I am a feminist. My conceptualization of feminism aligns with the popular or mainstream definition: the social, political, and economic equality of women and men. I strongly believe that gender-based inequities is not any specific groups’ problem, it’s humanity’s problem. Men are part of the human race, and our equality in social, political, and economic spheres requires men to buy-in, as allies, as advocates, as mentors, and most importantly as supporters in our daily lives.
Read up on Thomas Sankara and his speeches.
A generalizably common story of women around the world is that our life experiences are segmented; as daughters, as wives/partners, and as mothers. Of course, these roles are not mutually exclusive and we usually experience them concurrently. Nor do all women choose to be mothers or have partners, but generally speaking, it aligns with most of our stories.
Each segment has a corresponding social, political and economic priority. As a daughter, the most important aspect in girls’ economic life is investment in her education. The political and social environments dictate whether girls are being afforded access to quality and affordable education, in a safe environment where girls can access basic services like toilets in order not to skip school because of their monthly periods. As a wife/partner, the most important aspect of women’s economic life is her work. Social norms and politics, which shape aspects such as marital, employment, and property laws, are examples of important aspects that dictate a women’s economic independence. As a mother, one of the most important aspect is affording all the costs that come with child rearing and further education for her children, which is of course is dependent on social acceptability of phenomenon like a stay at home dad and political demagogues who advocate for paid maternity and paternity leave mandated by law, policies that mandate affordable healthcare, etc.
Now think about the few roles and scenarios highlighted above. Who has the decision making role? You guessed it, men! Can we make impactful change and progress in the right direction without the support of boys and men? Our brothers, husbands, and fathers? I would argue, no, we cannot. Does this mean being oblivious to the men who choose to oppress us? Absolutely not! Rather, it’s an acknowledgement that men are key stakeholders in advancing feminists in advancing gender equity. The have a lot of power in our cause, we have a lot interest in our cause, and we need both pieces to solve the puzzle.
Although this topic is relevant in many contexts, involving men and boys in gender equity work is imperative in countries and cultures where patriarchal values not only dominate societal values but also permeate political and legal systems.
Education as pathway
Education has long been acclaimed as the panacea for change. It links the three segments and social, economic, and political domains. It’s a progress pathway for an individual, a community, a state, a country!
In most developing countries girls face difficult barriers to education, and since education is one of the potions to catalyze change, we must work towards dismantling the complex barriers to girls’ education, especially beyond primary and secondary school. However, we cannot do this work without the father’s, who are usually the decision maker in the household (for now at least), other men who are school administrators and community members, and most importantly boy/men classmates’ and their perceptions of the girls.
Men not buying into girls education and supporting our endeavor could mean girls being married off at a young age or running away from home to escape such obligations; it could mean being raped on the long walk to school; it could mean skipping school every month because there is no access to latrines and sanitary pads.
And how about for those of us who’ve made it far enough to the job market?
Networking is always highlighted as the secret ingredient for a successful job search and employment at almost every career workshop, panel, or article. Mentorship is also another key element. In practical terms, this translates to the people we need as allies being men, because men dominate leadership positions, they have larger networks, and most importantly, it is powerful men who have easiest access to make systemic change, on things like hiring and other gender responsive employee policies.
The famous saying goes “here’s to strong women, may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.” I think this quote is well complemented by: here’s to supportive men, may we know them, may we raise them, may we choose them.
If it wasn’t for the strong and phenomenal women in my life, I would not be who I am and where I am today; and the same is true for the men I am fortunate to have in my life.