MenEngage Alliance exists, since 2006, in order to link members in a community of practice, aligned around a shared vision and mission of transforming unequal power relations and dismantling patriarchal systems. MenEngage Alliance’s Global Secretariat acts as a convener and supports platforms and processes which link members within and between country and regional networks and link members at the local level to the decisions and operations of MenEngage at the global level [referred to as “MenEngage Global Alliance”]. It is on the strengths of these links, and the relationships of trust, respect and inspiration they foster, that MenEngage Alliance as a community of practice for social change depends. MenEngage Alliance is a membership-based social change network in spirit and in practice, working to empower the membership and facilitate joint actions. The Alliance continues to strengthen its capabilities, knowledge base and roots, and joint political framework to shape global discourses on transforming patriarchal masculinities and working with men and boys for gender and social justice. Central to this work, the Alliance strives to bring a stronger intersectional feminist agenda in “men and masculinities” work; and strengthen alliances with feminist and social justice movements, organizations and movements.
Rooted in feminist principles and approaches, the Alliance seeks to avoid top-down operating practices , rather working, from contextualized bottom-up models of movement-building and mobilization of the membership and partners across the regions and internationally. We collectively work to break down hierarchies within the Alliance, moving towards horizontal leadership structures and agenda-setting approaches. These processes are informed by the Alliance’s guiding commitments as outlined in our intervention logic: decolonization, intersectional feminism, accountability and power-with.
The MenEngage Africa regional network was formed in 2006, to work in partnership to promote the engagement of men and boys in achieving gender equality, preventing HIV, promoting human rights and reducing violence at all levels across the continent. In particular, the network aims to promote collaboration and resource sharing among organisations, support joint advocacy initiatives, and build capacity and leadership on gender equality within Africa. The network currently has country networks in 24 countries. These networks bring together organisations working on gender-based violence, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation, women’s rights, youth and child rights, masculinities, HIV, fatherhood, sexual and reproductive health and rights, maternal health, refugees and migrants, and other issues. The networks undertake joint programming, research, and policy and advocacy activities.
Rwanda Men’s Resource Center (RWAMREC,) as the secretariat of Rwanda MenEngage Network (RWAMNET) and one of the long-standing members of the MenEngage Africa Network is a non-governmental organisation and activists working on social justice and human rights issues through the transformation of gender social norms and masculinities. RWAMREC is also a MenEngage Africa member, a continental alliance of country networks and international partners working with men and boys to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.
MenEngage Africa, Sonke Gender Justice and in partnership with Rwanda MenEngage Network is organizing MenEngage Africa’s third symposium which will bring together academics, activists, government and UN representatives to share their perspectives and experiences in the search of ways to transform patriarchal masculinities and working with men and boys in advancing gender equality and social justice.
This Symposium will follow on the heels of the first MenEngage Africa symposium which took place in Johannesburg and second MenEngage Africa symposium which took place in Maputo, Mozambique 2018, in partnership with HOPEM, Sonke Gender Justice, MenEngage Africa in partnership with the university, Forum Mulher, Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA),UNFPA and others. The MenEngage Regional Symposium brought together 300 delegates representing 25 countries from Africa, Americas, Asia, and Europe and led to the Maputo Declaration and Call for Action.
The MenEngage Africa Maputo Symposium Declaration and Call for Action noted that “Work with men and boys should not be limited to development projects, nor should they be considered as the ‘silver-bullet’ to the achievement of feminist agendas within the realm of social change and called for strengthening gender transformative approaches to the work with men and boys, and accountable practices as well as intersectionality in this work.”
At the global level, MenEngage Alliance has successfully organised 3 global symposiums. 1st MenEngage Global Symposium (2009, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) brought together 439 delegates from 77 countries and laid out the importance and urgency of engaging boys and men in transforming gender norms around masculinities. The 2nd MenEngage Global Symposium (2014, New Delhi, India) brought together over 1200 people from 66 countries and placed the work with men and boys more firmly in a gender transformative approach, placing patriarchy at the root of the problem-analysis and transforming masculinities as a significant way forward and the 3rd MenEngage Global Symposium was a hybrid symposium organized over 7 months, that included 5,000 participants from 159 countries. This Ubuntu Declaration and Call to Action was the political document that was borne of the session, laying out the context analysis and aspirational politics for MenEngage Alliance in the years to come. The 3rd Global Symposium was co-organised by RWAMREC and MenEngage Africa as it was anchored in Africa continent.
Following the direction set-forth by these benchmarks the Alliance’s members and partners developed and implemented numerous programs, projects, campaigns and initiatives to generate more knowledge and evidence of the know-how for the work on ‘engaging boys and men in gender equality’. As a result, we have seen the number and extent of policies and programs that include ‘engaging men and boys’ around the world has grown. Yet, as more stakeholders take on this work, the need to work together strategically to ensure it upholds the frameworks of women’s human rights becomes more urgent.
The third MenEngage Africa symposium he symposium will bring together recent knowledge and expertise from across various sectors across the Africa continent, and beyond, to showcase how the work with men and boys can be done critically, and tackle holistically the issue of male power and privilege as part of the process of transformation.. In addition, its time to come together to develop collective knowledge and know-how on the effective and meaningful engagement of men and boys keeping up with the strong commitments to ensure that these efforts do not detract from vital women-led initiatives, or compete for resources, such as funding or spaces, which are increasingly shrinking for women’s rights and feminist groups.
The symposium will create spaces to address the key themes and explore how this work is being carried out from national-regional-global towards the central aim – of the realization of women’s rights and gender justice for all. The Symposium will create space to bring together actors from local to international levels for mutual learning and joint agenda setting on gender transformative approaches to engage boys and men.
Why organize now?
Every four years, on completion of a strategic plan period, MEA members as well as practitioners, researchers and UN agencies from Africa and around the world, gather to share knowledge, evidence and innovation around masculinities transformation work. More and more humanity as a whole is facing recurring disasters such as fires, floods, earthquakes, landslides. Epidemics have become commonplace with outbreaks of Ebola, Lassa fever, Meningitis, Cholera. The consequences of these aforementioned hazards were not fully mastered before the outbreak of Covid-19, which set back the gains made in women’s rights and gender justice. Africa is a continent ridden with conflict, with lingering conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo , Somalia and Cameroon, during the implementation of our strategic plan 2019-2023, a number of coups and attempted coups were witnessed in several African countries, including in Mali, Sudan, Central African Republic, Guinea , to mention but a few. Conflict continues to manifest militarization of masculinities but needless to say, the impact of conflict mainly affects women and girls.
The issues highlighted above have not only caused negative effects on sub-Saharan countries but have also increased the subsequent recession and gender gap between men, women and other gender expansive persons. This has also increased vulnerability of groups by sexual orientation, disability, age, income and other factors and calls for increased accountability and transformation through gender equitable evidence-based programming.
The MEA symposium comes at a great time where the need to work collaboratively to address these challenges has never been greater. The symposium will create an opportunity to share best practices, synergize efforts and mobilize resources for this important work.
Global health pandemics
From 2019, the COVID 19 pandemic disrupted financing, health and social indicators as well as progress that had been made towards the Africa Agenda 2063 and SDGs towards reducing inequalities, gender parity and leaving no one behind. COVID 19 and different pandemics such as EBOLA, lassa fever and monkeypox have created cycles of lockdowns and containment measures that have catapulted into several crises. These include the increased reports of violence against women and girls, restrictions on health care and increased burdens of unpaid care work. Most caregivers including nurses, primary care givers and low waged workers have been women. Long term effects such as increased feminised poverty, HIV infections among young people, unplanned pregnancies and permanent drop out from school will have further effects on the achievement of gender equality.
Wars and insurgency
Increased global insurgents in Ukraine and Russia that has had far reaching effects on minoritized groups. Global wars in Ukraine and Russia have increased the prices of goods and food stuffs such as wheat flour and oil increasing financial gender gaps. In addition to this women in African continents such as Sudan, Somalia and West Africa have remained on the helm of insecurity due to national rebel insurgency affecting not only women but children and young men. Combined effects of pandemics in countries that were affected by conflict also meant that there was a triple threat as the risks of contracting disease are increased.
Formal peace building processes and democratic leadership still exclude women’s experiences in building sustainable peace. This has not increased the need to address the differential effects that armed conflict and rigged democratic leadership processes have on women and men but to also address the refugee question. An increased number of refugees remain prevalent in African and European states disrupting education, livelihoods and sustainable development. Many times, women immigrants and refugees face unfair discrimination in work places, increased risk of sexual and physical violation and lack necessary legal protections.
Regressive global laws and anti-gender movements.
Decades ago, African women joined the world in addressing gender inequalities that prevented women from accessing and utilising resources. This included the elimination from land ownership, increased harm full practices like Female Genital Mutilation and access to bodily autonomy and leadership. Several African nations signed to the Beijing Platform of Action 1995, MAPUTO protocol and CEDAW and have made considerable strides to achieve gender parity. These laws allowed for women’s equal participation in development and have been assented to by African continent states.
However, there is recent backlash to feminist organizing for women and gender expansive persons. Research shows increased funding and backing of religious conservative groups, men’s rights movements, and traditional leaders. Same sex marriages and critical access to abortion, remains illegal in most countries. Many countries such as Uganda and Kenya are calling for stricter laws with death penalties around lesbian and gay unions.
Climatic change and food insecurity
Women in many countries make up the larger share (60 to 80 percent) of the agricultural workforce partly because they tend to have access to fewer income-earning opportunities. Climatic change affects mainly those that rely on natural resources such as land and whose livelihoods are climate sensitive and the vast majority of these are minoritized and poor communities. It has reduced agricultural productivity, income, and jobs along the value chain. It has also increased natural disasters like locust invasion, disease, droughts, water stress and floods. Multiple impacts of locust invasions, health pandemics, conflicts and climate extremities have also led to a deterioration in food security forcing marginalized communities to have less and nutrient bankrupt food.
What this means?
Although Africa has made considerable strides towards gender equality in political leadership, education, and health, the situation now threatens the regressions of laws, policies, and social environment of women and other minoritized groups like persons with disability, rural persons and LGBTQI persons.
Gendered social norms remain prevalent and shape policies, family and societal relationships that privilege and accord men more social power and subsequent access to resources and decision-making powers. Gender – the socially constructed roles, identities and attributes of women and men– is now understood as an integral part in understanding and addressing different vulnerabilities and behaviors. The reality is that women and men are still very much unequal in the African context, and this is clear in family, community and society as a whole. Women and men are affected differently in situations of poor health or pandemics, wars and conflicts and climatic challenges .
As well as disadvantaging women, gender norms and power dynamics also socialize men to be tough, become sexually pervasive and participate in violence against women, girls and other men. 1 in 3 women still report facing sexual violence from an intimate partner or someone else globally. Subsequently, the pressure of men to be real men is reflected in social and health indicators and over representation in ill health , disability, early death , suicide and alcohol related disorders. Studies also show that although men are the holders of social power and traditional decision making, they are not a homogeneous group and across different intersecting identities like age, economic abilities and socio- political environments like wars and conflicts have deemed refugee men, those in armed conflict and LGBTQI vulnerable to segregate policies.
Increased marginalization means increased gender transformative approaches to avoid the regression of the gains that have been made in gender parity. As the pandemic, conflicts and climatic change have revealed long standing cracks in gender approaches, it also affords us an opportunity to reflect and build back trans formatively. But as this pandemic and other environmental structures have exposed the long-neglected cracks in our society and systems, it also affords us an opportunity to build back trans formatively. In many ways, the leadership of women and men in reshaping harmful gender norms have shone through for example there was noted increased participation of unpaid care work by men and boys during the COVID-19 pandemic. These different changes and learnings can create a benchmark for male engagement to contribute to the creating evidence-based approaches that increase accountability and transformation of gender for state and non-state actors.
Despite the numerous challenges in the Africa region on the issues of gender equality and justice, hopes and opportunities abound, with promises that the African continent has registered with important progress at the level of legislation, policies and services for the realisation of women’s rights, gender equality and human rights. In addition, the African Union recognizes ‘gender equality’ as a fundamental human right and an integral part of regional integration, economic growth and social development and has developed the AU’s strategy for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE) to ensure the inclusion of women in Africa’s development agenda. Given the current status, there is optimism that African governments are headed in the right direction. This optimism will only be justified if efforts are sustained in countries, like Rwanda, where the most progress has been made and intensified in countries that are lagging.
The Alliance members, in Africa, have been working increasingly and progressively together with the respective authorities and governments to translate their international and regional commitments to realise the agenda of women’s rights and transforming masculinities and engaging men and boys in gender justice. Rwanda MenEngage Network works closely with the Government of Rwanda in the implementation of the national gender equality policy, with a key focus on ‘engaging men and boys in gender justice’. Similarly, at the regional level, with the work of MenEngage Africa members regionally with the 23 country networks, in conjunction to the work of the Alliance globally, there has been significant achievements and progress made towards realising increased gender equality and improved SRHR in Sub-Saharan Africa through engaging men and boys in a gender equitable manner to transform gender norms, influence policies and promote human rights and accountability.
Objectives of the symposium
The symposium will bring together MEA members, UN agencies, researchers, civil society and international organizations and policy makers from across Africa to build the body of knowledge on masculinities transformation, through accountable and transformative, evidence-based programming. The overall objective of the symposium is to elevate, showcase and build the body of knowledge, skills and practice on the work on transforming patriarchal masculinities and engaging boys and men in gender and social justice through accountable and evidence-based programming.
The specific objectives are among others:
- Develop an intersectional feminist political agenda and unified vision for MenEngage Africa members to advocate for inclusion and transforming patriarchal masculinities to advance the rights of all women, girls and gender non-conforming peoples in the context of pandemics and conflict, and strengthen policy dialogues.
- Strengthen knowledge and commitments on the accountability practices to gender justice in Africa by MenEngage members.
- Strengthen a unified vision, as a community, on the need for working with men and boys in Africa and the policy, programming and action required and increase participants’ ability to adopt and implement multi-pronged approaches to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights, reduce GBV and HIV.
- Build and strengthen meaningful partnerships among academics, CSOs, government agencies and activists on gender equality in the nation.
- Share evidence on impact of transformative programmes to engage men and boys in gender equality across Africa and showcase best practices in transforming social norms and boost cross regional and political learning on inclusion of minoritized groups and their role in development processes and share and document best practices, evidence and resources around gender transformative approaches – and utilize outcomes to foster an articulated political statement
Venue and Participation
The symposium will take place in Rwanda, Kigali. Organizers will target 600 to 1000 participants both online and physically August 14 to 16, 2023. These will include prominent gender activists, representatives of CSOs and African governments, academics, and other delegates. The sessions will be carried out through plenary discussions, break out groups, presentations and through art. Media activities will be carried out to ensure that targeted members are invited.
- LGBTIQ/Key Population Rights
- Child Rights
- Gender Equal and Positive parenting
- Faith based approaches.
- Youth leadership
- Climate justice
- Strategic cross-cutting priorities (accountability, feminist approaches, intersectionality
The core programme will include:
- Plenary Sessions – Invited or guest speakers to present their ideas or key concepts around themes of the symposium.
- Panel presentations on the themes of the symposium – Featuring oral presentations describing key ideas, results or description of the work of participants. These can include both invited speakers as well as speakers who will describe their work. Panels may be pre-formed through the application process, or put together by the organizers from applications received. Each panel discussion will include opportunities for questions and answers
- IEC presentation – Featuring IEC material to showcase the work of MenEngage partners.
- Round Tables – These thematic discussions will include ‘facilitators’ who will make a brief presentation to lay out the different dimensions of a particular theme or idea. The participants of the roundtable will all be given time/opportunity to speak/contribute, agree to the discussions and agree or disagree with the propositions. All discussions will be moderated, summarised and rapporteured.
- Video displays – Participants can apply to get their films showcased at the video exhibition.
- Cultural programmes – Participants can apply to put up short plays or musical performances related to the themes during the symposium. Space and time will be provided by the organizers.
- Tea/Coffee Table Discussions – During lunch and tea breaks there will be a few tables which will provide opportunities to participants for informal thematic discussions.
- Media engagement – Press conference, interviews with guests/celebrities, media partner produced shows for the TV.
- Internet engagement – website, lead up reports and activities on social media, live streaming of key sessions, repository of all materials (presentations and short videos) related to the symposium after the event is over.
- Subsidiary programme – The subsidiary programme is intended to engage the citizens of the organizing country with the theme and topics of the MEA Symposium. It will include:
- Public talks on issues related to the themes of the conference will be organized
- Student engagement programme – Talks/Panel discussions on issues related to the themes of the conference will be organised in colleges/universities
- Film shows/ festival showing some of the films from the symposium. The will be open to all.
- Media engagement – Press conference, interviews with guests/celebrities, media partner produced shows for the TV.
- Internet engagement – website, lead up reports and activities on social media, repository of all materials (presentations and short videos) related to the symposium after the event is over
- Concert for peace in a public space showcasing the MEA song, among others.
Preparatory Programme – The preparatory programme will include a series of events in the countries of each MenEngage Africa partner leading up to the Symposium. Some of important and common issues raised at these regional events will be discussed at the Symposium.
Rwanda will also carry out various activities to raise awareness of the Symposium, as well as to engage the society on aspects related to violence against women and SRH. These events will include cultural events, talks, debates and similar events on the themes of the Symposium. During these events the Symposium will be promoted, and these events will also contribute to an internet based build up process.