Government of Canada is committed to gender equality: Partnering with men is key to success
In their BUDGET 2018: EQUALITY AND GROWTH FOR A STRONG MIDDLE CLASS the Government of Canada made an explicit commitment to advancing gender equality. One of their key strategies is the investment of 1.8 million dollars to develop a federal strategy to engage men and boys as partners to advance gender equality. I applaud the government for their commitment as it may be the first of its kind in the world.
Gender equality involves the development of “equal chances or opportunities for groups of women and men to access and control social, economic and political resources, including protection under the law (such as health services, education and voting rights). This is also known as equality of opportunity – or formal equality.”[i]
Research shows that increased gender equality strengthens the economic[ii] and social fabric of society[iii] and enhances productivity[iv] and innovation.[v] Furthermore, studies suggest that a more gender-equal society is associated with a higher quality of life for everyone[vi] – including men: Well-being and happiness indicators demonstrate that gender equality does not have different impacts for men and women.[vii] It is also associated with lower rates of depression and divorce and a lower chance of being a victim of violent death.[viii] Gender equality is in the best interest of everyone.
While engaging men and boys is critical to achieving gender equality, there are several principles this strategy must take into consideration. First, the work with men and boys must be done in partnership with pro-feminist and women’s organizations[ix]. All genders must be engaged to achieve gender equality. Second, this work must be informed by a human rights based approach in order to empower all genders to claim their rights and to ensure accountability of individuals and institutions who are responsible for respecting, protecting and fulfilling rights. Third, we know experiences of masculinity[x] are affected by income, location, ethnicity, cultural background, sexuality and many other factors. Government must reflect and support this diversity by applying an intersectional[xi] approach in its engagement strategy. Fourth, any measures and indicators that are developed should include data that shed light specifically on men’s contributions to gender equality, as well as the benefits and disadvantages increased gender equality have for men. Fifth, the government must actively work in partnership with the private sector, non-profit sector, philanthropic sector and civil society to leverage opportunities and to innovate[xii]. To achieve gender equality, we need all Canadians working towards this goal.
Lastly, it is important that this strategy acknowledge that we live in a patriarchy – “a system of social structures and practices in which men dominate, oppress and exploit women”[xiii] and that this system reinforces structural inequities and reinforces violence against women[xiv] and gender inequality.[xv] We therefore must work towards dismantling the existing structures and norms that breed men’s sense of entitlement and maintain their privilege, power and control over women. Interestingly, slightly more than half of Canadian men identify themselves as feminists, although 17% of men are scared to speak out and advocate for equal rights of women because of what might happen to them.[xvi] This work will take courage and insight from all genders from coast to coast to coast.
Involving men and boys as stakeholders to advance gender equality by embracing inclusive values and committing to equal relationships is necessary but not sufficient. This strategy must include the institutional, cultural and social changes necessary for all members of society to reach their full potential.[xvii]
[iii] MenEngage (2016). Men, masculinities, and changing power: A discussion paper on engaging men in gender equality from Beijing 1995 to 2015.
[iv] McKinsey & Company Canada (2017), “The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in Canada”,
[v] [v] Stanford University. Gendered Innovations in Science, Health and Medicine, Engineering and Environment https://genderedinnovations.stanford.edu/terms/femininities.html
[vi] Science Nordic (2015), “Gender equality gives men better lives”. Viewed February 23 2018 at http://sciencenordic.com/gender-equality-gives-men-better-lives; Holter, Øystein Gullvåg, “What’s in it for Men?: Old Question, New Data, Men and Masculinities, vol. 17, no 5, 2014, pp. 515 – 548.
[vii] Science Nordic (2015), “Gender equality gives men better lives”. Viewed February 23 2018 at http://sciencenordic.com/gender-equality-gives-men-better-lives; Holter, Øystein Gullvåg, “What’s in it for Men?: Old Question, New Data”, Men and Masculinities, vol. 17, no 5, 2014, pp. 515 – 548.
[viii] Holter, Øystein Gullvåg, “What’s in it for Men?: Old Question, New Data”, Men and Masculinities, vol. 17, no 5, 2014, pp. 515 – 548.
[ix] Pease, Bob. (2017). Men as allies in preventing violence against women: Principles and practices for promoting accountability. https://www.whiteribbon.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/WhiteRibbonResearchPaper_LR.pdf
[x] Masculinity is not a single or cohesive construct; there are multiple versions of masculinity, all of which are shaped by the context in any given society at any given point in time. Some of these masculinities are prioritized and valued above others, although masculinity as both an ideology and as a way of being a man affords men power. From Hall, N.M., & Applewhite, S. (2013). Masculine ideology, norms, and HIV prevention among young black men. Journal of HIV/AIDS & Social Services, 12(3-4), 384-403. doi: 10.1080/15381501.2013.781974; Kimmel, M.S., & Holler, J. (2017). The gendered society: Second Canadian edition. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press
[xi] Intersectionality is an analytical tool that investigates and attempts to account for differences in the outcomes for diverse groups of women, men and non-binary people based on how various characteristics, including gender, sex, age, ethnicity, disability, immigration status, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and other factors, interact to influence an individual’s opportunities and outcomes.
[xii] For a more comprehensive review of these principles, please see http://preventdomesticviolence.ca/informing-a-government-of-alberta-action-plan-to-engage-men-and-boys-to-stop-violence-against-women/www.preventdomesticviolence.ca
[xiii] Jensen, R. (2017). The end of patriarchy: Radical feminism for men. Spinifex Press:Australia.
[xiv] It is well established that worldwide, men perpetrate the majority of violence against women and girls, and other men and boys (Fleming et al., 2016). In Canada for example, women are three times more likely than men to be killed or to be sexually assaulted, choked, or threatened by a weapon from a male partner (Statistics Canada, 2011, 2017).
[xv] Edström, J., & Shahrokh, T. (2016) ‘Reframing Men and Boys in Policy for Gender Equality: Conceptual Guidance and an Agenda for Change, EMERGE Framing Paper, Promundo-US, Sonke Gender Justice and the Institute of Development Studies, Brighton; IDS; Flood, M. (2015). Men and gender equality. In M. Flood & R. Howson (Eds.), Engaging men in building gender equality (pp 1-31). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
[xvi] [xvi] Ipsos Public Affairs. (2017, March 7). Seven in ten Canadians Believe there are unequal rights for women in Canada. Retrieved from https://www.ipsos.com/en-ca/news-polls/seven-ten-canadians-69-believe-there-are-unequal-rights-women-canada
[xvii] International Centre for Research on Women (2018), “Gender Equity and Male Engagement: It Only Works When Everyone Plays”. Viewed February 23 2018 at https://www.icrw.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/ICRW_Gender-Equity-and-Male-Engagement_Full-report.pdf