On International Men’s Day, Nicholas Goodwin looks at solutions to the problems that affect both men and women, as well as those that will directly address men’s issues and enable men to play their unique role in the world.
As we celebrate International Men’s Day today, let’s consider this report:
“Jakarta, Indonesia: The crowd rose as one to applaud President Obama who had just delivered a powerful and emotional speech to conclude the final day of the United Nations Summit on Men. Obama embraced his host, Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in a fitting finale for the three-day meeting of government, business and nonprofit leaders, as well as activists, academics, and journalists. Obama’s speech revealed his personal struggles and triumphs and reflected on the important men and women in his life.
“The speech summarized the hard work done by the Summit’s delegates to develop and agree to the first ever Global Men’s Manifesto, including binding targets to support the UN’s post-2015 agenda to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030. President Yudhoyono’s opening speech on the first day also explored many of the major challenges affecting men, such as life expectancy, suicide rates, violence and war. Yudhoyono also launched the new UN Agency for Men (UN Men), including a US$1 billion innovation funding mechanism to enable public and private investment in men’s issues….”
Of course, this is not a real report, nor did the Summit ever take place. But it could, and here’s why it should.
The world has an extraordinary opportunity to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030. This will bring the 1.4 billion people currently living on less than US$1.25 per day into a new world of opportunity. Building on the successes of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including those focused on women, we must build a global platform that continues this work post-2015. Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, have been global leaders in making the case for increased investment in women through their Half the Sky Movement. In a recent New York Times opinion piece, Kristof says that we must build upon “spectacular progress” in ending extreme poverty. While excellent progress has indeed been made, ending extreme poverty is an extremely ambitious goal.
For women especially, the picture is still extremely challenging. According to the Global Poverty Project, women comprise 70 per cent of the world’s poorest people, earn only half of what men do, and own only 1 per cent of titled land. Half the Sky reports that women aged 15 to 45 are more likely to be injured or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. We need to address these persistent and pressing issues. Thankfully, we can do this by leveraging new and existing resources and movements, including work in health, agriculture, governance, economic opportunity, education, the environment, women’s empowerment, and work in crises and conflict. However, we know we need bold and new thinking to support innovative solutions connected to poverty. And we need to take into account how poverty affects both men and women, and the roles each play in the solutions.
Men’s voices on men’s issues are almost completely absent from the global development discussion. Of course men are there, some in the highest positions of power, yet they say next to nothing about the role men play, either as targets or as part of the solution to these issues. Is that because men do not face any major issues? Or that the way men act does not affect women and families, nor governments and businesses?
Sarah Hawkes, professor of global health at University College London, and Kent Buse, chief of political affairs for UNAIDS, recently published a paper in The Lancet reporting on gender issues and the top 10 causes of death globally. They found that men worldwide lose more years to death or disability than women, mostly because of higher rates of heart disease, respiratory infections, cerebrovascular disease, HIV/AIDS, and road injuries. According to the WHO, the suicide rate of males matches or exceeds women in every country in the world, except for China. According to a study by Payne et al in 2008, male gender roles tend to emphasize greater levels of strength, independence, and risk-taking behavior. Möller-Leimkühler reported in 2003 that reinforcement of this gender role often prevents men from seeking help for suicidal feelings and depression. Men take more risks, suffer more burdens of bad health and die younger than women do, all over the world. Hawkes and Buse also say that major global health institutions focus primarily on women, despite the fact that men ages 25 to 39 have seen the smallest decline in mortality worldwide. And there is much more data that is not differentiated by gender. Now for the good news. Men can, and do, play unique and positive roles in improving their own lives, as well as those of their families and communities. Men’s needs are not more important than women’s, but they need to be given equal weight. For example, Joel Stein has reported the massive challenge of getting young men in the US to sign up for health insurance under the new healthcare law. It appears that young men are least likely to sign up and the government has realized this group needs specific marketing efforts to ensure they do so.
Additionally, men should not just be the targets of interventions designed to help women, men should be engaged as participants in interventions that help them build more productive and healthy lives for all. And they should develop a new normal of collaboration with women’s organizations. One example is the MenCare+ program, a 3-year, 4-country collaboration between Rutgers WPF and Promundo-US, created to engage men as caregiving partners in maternal, sexual and child health. In Indonesia the program engages with the Pulih Foundation, a local organization established by women to focus on violence and trauma. Another example comes again from Indonesia, where Johns Hopkins successfully implemented the “Alert Husband” (Suami Siaga) program. The program engaged “real men” in the prevention of maternal deaths by empowering them with knowledge on warning signs and key actions. Globally, the Man Up Campaign engages youth in a global movement to end gender-based violence and advance gender equality. Further, organizations such as The Good Men Project are working to enable a discussion of what it means to be a man in the 21st century. GMP writers like John Edale have analyzed flawed gender gap reporting by the World Economic Forum, which entirely misses the role of men. There is also a growing dissatisfaction among men with the status quo and we have an excellent opportunity for men to reinvent themselves. GMP founder, Tom Matlack, had a vision for how a conversation like this could help men. As it says on the website he helped found,
“Our community is smart, compassionate, curious, and open-minded; they strive to be good fathers and husbands, citizens and friends, to lead by example at home and in the workplace, and to understand their role in a changing world.”
Drawing on this and other evidence and experiences internationally, here are three suggestions to bring men into the development mainstream:
- Differentiate reporting of data on both men and women in all global development research and evaluation efforts.
- Build and fund strong global institutions and networks that address men’s issues and enable men to play their unique role in the world.
- Develop a new normal of collaboration and partnership between men’s and women’s groups to help eradicate extreme poverty.
These are just three of many initiatives needed to empower men and engage them in positive roles for international development. There are many more needed in priority development issues such as health, education, climate change and economic opportunity. Success will not be possible without a new normal of collaboration with women’s groups on women’s issues. These will help the global community build the new world of opportunity without extreme poverty. Perhaps one day we will proudly say that together men and women hold up the whole sky.
—Photo: atomicjeep / flickr