The role of men in achieving gender equality
November 28, 2022
Voices of both women and men, heard at the first marking of International Men’s Day by the Gender Equality Agency of Bosnia and Herzegovina event on 18 November 2022, were loud and clear in saying the challenge of achieving gender equality lies on the hands of both women and men. UNDP was eager to support its long-term partner, the BiH Gender Equality Agency, in organising an event that focused on the importance of the role of men in achieving gender equality, and the pervasive toll of gender inequality and rigid and stereotypical gender norms on men.
For gender equality to be achieved, men must also be educated on perspectives, experiences and challenges women face and then engaged as their crucial allies working hand in hand to transform the world into a place where men and women can thrive equally. Men in privileged position within diverse social, political and economic fora may use their influence to echo messages of equality and lead by example among their peers, catalysing impact and triggering truly transformative change towards gender equality and making it everyone’s responsibility.
For gender equality to be achieved, men must also be educated on perspectives, experiences and challenges women face and then engaged as their crucial allies working hand in hand to transform the world into a place where men and women can thrive equally.Stephen Kinloch Pichat, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Gender inequality also takes a pervasive toll on men. Unfair gender roles and damaging stereotypes and expectations construct and reproduce harming forms of masculinity. These, for example, can cause men to repress emotions and vulnerability and to carry a stigma about mental health issues, which limits their capacity to ask for and receive support under the obligation of being dominant, rough, and independent. Such constructs also place expectations on men to be the breadwinners and providers within families, which reinforces social and psychological pressure, especially under current deprived socio-economic contexts where working opportunities might be limited, and family livelihoods may be challenging to maintain. The expectation of being the breadwinner may also take a negative toll on men’s capacity to strike a balance between work and family life, constraining their ability to enjoy and fully develop parenthood. Rigid and stereotypical gender norms can fuel risky behaviours resulting in violence, poor health, including preventive health, and lower life expectancy.
Data backs up the above-described negative toll that gender inequality has on men and boys. UNDP’s Gender Development Index regularly measures gender inequalities in three basic dimensions of human development: health, education and power over economic resources. This year’s report tells us that despite the overall income levels for BiH being higher for men than for women, men fall behind in average years of schooling. Also, women's life expectancy is five years higher than men's.
Another interesting data source in this regard is the UNDP’s and UNICEF’s Social Impact Assessment (SIA) study. Along three yearly surveys, this study has assessed the impacts of COVID‐19 across a wide range of life spheres, placing special attention on the differential impact of the health crisis among men and women. 29% of male respondents said they had faced certain types of psychological disorders during the pandemic, and 36.5% of men reported that the pandemic triggered similar feelings as those experienced during the nineties war. These results are striking, especially considering that the toll is probably even higher due to a tendency of men to underreport mental health issues due to stigma.
Also, experience in Bosnia and Herzegovina tells us that by failing to partner with men, this work will take much longer and will not be half as effective. Another ripple effect of associating men to the gender equality agenda is that such investments help reduce harmful practices of masculinity, such as those driving gender-based violence, and they will also encourage men and boys to take equal responsibility for unpaid care work and household chores.
The first marking of International Men’s Day sets a solid foundation for all partners to continue dialogue on effectively engaging men and boys as active agents of transformational change for gender equality and women’s empowerment. UNDP, as an organisation, strongly recognises that sustainable human development will not be fully achieved unless patriarchal structures that harm both women and men are dismantled and recreated so that women and girls can contribute and share power on an equal basis with men and boys. We will also continue to identify and meaningfully address the adverse consequences that unfair gender roles, stereotypes and expectations around masculinity have on men and boys while making gender equality everyone’s responsibility and utmost priority. Ultimately, when gender equality is achieved, both men and women can live more prosperous and fulfilling lives.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment are at the heart of UNDP’s development mandate as a global priority. This is why gender equality is one of six signature solutions within the UNDP Strategic Plan: 2022-2025 to accelerate every Sustainable Development Goal. UNDP’s Gender Equality Strategy 2022-2025 stresses our responsibility to fully engage men and boys across a wide range of initiatives. This is why UNDP is globally supporting the creation of male peer groups for reflection and collective action for organisational change, working more closely with men in power to challenge biases such as the notion that the political realm is unsuitable for women, and making systematic investments to work with men in conflict and crisis contexts.