To definitively end gender norms and inequalities, it’s not enough to work with only women. That’s why we work with men – so they can join as allies and advocates for women’s empowerment and gender equality. When men are brought into the conversation, the entire community supports women as they overcome social and economic barriers.
We must all work together to shift the unwritten rules that marginalize women. After years of working towards creating greater equality in communities, the women we serve told us we needed to go a step further. They asked us to educate the men in their communities about women’s rights. As a result, Women for Women International first piloted a men’s engagement program in Nigeria in 2002. Since then, we have worked with nearly 26,000 men across six countries to ensure that they will not be barriers, but instead, serve as support systems for women’s empowerment.
As an organization, we understand the importance of engaging men as allies to create an enabling environment for fostering women’s empowerment. We believe that programs that do not engage men can leave women at risk and, thus, are committed to implementing strong men’s engagement programs (MEPs) into our women’s empowerment work. We acknowledge that women’s empowerment work is not a zero-sum game that is only achieved by reducing men’s power, but that the goals of gender equity and equality also benefit men’s health, household environments, financial matters, and communities overall.
Our MEPs are tailored to the realities and needs of each country but typically involve a “training the trainer” approach. This means that men are taught about gender equality and then taught how to lead discussion groups about women’s rights with other men in their communities. We place a particular focus on training religious, traditional, military, and civil society leaders to use their influence and positions of power to help protect and promote women’s rights and gender equality. We have also witnessed the power of engaging participants’ husbands and male relatives in both MEP trainings and activities involving couples. These activities help sustain the changes and learnings gained through the program.
With men at the table, women can create a ripple effect of change.