When it comes to pushing for campaigns in gender equality or women’s empowerment, most tend to focus on women- either by mobilizing or training them. There is so much attention on working with women to help them that we tend to forget an integral contribution towards empowering women which is involving the men. There is a structural discrimination against women, such as gender-based violence, for example, that can only be tackled if men are involved in assisting women. Rather than reinforcing and feeding into patriarchal structural norms, men need to fighting alongside women. This new approach of involving men to understand a woman’s world is the new way forward.
GROOTS has been paving the way forward to engage male champions alongside our female champions for a more sustainable road to empowerment. In the women leadership and governance programme for example, aimed at enhancing the capacity of grassroots women to engage in governance issues, GROOTS follows a ‘Champions for Transformative Leadership’ model. This model comprises a critical mass of grassroots community members including both men, women, and even the youth, to push for women in leadership positions.
One of our male advocates says ‘My name is Aggry and though I am a male, I call myself a grassroots woman.’
A champion for empowering women in increased female political participation, and support in issues related to land and property, Aggry has been a champion in teaching men and women about their rights and Kenya’s constitution.
He says ‘I believe that women know their rights, especially widows. As a man, you have to step out and not remain silent. If we want to achieve our goals of development, we must celebrate our women leaders. Men, let’s give our women the chance to thrive. There were four women in the county assembly, but now we have seven of our own female champions nominated in the 2017 election. Our goal is that by 2019, every woman has money in her pocket.’
Involving women in leadership positions will only contribute to stronger implementation of current laws and policies concerning women. For example, strengthening land titling and ownership of land for women is a sustainable development goal that GROOTS is determined to stand by. Women living in poverty shoulder the highest burden when public land is not used to provide essential public services. To ensure a participatory inventory of public land, leadership skills are provided both to men and women, especially at the grassroots level.
Part of the problem under customary law is that a woman’s right to owning land is often subject to the superior right of a male family member. That is why women must be involved in designing such policies from the beginning. To bring more inclusion and awareness to discuss women’s land rights, both men and women are engaged by GROOTS, which has ensured better protection of land rights for women.
Engaging men for women can also benefit men in the over-arching goal of achieving gender equality. For example, it can lead to a reduced pressure of being the main breadwinner or provider in the family. Involvement of men can lead to lesser misunderstandings or acts of failed communications with spouses thereby contributing to healthier relations with their families. To do so, however, men must be engaged the right way. Tools and strategies include:
- Engaging men without letting them dominate or overpower women in gatherings and meetings
- Engaging men and boys from an early enough age
- Including all male family members, and not just spouses
- An impact assessment should be conducted post an intervention to evaluate the impact of involving men at the policy, community and household levels
- Taking into account strong social and cultural resistance faced in various contexts
- Engaging men in domestic and care work, to support women’s economic empowerment
As we continue to celebrate the achievements and steps of progress women have made in gender equality, we must shift towards a more holistic approach of mobilizing both women and men. For once, let’s have men and women working alongside each other, rather than against each other.