I spent the first week of February in a crowded hotel conference room in New Dehli. Some of the people in the room represented small organizations with only a small handful of staff members and some of them represented UN agencies with multi-billion dollar budgets. We came from all over the world but we all came for one purpose: to talk about men, boys, and gender justice. The organizations that people in that room represented range from a Centre for Men and Masculinities Studies in Bangladesh to a Caribbean network of gender equality activists and practitioners called CariMan and many more in between. People in that room ran programs that strive to broaden young boys’ notions of masculinity, encourage more involved fatherhood, and change cultural norms around sexuality to name only a few. We came together not only over the concept that a more gender equitable world benefits all people but also over the basic idea that we can all do something to help move toward that world.
The four days I spent in that conference room were divided into two separate meetings. The first was a steering committee meeting for MenEngage, a global alliance of NGOs that work with men and boys to promote gender equality. The second was a planning meeting for a global symposium to be held in New Delhi in November addressing the global work with men and boys on issues of gender justice.
In both meetings I was impressed by the depth and breadth of work being done, but at the end of each day I was also reminded of just how much more is needed. Just outside the doors of the hotel stood one of the largest cities in the world. The Delhi metropolitan is home to around 22 million people and every time I left the hotel the sheer numbers of people reminded just how hard work to change cultural norms can be. Most of the work being done to change cultural norms around masculinity happens at an institutional level (school, workplace, or organization. e.g.) or at a community level (places of worship, civic centers, e.g.) and even the most well-funded programs are lucky to reach a few hundred or a few thousand people.
The Centre for Health and Social Justice, a local NGO and our host in New Delhi, does tremendous work with men and boys but how can the change that they make be measured in a city of 22 million? While these questions may seem fatalistic and the numbers may feel insurmountable, I am asking them because they illustrate the challenge we have ahead of us. If we hope to create measurable change, we need more men and boys doing this work on all levels
I look forward to posting more about the 2014 Global Symposium in November as it approaches and will keep our readers filled on the call for abstracts, the program as it develops, registration information, and, of course, lessons learned in the process.