"It is time for men to stand up for women."
Growing a Movement of Male Feminists in Africa: What Men Can do
The campaign to defend and support women’s rights has been a long-fought battle rooted in the histories of emancipation and fundamental human rights activism across the globe. The messaging in women’s rights advocacy campaigns have improved considerably but their engagement strategies have not been able to surmount societal impediments.
Campaign messages such as “The Future is Female,” “Women Power,” and “Sheroes” are having their desired effects but are not pushing the boundaries of transformational change in society largely because men are either excluded from the feminism discussions or in most cases, not co-opted to participate in such campaigns.
The truth is, societal structures and institutions favour men and therefore they must be co-opted to actively participate in the re-imagined future of gender equality. The message is critical and therefore the diverse messengers must work together in a form of a relay race to finish with agility and speed. The late Kenyan Nobel Peace Laurette, Professor Wangari Maathai succinctly captures the leadership status of women in the world, “The higher you go, the fewer women there are.” This needs to change.
Who is a Male Feminist?
To define who a male feminist is, let us first explain the term, “feminism.” Feminism is the support of equality for women and men and the feminist movement fights for equal rights and opportunities for women. A male feminist is a man or a boy who supports equality for women and men. Although all feminists strive for gender equality, there are approaches employed in its achievement, including liberal feminism, socialist feminism and radical feminism.
Women Rights’ Platforms Must Attract Key Male Feminists
Some might argue that it is quite ironic to invite the same men who are perpetuating these injustices to women. But we can only conquer a system when we understand how it works from within. The male feminists who will serve as the forerunners of the campaign are more likely to understand the current patriarchal society, its internal intricacies, and the dynamics within the pubs, golf clubs, barbering shops, and soccer stands. Pro-women advocates could collaborate with men to find strategic entry spaces to introduce feminist discussions within the male arenas, where the soccer leagues, basketball games, rugby, and cricket games are watched. It is time to take the torch of pro-women activism from women to feminist men who can lighten up the dark spots of the male-dominated arenas in the family, community, and society.
The New Movement for the Re-Imagined Future
The proposed way forward is to enable a movement around what men can do. The movement’s overarching strategy is to simply influence key male personalities, male-led institutions and courageous fathers to become male feminists within their spaces and institutions. The strategy hinges on a 4-steps approach: i. Design an advocacy strategy that unpacks the far-reaching implications of not making men lead women advocacy issues; ii. Identify, connect, and influence some of these men in key positions of authority through dialogue, education, and training for them to become male feminists at the decision-making tables. iii. Encourage the male-led and like-minded institutions to organize step-down focus group discussions and community meetings on the value of promoting women advocacy issues for their constituencies (family, community, and society). Iv. Measure the impact of the step-down trainings and focus group discussions on their constituencies.
The pictorial representation of the proposed strategy is illustrated below:
In the re-imagined future, men would no longer be defined by weight-lifting, body building or girl-conquering. Men would support the education of their daughters. Men would teach their sons to respect all girls. Men would teach their sons to help their mothers in the kitchen. Men would lead women rights advocacy efforts across sectors. Men would use the Quran as a tool to promote respect for women. Men would promote biblical principles on women development.
Relevant civil society organizations, male-feminist groups and like-minded institutions must carry this campaign to the dominant male voices who oversee influential institutions, government agencies and the private sector to inform their policy implementation strategies.
Conclusion: One Man at a Time
It took just one man and his team who believed in women leadership in Rwanda to change the woes of a war-stricken country. President Paul Kagame and his government enacted and espoused a deliberate policy to vote about 48% of women into its parliament. As has been the case, when the success stories of the new Rwanda, which some refer to as the “Singapore of Africa”, is told the efforts and contributions of these 48% of women in the Rwandan parliament are already forgotten and overlooked. One of Ghana’s renowned states men, Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey underscores the value of supporting women in a male-dominated country, Ghana, in his statement, “if you educate a man, you educate an individual. But when you educate a woman, you educate a nation.”
I am proud to be a feminist. I am proud to stand in harmony with women. I am not in this fight for my selfish reasons. I am in it for women. Not to give them strength—for they already have so much of that. Rather, I am in the fight with women and men around the world to help tear down the patriarchal institutions that prevent women from achieving their full potential. I am in the fight to enact and normalize the equality women deserve, rather than the label our patriarchal society has placed on them. We have already seen what women can do within these difficult situations. Imagine what they can do without them. Their achievements are evident in countries like Norway, Sweden, and Canada. The future is not in preserving the male-centric society that exists. The future is female. I am in this fight to safeguard the best of all worlds. To ensure that humanity (all forms of gender) arrive at the safest, healthiest, and most informed decisions about how we live, work and act in society.
Author: Harrison Boakye Owusu, West Africa Project Officer of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). Harrison writes this blog expressing his own views.