By Sabrina Verleysen
As the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence come to a close, I got the pleasure of attending a Gender Breakfast, an interactive and informal event that is held once a month to discuss wide-ranging issues surrounding gender.
This Gender Breakfast was particularly interesting because the focus was on men and gender equality. The WFP Men Stand for Gender Equality Movement came to talk to IFAD colleagues about their experience in setting up an independent group for men who want to support gender equality at work and at home.
One interesting point that the speakers made was that when speaking about gender-based issues, the male perspective is often overlooked, as the narrative surrounding this topic is almost always focused on women's issues. Gender-based violence is not only a women's issue.
As a women, I am also guilty of this one-dimensional way of thinking. When I think about gender-based violence, I almost always look to other women to "fix" the problem, assuming it is "our" responsibility because it affects just us. The error in this thinking is that gender-based violence affects everyone, women and men, thus a multidimensional approach is necessary to combat this type of behaviour.
The initiative, "WFP Men Stand for Gender Equality", gives men employees in WFP a safe space to discuss issues of gender. They began as 24 members and have now grown to over 320 members. As a movement, they are independent from management.
Their campaign is to promote the active participation of all men at WFP to take a stand against gender-based violence and to join their campaign. Through discussion-based meetings, men are encouraged to share how issues of gender have influenced their own lives and in what ways they can challenge the status quo, especially surrounding issues of masculinity. Men who work in field offices are welcome to attend as well, via Skype.
As of now, women are not permitted to join this group, as the presenters believe that it is easier for men to engage other men in this discussion. The aim of this initiative is for every man in WFP to become a member, and thus for the group to have fulfilled its function and no longer have to exist.
WFP Men Stand for Gender Equality run their own social platform. They have 322 members who have connected with them online, as well as cards to pass out and an email address to encourage new members to join.
Although IFAD does have an informal group of women that meet to discuss gender issues, there is no group just for men. This Gender Breakfast has hopefully inspired male colleagues at IFAD to get started on initiating their own discussion group, similar to WFP.
The speakers reminded us that within the United Nations agencies, there is a systematic disparity in the number of women and men in leadership positions. If things continue to improve at the current rate, the UN will reach 50/50 gender equality in our agencies in 2068. To promote gender equality throughout the rest of the world, it is critical to hold ourselves responsible for promoting gender equality in our own lives and our own organization first.