Gender inequality is one of the most significant human rights and development challenges facing the world. It harms women and girls and limits the potential of communities and nations. The effort to promote gender equality is too often seen as a “women’s issue”, with only women interested or responsible. But gender inequality is a global challenge and to solve it we must bring men and boys into the conversation. In essence, we need to tear down the stereotypes of men and women that are reinforced among men. Men are not only the problem; men are part and parcel of the solution and need to assume responsibility for the way things stand.
Twenty years ago, the Fourth World Conference on Women resulted in the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights. But in 2014, too many inequalities still exist, in politics, business, the law, culture, education and beyond. Our progress is stagnating on a global scale.
The problems are serious. In many parts of the world, rape is not considered a crime, violence of all kinds against women is routine, and forced prostitution is not uncommon. Even in countries where progress in gender equality has been achieved, women earn less than men, do not have equal representation in parliaments, hold too few executive positions, and are slotted into gender-specific professions.
The involvement of men in the effort to achieve gender equality is widely recognised as a necessity. Countless UN Goodwill Ambassadors have spoken of the vital role men must play in mobilising communities, speaking out against inequality and sexism, and taking action against this pressing global issue, most recently through the HeForShe campaign.
At the UN General Assembly in September this year Iceland and Suriname launched the “Barbershop Conference”, to be held in New York 14-15 January 2015. The Barbershop conference is an initiative that aims at activating men and boys in the fight for gender equality and changing the discourse among men and boys. We believe that by having men talk about masculinity and gender equality with other men we may get a different kind of insight and may produce innovative ways of engaging, mobilizing and motivating men to fight for gender equality and address unhealthy stereotypes of masculinity.
The focus of the Conference is ending violence against women – the most pervasive violation of human rights and an unacceptable manifestation of gender-based discrimination and inequality. In particular, men will be encouraged to look at their own attitudes and behaviour and how they relate to the perpetuation of men’s violence against women. Various studies have shown linkages between rigid definitions of what it means to be a man or a woman and men’s use of violence against women. And in a wide variety of settings, the most consistent predictor of attitudes condoning violence against women is beliefs about appropriate roles for men and women. With the Barbershop Conference initiative, Iceland adds its weight to the Liberal International’s important Campaign on the Istanbul Convention.
The Barbershop Conference is not a question of the men “taking it from here” but rather of men facing up to the issues. We extend an invite to join us in this debate. And our hope is that the Barbershop conference in New York will be a meaningful contribution to change hearts and minds and towards for gender equality.
Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson
Greinin birtist í Liberal International Human Rights Bulletin 26. nóvember 2014
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