The II MenEngage Africa Symposium held in Maputo, Mozambique from April 23-27, 2018 was yet another platform that gave collective voice on the need to engage men and boys in gender equality. It brought together policy makers, service providers, activists, researchers and donors from several countries across Africa and beyond. A member of the #ArifWond (#አሪፍወንድ) community had the opportunity to participate in the symposium and shared his personal observations and reflections below:
“Most deliberations reiterated mainstream views in the discourse on gender equality: ‘patriarchy’ and ‘toxic masculinities’ (unjust conceptions of manhood) as causes of women’s oppression. There were also many that called for greater attention to bringing in boys and men. Among these were some unorthodox voices that questioned the mainstream view that regarded men as empowered just because society bestowed on them privileges. They argued that privileges at the expense of women (or other human beings) were curses in disguise which most men (and women) are made by society to take for granted and are not able to recognize and abhor. Hence, these voices argued, the need for empowering boys and men to recognize and shun unearned privileges. In this connection, the Symposium showcased innovative interventions that work with boys and men to enable them to gain insights into how the social, cultural and political contexts in which they are embedded have conditioned their thinking and behaviour – an insight which is motivating men and boys who participated in these programs to commit to self and social transformation.
“Interestingly, most delegates who seemed to take seriously the need for emphatic attunement with boys and men, were youth advocates of all sexes. Politically, they refused to be ‘poster holders’, ‘observers’, ‘side shows’ and “imitators” of their seniors. In the context of advocacy for gender equality, these young women and men seem to be distancing themselves from the often fruitless ideological fight between ‘macho men’ and ‘angry women’ and are rather joining hands in a pragmatic focus against their common enemy. The impassioned speech of a young lady who was among the panelist of the plenary session of the first day of the Symposium sums it all:
‘Men are not our enemies! Our real enemies are the norms and values! These are enemies of men too! Like the evil spirit, they possess us and induce men to perpetuate and women to accept and, often, defend oppression. In the end, both men and women are victims! And there is little point in blaming each other as we all are their victims! It is high time that we empathize with each other and stand in solidarity to liberate ourselves from them and their influence!’”