“There is a new man in South Africa. A man who takes responsibility for his actions. […] A man who respects his woman and never lifts a hand to her […]”. (See full manifesto: http://www.brothersforlife.org/our-manifesto.html ). These are words of the manifesto for the “Brothers for life” campaign. This national campaign was launched in South Africa in 2009 and seeks to address multiple issues such as gender-based violence, sex, alcohol and HIV/AIDS. This example proves one basic thing: men need to be involved in women’s struggle for gender equality.
There are multiple convincing reasons for which the gender inequality gap must be closed, forever.
First, because it hinders development. A study conducted by Stephan Klasen and Francesca Lamanna reveals that “the costs of discrimination against women in education and employment not only harm the women concerned but also impose a cost for the entire society” (Klasen & Lamanna, 2009, 117). Indeed, if women are literate and numerate, “they can start businesses and contribute to their national economies” (Kristof & WuDunn, 2010, 170).
The other argument (which should be convincing enough on its own) for pushing forward gender equality is simply: because we care. Aren’t women’s rights are also human’s rights?
That being said there remains two questions. First, how can we convince everyone to agree upon this? Second, how can strive to effectively reach gender equality? The first question refers to the end: gender equality. The second question asks: what means can we use through which we can achieve this end?
The reason why I ask these two questions is because here, ends and means are often confused. While feminists promote the virtues of policy-making or “gender mainstreaming”, the central aim we struggle for is that one will feel bound to women’s human rights for ethical motives rather than for economical benefits. Through this mainstreaming process, some “instrumentalists” perceive the achievement of gender equality through policy-making as a means to reach development but not as an end itself. Are feminists letting their initial objectives be sabotaged through these concessions? Indeed, one needs to be careful when considering certain disguised economic arguments that allow for a complete exploitation of women as a cheap workforce. Although Klasen’s and Lamanna’s study evokes women’s pay as having a positive effect giving them more “bargaining power” within their families, the notion is hardly grasped and analysed throughout the study. Women’s earning are only mentioned when considering the rapid growth of East Asian Pacific countries that have become “more competitive in world markets through the use of women-intensive export-oriented manufacturing industries” (Klasen & Lamanna, 2009, 94). One may question if this is truly an advancement or if low-earning jobs don’t just add another burden on women’s shoulders (other than the burden of the household which is traditionally perceived as being the woman’s sphere). Yes, giving jobs to women is crucial. No, it’s not because they’re women that they should be paid less and be employed outside the legal barriers established by labour law.
What this shows is that the means used will not be the right ones if the end itself isn’t agreed upon to being with. If patriarchal values and hyper-masculinity aren’t erased, the system itself will be flawed: we will try to reach gender equality through measures that harm women and don’t really seek change. There still exists a “resistance to the notion of gender equality” (Moser & Moser, 2005, 15) and this is what needs be changed before anything else.
Another case in point would be quotas. As many examples have shown, quotas are curtailed and aren’t respected if one truly doesn’t believe in gender equality. After the introduction of quotas in France, the country ranked lower than other Western European countries in women’s representation.
As Naila Kabeer’s definition of empowerment highlights, empowerment is the “ability to make choices”. It is a process, not an ends itself. The end is that women are empowered. (Kabeer, 2005, 13 ). Globalization and women’s advancement can be a double-edged sword if masculinities aren’t tackled from the start. Women can have highly qualified jobs but will always be looked down upon as long as men will believe that only they can be the “breadwinners”. I truly believe in this instance that gender equality can only be reached if it involves men too. As Jacqui True explains in her book: “struggle to eliminate violence against women must be shared by both genders” (True, 2012, 50).
A realistic and true feminist must fight for the end: that women should be empowered. This can only be achieved if men’s attitudes are changing, with their help and initiatives, like the “Brothers for life” campaign shows.
Kabeer, Naila. “Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: A Critical Analysis of the Third Millennium Development Goal.” Gender & Development, 13 no. 1 (2005): 13-24
Klasen, Stephan and Francesca Lamanna. “The Impact of Gender Inequality in Education and Employment on Economic Growth: New Evidence for a Panel of Countries.” Feminist Economics, 15, no. 3 (2009): 91 – 132
Kristof, Nicholas D. and Sheryl WudUn. Chapter 10 in Half the Sky: How to Change the World, Virago Press, 2010, 167-185
Moser, Caroline and Annalise Moser. “Gender Mainstreaming Since Beijing: A Review of Success and Limitations in International Institutions.” In Mainstreaming Gender in Development: A Critical Review, eds. Fenella Porter and Caroline Sweetman, 11-22. Oxford: Oxfam, 2005
Norris Pippa and Mona Lena Krook. Gender Equality in Elected Office: A Six Step Action Plan. Harvard University, 2011
True, Jacqui. “Losing entitlement, Regaining Control”, Chapter 3 in The Political Economy of Violence against Women. Oxford University Press, 2012, 39-51