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MEN WILL NEVER BE FREE UNTIL WOMEN ENJOY FULL GENDER EQUALITY

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JOHANNESBURG, Mar 3 2007 (IPS) - Gender equality is a challenge to all men and women who want to create a just world. During the struggle against apartheid we learnt that white people will never be free until black people are free. Similarly, men will not enjoy full freedom if women do not enjoy full gender equality, writes Kumi Naidoo, Secretary-General of CIVICUS, the Worldwide Alliance for Citizen Participation. In this article, the author writes that gender equality is central to meeting the various challenges that humanity faces. Like all social challenges, the struggle for gender equality must be equally shared by men and women. I and all fellow men will have to decide whether we are part of the problem or part of the solution. However, the leadership role of women in the fight for gender equality must be recognised and asserted at all times. Just as it would be impossible for someone who has not experienced racism to fully understand the totality of racial oppression, so too while men can be supportive of the struggle for gender equality, they can never understand the totality of gender injustice. For men and women alike it is important to recognise that we are all products of intense gender socialisation. Only once we accept this can it become clear that it takes more than a great effort to understand how we men have been socialised in a predominantly sexist world. Consequently, it will take men a lifetime to fully understand the impact of gender inequality let alone dealing with it.

”What legitimacy have governments that are raising the biggest concerns about development of nuclear energy in Iran, if they themselves are brazenly going ahead to upgrade their nuclear weapons?”

Other speakers asked why billions of dollars are raised for nuclear weapons and other weaponry seemingly overnight, while by comparison relatively small sums of money are offered to take action against poverty and inequality. Between banners and flags, I was struck by two women in their seventies carrying a small poster that read: No peace without gender equality. Another remarkable feature was the large number of women, both young and old, that were present in the march. This was a powerful reminder that we are on the eve of perhaps the most important day of global observance, International Women’s Day, which is March 8.

A feminist activist friend of mine once said: ”Given that men have ruled the world for so long and have mainly given us war, conflict, and injustice, it would be great to give women a chance. How much worse can they do?” At the time of the remark, the feminist activist friend was a young man in his late twenties working on the role of men in tackling gender based violence. A feminist man was an oddity then, but today it might just not be any less rare. This lack of male involvement is more than just unfortunate: it is blocking gender equality.

Like all social challenges, the struggle for gender equality must be equally shared by men and women. I and all fellow men will have to decide whether we are part of the problem or part of the solution. However, the leadership role of women in the fight for gender equality must be recognised and asserted at all times. Just as it would be impossible for someone who has not experienced racism to fully understand the totality of racial oppression, so too while men can be supportive of the struggle for gender equality, they can never understand the totality of gender injustice. For men and women alike it is important to recognise that we are all products of intense gender socialisation. Only once we accept this can it become clear that it takes more than a great effort to understand how we men have been socialised in a predominantly sexist world. Consequently, it will take men a lifetime to fully understand the impact of gender inequality let alone dealing with it.

Gender equality is central to meeting the various challenges that humanity faces. Thus the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP, www.whiteband.org), whose global secretariat is hosted by CIVICUS, is rightly linking poverty and gender equality much more tightly. Members of the GCAP Feminist Task Force met in Nairobi, Kenya, prior to the last World Social Forum to develop a mobilisation strategy for GCAP days of mobilisation in 2007. GCAP’s first mobilisation in 2007 will be on March 8th, International Women’s Day. The March 8th campaign will be global in scope with national and regional specific demands to apply pressure on national and local governments.

My mother, who passed away when I was fifteen years old, used to say that it is more important to try and fail than to fail to try. Her relatively short life and experience taught me that gender equality is a challenge to all men and women who want to create a just world. During the struggle against apartheid we learnt that white people will never be free until black people are free. Similarly, men will not enjoy full freedom if women do not enjoy full gender equality. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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