forms like physical violence or wage gaps, but it also manifests in ways that are harder to recognise. Gender biases can create significant – but less overt – obstacles that limit the ability of women and other underrepresented groups to fully contribute to political life.

Have you observed any of these tendencies in your parliament?

The “old boys’ club”: The exchange of political information and decision-making occurs in informal spaces where women may be less likely to attend (clubs, bars or sporting events).

Microaggressions or “low intensity sexism”: In plenary sessions, colleagues decide to check their phones or read other materials during interventions by women.

Tokenisation: Minorities are made to feel that their presence is above all a political statement, and that rather than presenting their opinions they should be grateful just to be present.

These everyday sexist behaviours and attitudes in parliamentary institutions contribute to a broader political environment where gender-based political harassment thrives. These forms of harassment and discrimination violate women’s political rights and weakens the representation of their interests, thereby undermining democratic governance.

 

Lack of workplace audits

There may be a shortage of incentives or mechanisms in the legislature to draw visibility to the formal and informal expressions of gender inequality. To begin this process, gender equality advocates and allies can utilise the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s (IPU) framework for a gender-sensitive parliament. It outlines 7 areas for action to promote an accessible, fair, safe, and respectful professional environment where women will want to work. IPU's self-assessment tool facilitates the evaluation of individual legislatures in accordance with these criteria. The section corresponding to area 5 on men’s shared responsibility may be of particular interest.

Parliamentarians can advocate for the undertaking of this audit exercise as a means of laying the groundwork for change. The results gleaned will help prioritise targeted actions informed by an inclusive consultation process.

Parliamentarians can leverage their platforms to influence public opinion, political authorities and structures, and legislative agendas in favour of gender equality. Since men vastly outnumber women in Caribbean parliaments, bold leadership by male allies in this setting will accelerate social and legal inclusion efforts. This committed work in solidarity with women and marginalised groups furthermore improves representation and strengthens conditions for building citizen trust.

 

Interpersonal strategies

Some of the most impactful changes that can be driven by allies occur at individual levels. Raising awareness and challenging inequality when it is witnessed in the parliamentary precinct will help to change the institutional culture and encourage others to speak out. Examples include:

  • Modeling inclusive language and pointing out when language is used in exclusionary or discriminatory ways
  • Using the “reversibility” test to assist others in the identification of gendered biases or assumptions
  • Employing techniques for more equitable interactions among members of the meetings you chair or other groups you lead
  • Engaging with youth to shift thinking on gender (teaching students about your job, encouraging girls’ political leadership, and speaking with boys and young men about healthy masculinities)
  • Holding fellow male leaders to account for gender equality commitments made in party platforms and during electoral campaigns

 

Institutional policies for inclusive political spaces

Allies can shape the internal structure of legislatures to facilitate increased participation by diverse groups. Formalising gender sensitivity in political practices and policies – informed by your learning, consultations, or a gender audit if one has been conducted – is likely to improve how your party and parliament function.

Parliamentarians from Caribbean countries have identified the following promising initiatives that you may wish to champion in your legislature:

  • Develop or amend the code of conduct or ethics to guarantee an egalitarian, harassment-free work environment
  • Review the standing orders from a gender perspective
  • Ensure that clear protocols exist to report and respond to sexual harassment for both parliamentarians and staff
  • Establish induction or other training activities for men and women to increase awareness on gender and diversity issues
  • Create an all-party caucus for gender equality

If these projects are already underway, allies can collaborate with organisers to secure political buy-in and other support as necessary.

 

Application of a gender lens to lawmaking and budgeting

A gender perspective should be applied when scrutinising all bills, across all committees, and by all parliamentarians. If it exists, the gender bureau will be well-placed to assist you and your staff in mainstreaming gender in this work. Relevant materials are available online as well:

Allies can also promote budget allocations reflecting a national commitment to achieving gender equality, with well-resourced initiatives to advance the standing of women and marginalised groups. Spending across all sectors should likewise be examined for differential impacts on women and men, which can be projected from a gender-responsive budgeting analysis ahead of budget debates. This undertaking will need to be accompanied by advocacy for comprehensive data disaggregated by gender and other social factors.

Lastly, male allies in parliament can help align legislation and spending with international commitments like the SDGs and CEDAW, regional frameworks such as Belem do Pará, and national gender policies or action plans if they exist.

Collaborating with stakeholders at the local and international levels can broaden the impact of all actors' investments in gender equality. Potential partners include regional institutions, universities, businesses, youth parliaments, development practitioners, women’s movements, and NGOs.

These civil society groups can provide access to a range of expertise on best practices, which is particularly useful when determining entry points for gender equality initiatives that promote men’s participation, or when seeking feedback on policies or budgets from a gender perspective. Male allies in parliament, in turn, offer important platforms for advancing relevant projects in strategic locations.

The organisations and initiatives listed below are just a sample of the resources that male allies can access and support in their efforts to advance gender equality.

 

Campaigns

  • UN Women’s HeForShe initiative asks men to commit to speaking out against gender discrimination and violence against women and girls. Learn more, take the pledge, and browse materials related to taking action in politics.
  • leadership campaign organised by the Women Political Leaders Global Forum asked male prime ministers and presidents from around the world to submit testimonials completing the statement, “We need more women in parliaments and as political leaders because…”

 

Organisations

  • The Caribbean Male Action Network (CariMAN), the regional representative of the MenEngage global alliance
  • Men Advocating Real Change (MARC), an online learning community for achieving gender diversity in the workplace  
  • Lean in Together, a campaign and subsection of the LeanIn website promoting men’s role in gender equality and providing strategies for the workplace and at home
  • White Ribbon, a not-for-profit and worldwide movement of men and boys working to end gender-based violence and transform conceptions of masculinity

Aside from organisations like these which have specific missions to engage men, it is essential to learn from and support women-led groups and movements -- especially at the grassroots level. These groups are likely to be best informed on the needs and life experiences of diverse women, considerations that must guide all gender equality work.

 

Research

  • Engendering Men: Evidence on Routes to Gender Equality (EMERGE), an open database of good practices for engaging men in gender equality and evidence on its importance
  • University of the West Indies, Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS)

 

In order to ensure that action to advance gender equality is strategically timed, well informed, and sustainable over the long term, it is critical to build connections with like-minded civil society groups. Male allies in parliament are well positioned to incorporate their good practices and evidence into their own work, and to reinforce their missions at the institutional level.

In Numbers

NUMBER OF LAWS IN THE ANGLOPHONE CARIBBEAN REGARDING PATERNITY LEAVE

NUMBER OF COUNTRIES IN THE WIDER CARIBBEAN WITH REPRESENTATION IN THE CARIBBEAN MALE ACTION NETWORK (CariMAN)

COMMITMENTS MADE IN JAMAICA AS PART OF UN WOMEN'S #HeForShe INITIATIVE

  1. However, several unions have achieved leaves of this kind, ranging from two days to two weeks, in certain companies in Antigua and Barbuda.

    Source
  2. Source
  3. Source

Online Dialogues

The International Knowledge Network of Women in Politics (iKnow Politics) organized an e-Discussion on Male Champions of Women’s Political Participation in September/October 2017. One of its activities was a panel of Geneva-based gender champions who shared their experiences and views on the instrumental role of men in promoting women’s political leadership.

"Study after study has taught us that there is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls and the empowerment of women... When women are fully involved, the benefits can be seen immediately: families are healthier; they are better fed; their income, savings, and reinvestment go up. And what is true of families is true of communities and, eventually, whole countries."

Kofi Annan

Former United Nations Secretary-General

Good Practices

The good practices that follow have been shared by parliamentarians and other stakeholders. They describe techniques for engaging men in gender equality initiatives.

 

Male Allies for Gender Equality
Peter Foster
St Lucia
Men in leadership positions of our parliaments must be allies in these noble and honorable endeavors and must be focused on promoting women’s equal voice and representation in parliament and the decision making that affects our citizens.

Check Yourself

Revisit the key information in this toolkit with a short quiz. These questions are intended for personal knowledge review and responses are anonymous. 

Consult Other Toolkits

A tool for more responsive and efficient resourcing
Men in parliament can leverage their positions to advance gender equality.