AWib’s Monthly Event – A Discussion on Gender Equaity from Men’s Point of View

On October 4th, 2018, AWiB hosted this month’s event at the Mosaic Hotel, with the title Mene-likish Men.  AWiB hosts this event annually based on the legacy of Emperor Menelik’s relationship with his wife, Etege Taitu.  Their partnership was ahead of its time, Menelik considered Taitu his equal and consulted her in making important decisions. He heeded the council of Taitu and rejected signing the Wuchale Treaty, and gave her the role of AZMACH in the battle of Adwa where she lead a battalion in one of the most historic battles against the Italian invasion. Each year, AWiB invites men that support women’s leadership and empowerment to showcase their experiences. This year was different, the speakers were invited to tell it as it is on the ‘average Ethiopian man’s’ view on Gender Equality.

The event, moderated by the President of AWiB, Meti Shewaye Yilma, invited three men panellists to understand the prevailing perceptions of gender roles and gender inequality from a man’s point of view and what role men can play to advance gender justice in our communities.  The discussion was lively, contentious and engaging.  From the selection of the title, Menelikish Men, to the discussion points raised by the panellists, the AWiB platform, true to its form, presented an open and transparent platform for dialogue, where even controversial topics and points of views were discussed.

The panellists addressed a wide range of issues that have precipitated gender inequality in Ethiopia.  Among the key drivers of inequality discussed, a few stand out. Let’s start from the broad spectrum to the specific.

Some of the panellists argued that the term gender inequality or discrimination should, in fact, be viewed as a broader human rights issues of all people, irrespective of their gender.  People should be able to live free from terror, harassment, discrimination and fear. While in the face of it, such broad view is true, it may miss the nuances of gender inequality beyond the “human rights” aspect.  Institutional discriminations such as in schools, and workplace, cultural “norms” such as female circumcision, verbal and psychological harassments are a daily occurrence for most women that a broad stroke human rights platform or the existing laws to address human rights violations may not necessarily address.  Furthermore, it falls short of changing the hearts and minds of men, which at the core of this issue, is perhaps the most prevalent and long-lasting solution in combating gender inequality and discrimination.

The panel also discussed the elusive nature of gender inequality in the eyes of men.  Akin to “white privilege” whereby, white men have intrinsic privileges in their societies, simply because of the historical, economic, political and social structures of that society, simply by virtue of them exercising their privileges, even the most gender-sensitive man could be perpetuating gender inequality. In some cases, men do not know that they are part and parcel of the problem of gender inequality.  Such societal structures, even in the most advanced countries of the world, whereby one group, be it men versus women or black versus white, have cemented the power dynamics in favor of men. The collective conscientiousness of a society has relegated women’s role as inferior, be it in education, workplace, and all other aspects of society.  More importantly, men’s views of women and their roles in society take on a very narrow role, relegated to what we know today as stereotypical gender roles of women.  Combating such unconscientious role of men in perpetuating gender inequality is harder.  It The panel also discussed raising young boys, where it requires the conscientious efforts of parents raising their young boys to understand gender equality. However, raising boys who grow up to be respectful of women and value their equal status in society requires the conscientious efforts of society in general. It starts from using language, with expressions loaded with gender inequality, such as “don’t run like a girl”, “don’t be a girl”. Such words, to a child’s ears, plant the seed of a man who grows up to be at the very least, oblivious to the status quo of gender inequality in our society.

Perhaps the most critical discussion of the panel and the Q&A session of the event revolved around the question of whether there needs to be a different tactical approach to educating Ethiopian men about gender equality. Gender equality requires critical pieces to be present in order to combat effectively.  First and foremost, it requires an enlightened society through education.  Education is key not only to men to be able to have critical minds and understand gender inequality, but it is also key to empowering women and girls to move up the ladder of society. The more women become successful in their workplace, the more workplace equality allows women to become economically independent and the more women are put in leadership roles in their respective fields, it becomes a critical step towards changing the hearts and minds of men – and women as well, as they have more role models to aspire to. Further, women should be ready to listen about what men really think about them in order to understand the level of their perspective so as to design guidelines to help uplift them.

Institutional step up is also critical according to the discussions.  Most developed countries have institutions that work on addressing women’s issues at all levels of society.  Ethiopia needs such institutions.  If they exist, they need to be more assertive in their roles and organizations such as AWiB, need to be even more assertive in advocating and working with such institutions. Though various activities have commenced, it was asserted by the panellists that they are not powerful enough compared to the challenges they are facing in their daily life. Then there is the issue of culture and religion – a curse and a blessing all at the same time.  Ethiopia’s culture is a mixed bag of gender equality and inequality. According to one panellist, a place such as Konso, there are virtually no gender-specific roles whereby in Gambella, women are subservient to their husbands and the men in their society.  When it comes to religion, some of the panellists view religion as an instrument of gender inequality – a debatable point to be sure.

So the key to addressing gender inequality in Ethiopia and the “tactical” approach to be developed in educating Ethiopian men, need to be organically grown and consider all these factors.  Simply copycatting other countries’ approaches will not work, as our society and our country, is uniquely situated culturally, religiously and its role in the society as well as institutionally.  Besides, goes the argument, addressing gender inequality requires resources, both human and capital, as well as an institutional framework – both of which makes prescribing foreign prescriptions impossible to implement.

While the panellists and the audience may have a wide range of approach and priority list on how to work towards gender equality, the common denominator shared by all was that it will take a long time to get it right.  Organizations such as AWiB need to be strengthened and work even more aggressively in identifying key milestones of gender equality and work towards that.  If examples of other countries are a roadmap, while institutions such as AWiB are key drivers of such movement, it is the policies that need to change – and for that, the government needs to work in identifying and adopting policies that create a path towards a more equal platform.  Policies such as quotas in education and workforce, while a good start, are just the beginning of a long road to changing hearts and minds. The conclusion left in everyone’s minds- we have a long way to go.

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