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This paper looks at the issue of women’s empowerment, the role of men in empowering women, women and feminist reaction to their involvement, their own reaction as men, how they can be efficiently and effectively involved and the way forward.
Until the 19th century, women accepted their mediocre status in society as they lacked the educational and economic resources that would enable them challenge the prevailing social order. Attempts to right the inequalities between men and women necessitate the empowerment of women economically, socially, politically and culturally. Women must be given the educational and economic resources that will free them from men’s domination, patriarch, oppression, violence and servitude. Like the case of vaccines where weakened or dead microbes of the kind that cause a disease is administered to stimulate immune system to produce antibodies against that disease, if men are seen as the perpetrators and the cause of women problems, then it is simply wise to effectively and efficiently involve them in solving societal inequalities that exist between men and women. Once feminists, advocates, activists and women in general view men everywhere as inherently part of the problem, efforts at empowering women must involve and engage men, hence the proliferation of an interest in men and masculinities in recent years.
The lives of men and women are interdependent and any benefit from women empowerment will go a long way to benefit both. Hence, there was a call on countries in 1994 at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) to promote men’s support in the struggle for gender equality and encourage their involvement and shared responsibility in all areas of family life and reproductive health. Research has shown that, partnering with men is an important strategy for advancing women’s empowerment. Again, the need for the involvement of men has been precipitated by a series of global processes such as the 48th session of the United Nations Commission on the status of Women (CSW), which discussed the role of boys and men in achieving women’s empowerment and gender equality. This need for men’s involvement is underscored by the fact that men’s power over women in many contexts necessitates working with men to change the conditions of women’s life; for men’s power in society is exercised from personal decision regarding family size to the policy and programme decisions taken at all levels of government. Again, men as perpetrators arouses the need for their involvement, that is in treating the “disease” of women’s disempowerment, ignoring the cause will only make the fight, a back and forth unprogressive agenda and as such to remedy the situation , the real cause-men, must be involved in the whole process. Also empowering women, calls for the pulling together of many resources for its accomplishment and these resources unfortunately are largely controlled by men who determines it’s distribution, beneficiaries and accessibility and hence it makes greater sense to pull them along on the pathway of women’s empowerment to be able to assess and enjoy the resources needed in the process. Last but not the least, it is important to involve men due to the fact that, they are largely the leaders in society serving predominantly as decision makers, opinion makers as well as public figures who the younger generation both male and female emulate as part of their socialization and as such for women’s empowerment to be achieved, men as leaders must be reached, encouraged and mobilized to become committed to gender equality in all aspects of human interactions and relationships to serve as good examples to the younger generation to acquire a wholesome socialization that view both men and women as equal and not as one being superior and the other inferior. It is worth noting that the exemplary life of men as leaders in the socialization of boys and girls is very vital in achieving and ensuring gender equity on the backdrop that they (boys and girls) are more susceptible to change and mental restructuring. It is therefore against these backgrounds that men’s involvement in women’s empowerment is deemed as very crucial and influential.
On the assumption that humans in general are resistant to change, particularly to their norms values and belief systems, it is not surprising that some men have and are still fighting against the notion of women’s empowerment based on the hidden reason of trying to defend their privileges and power because of fear of the loss of authority and economic benefits that they perceive women’s empowerment would involve and also their resentment of what they see as attention and resources being given disproportionately to women. For some other men, the blame-game strategy of some feminists and seeing them as so evil deters them from changing their personal masculinities and also join in the struggle for women empowerment. On the other divide, the attention being paid to men on their involvement in addressing their superiority ideologies, over-emphasized masculinities, violent and abusive behavior in stimulating changes in their relationships with girls and women has been met with the feminist ideology of ” on our terms/conditions” indicating a limited space for men’s involvement and tangible participation. Although male involvement in women’s empowerment has been of recent concern, many women working in the field remain unconfident, uncertain, antagonistic and very hostile to the idea that men might be or are partners in the fight for gender equality. Thus the emergence of men as advocates for women’s empowerment has been received with a lot of suspicion, within some feminist circles; they are viewed as competitors for the limited funds available for women’s rights and not as a supporting initiative. Some argue that men were coming to take over with the aim of wiping out feminist movement whilst others see men as competitors in empowering women rather than complimentary to their efforts and advocacy. Interestingly, in the men’s fraternity, men working as aids to women’s empowerment are seen as betraying their fellow men and sometimes referred to as “men who are sat on by women” in their communities. Men’s role in the promotion of women’s empowerment has therefore become topical and yet contested in various quarters among feminist and women who work in the field.
Many feminist have viewed the involvement of men in women’s empowerment with so much suspicion emanating from the distrust for men and their fear that men will try to use subtle and deceptive means to defend and maintain their privileges and power because of fear of the loss of authority and economic benefits thereby undermining the fight for women’s empowerment. Men have been seen as the cause and perpetrators of the down trodden image of women and therefore it is quite uncomfortable for some feminist at involving them in their fight. Perhaps questions like why these men should be involved in the first place, how are they to be involved, whether they are willingly and will be truly committed to the fight, why on earth will men be interested in empowering women considering the superiority, power and autonomy they enjoy, and what solutions, measures and prescriptions do they have to offer in empowering them as women repeatedly clouds the minds of many feminist. This suspicion also arises from the issue of whether men will really welcome the idea and state of women being equal to them in terms of status, power, and leadership and decision-making, are men really determined to work with women without setting or prescribing boundaries and limitation to how, which form and the extent to which women can be empowered. It is therefore against this background that many if not all women view men’s involvement in their empowerment with much suspicion, hostility and hesitations. For some their hostility arises from the fear that the involvement of men in their empowerment would overshadow their efforts with them selling out to a watered down agenda. Again, in working with men to empower women, most development institutions lack the needed determination and focus of working towards a more equal world where men will not be seen as superior to women. “Certainly the way in which work with men has been taken up by development institutions has often been lacking in ambition and devoid of political intent, preoccupied with creating more equitable men, rather that galvanizing men’s activism for a more equal world”.( Cornwall et al, Dialogues on women’s empowerment). Gender equality work with men cannot expect to participate in efforts to secure gender justice simply on the basis of men being “the other half of gender” but an interdependent part.
Personally, for the empowerment of women to be achieved, the role of men can never be overemphasized due to the fact that the lives of men and women are intertwined such that whatever affects one directly or indirectly affects the other. It is worth noting that men even in the most traditional and patriarchal societies believe and support women’s empowerment and would want to see their mothers, sisters, daughters and wives live in a society where equity and justice is paramount. Many more men in our view are ready to lace with their women folk in their empowerment- this can clearly be seen around us with the increase in the number of feminist men who have joined in the battle. However if women and feminist want men to be truly committed and involved in their empowerment, then these men should be seen as allies and not competitors, thus men should be seen as complimentary to their efforts rather their challengers or rivals. Again, the tagging men as evil and destructive must stop; otherwise men will continue to be defensive and resistant to the changes that women desire in them for their empowerment. If we want to reach out to men to influence change, we cannot portray men as evil, since no man identifies himself as such Instead, non-judgmental messages which can provoke thinking and reflection among men for change must be employed. Also, feminist suspicion of men on their involvement in the fight for women’s empowerment must give way to trust through restructuring of their thought pattern and channeling their energies in reaching, encouraging, empowering and mobilizing men to become part of the movement which is committed to women’s empowerment. Furthermore it is important to educate and sensitize boys in their formative years through both formal educational system and in informal setting through peer programmes and also efforts must be made to incorporate attention of men and boys in legislation, policies and programmes on women’s empowerment and to develop ways to ensure active participation. Last but not the least, many more men can be brought on board if they are encouraged, expose and educated on the need to empower women by their peers. It will be an easier effort if men speak to men on women’s empowerment because men feel more comfortable discussing such issues with their peers and are more convince when their peers informs them on issues.
Despite all the drawbacks and challenges outlined above, no responsible man would love to see the children and wife become paupers or marginalized. Considering the important role women play in the development agenda, it is only proper men get involved irrespective of how some women activist view it. Women have the primary task of child rearing and therefore need all the resources to execute this task in other to break the cyclical transmission of poverty from generation to generation. Women transmit values to the next generation therefore, to make the biggest impact on development; society must empower and invest in its women. The lives of men and women are interdependent and any benefit from women empowerment will go a long way to benefit both. Hence, it is no wonder that when the call was made on countries in 1994 at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) to promote men’s support in the struggle for gender equality and encourage their involvement and shared responsibility in all areas of family life and reproductive health many men accepted. With men’s power in public and private life, their cooperation is indispensable in the domestic and community spheres, national politics, finance and governance. Consequently, the empowerment of women is very crucial for the development of any society considering the roles they play in society and the fact they form more than half of the human resource of a nation but their empowerment cannot materialize without men being involved. Men have been at the centre stage of the issue of societal inequalities and hence remedying the situation requires their involvement. However, some feminist have met this development with much suspicion, hostility and distrust for these men. On the other hand, some feminist are advocating for the involvement of men as a way of addressing gender inequalities and mobilizing resource for women’s empowerment. Accordingly, there is the need for those who work in the field to reach, encourage, empower, and mobilize men to become part of the fight to achieve greater success.
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