Nearly 15 years ago, in September of 2000, all of the United Nations (UN) member nations and 23 international organizations committed to a set of 8 goals, now known as the Millennium Development Goals, which were understood to be a blueprint for a better world. Each goal included a number of targets and benchmarks for the measurement of success, but all were intended to be reached by 2015. Since 2000 the goals have served as a powerful, perhaps even the most powerful, guiding force for policy-making as well as public and private funding for international aid and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The third goal, “to promote gender equality and empower women,” failed to take into account the role that men and boys can play in addressing inequality. Indeed, the international development community has, until recently, largely overlooked the roles men can play as both sites and agents of change. A lot has changed in the last 15 years.
In 2004 Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell produced a report, “The Role of Men and Boys in Achieving Gender Equality” for the UN which signaled the beginning of many changes to come. The document outlined 26 specific programmatic and policy-level recommendations for engaging men and boys in efforts to support gender equality.
Following that, in 2009, the MenEngage Global Alliance, a network of nearly 700 NGOs and international organizations, hosted the first global symposium on the issue of men’s involvement in struggles for gender justice. That symposium closed with the release of a declaration calling for action on a number of dimensions of gender justice work that stand to benefit from greater engagement of men and boys including violence, economic and political inequality, caregiving, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and educational inequality. And, this month, MenEngage hosted its second global symposium in New Delhi with over 1,200 attendees from around the world.
But, even as I write this post governments, international organizations, and NGOs are all in the process of collectively negotiating the content of a new set of goals to follow up on the MDGs. In 2015 the UN will be establishing a new set of goals, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to provide guidance for the next two decades. With that in mind, MenEngage announced at the Delhi symposium that it is engaged in advocacy to ensure that men and boys are part of what is being referred to as the “Post-2015 Agenda.” In their document, “MenEngage Call for Action: Post-2015 Agenda,” they argue for ways that men and boys can be integral to many of the goals proposed in a draft of the new SDGs.
The Delhi symposium again closed with the release of a declaration and call to action. This declaration proposed five specific areas in which the international community can create significant change in the coming years: expanding work with men and boys from projects and programs into policies and institutions, promoting gender equitable socialization, engaging men and boys in the prevention of gender-based violence, engaging men as fathers and caregivers, and engaging men in sexual and reproductive health and rights work.
When the MDGs were established in 2000 there wasn’t a substantial movement to advocate for the presence of men and boys as sites and agents of change. The same cannot be said today. Today there are NGOs and representatives of governments and international organizations arguing that transformation of men, and masculinity, is crucial to creating the world we imagine for ourselves. What impact this growing movement will have on the UN’s forthcoming development goals is yet to be seen.