Progressio’s Policy Officer, Malou Schueller, reflects on the absence of men at the world’s biggest conference on women’s rights.

 I am in New York, attending the 58th UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The Commission sits every year and is the main global intergovernmental body that is exclusively tasked with shaping global standards on gender equality and women's empowerment.

The first thing that strikes me is the glaring absence of men. You can count them on one hand. Why are men not interested in what happens to the other half of humanity - their own sisters, daughters, mothers, wives, partners and friends?

Equally, in their absence, there is precious little talk of men during the meetings. Even the draft statement of the Commission seems to add in men as an afterthought. This doesn’t seem quite right to me.

Where are all the men?

Involving men is crucial if we want to promote gender equality and a better life for women and men, so why are they not more involved? Men not only have a critical role to play in addressing gender-based violence, but they also need to understand what they stand to gain from more equal relationships.

The few CSW events that are focussing on the role of men are very inspiring. I am learning a lot as I listen to men open up their hearts and tell the audience what it was like for them to be put into a straightjacket called 'manhood' from an early age that didn't allow them to be themselves.

Patriarchy destroys men too, because it gives them a false sense of who they are. They are expected to be tough and not cry - and end up internalising their feelings. This can lead to violence against women, but also towards each other and, as history relates, the many wars that have been started and are being fought by men.

What does it take to be a 'real' man?

Other events show how hard it is for men to defy the patriarchal culture they are expected to uphold and the backlash of social ridicule if they do not act in ways that prove they are ‘real’ men.

In my view, men who choose to educate their daughters - instead of keeping them at home to preserve a false sense of honour and dignity – are the ‘real’ men. Like Malala's brave father in Pakistan. He supported his daughter in her fight for girls to have the right to education. He says: "When I gave her space, she gave me more space." This world needs a lot more men like him, especially in countries where patriarchy is not questioned.

Men will benefit from gender equality too

It is only when we bring men in as equal partners and when they see the benefits that gender equality has on their relationships and families that a change can take place. And such change may start influencing the overall social fabric, reaching far beyond just the personal.

We do need laws and international policies, but in some places where the state is weak these laws are simply unenforceable. So, it’s equally important to start at the personal level. We need to identify those who can be role models of a more positive masculinity and have the courage to start a more human discourse in the face of a patriarchal culture that is deeply engraved in the conscience of men and women alike. UN women, for example, have just launched a 'He for She' campaign - looking for men all over the world to speak out against the inequalities women face on a daily basis.

Join us as partners fighting for equality

What is needed is a transformation of society from the current patriarchal structures to something that has - as yet - no name. That will benefit us all. We need a society that celebrates our common humanity. That's why men need to join us as partners fighting for equality.

Read more about Progressio's work on New Masculinities in the Dominican Republic 

Photo: Albin Manigat (right) discusses masculinities with a classmate at Jimani Public High School, Dominican Republic.