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I’m currently taking a class on gender and development and I absolutely LOVE it so far, even though it encompasses a ton of readings – about ten 40-50 page articles per week; but, I’m really, really enjoying them thus far. Not only are these readings deeply informative but they shed light on extremely crucial topics pertaining to women’s empowerment and development, as well as the involvement of men and how their inclusion may positively affect empowerment and strengthen the fight for gender justice. And as someone who’s decided to rid herself of the feminist title, for many obvious as well as personal reasons (read my article on “I Am Not A Feminist, I Am Just A Pashtun Woman”) I now often ask myself how men can become adherents to the development process, and become involved in the development of women in the South, in particular.
I have to admit, I am a little tired of having to constantly be bombarded with this clichéd belief, that most frustrated “feminists” put out there, in which women are always seen as the victim and men always the problem. What these women don’t realize is that while some, not all, men may be oppressive and subjugating to women, we simply cannot paint them all with the same brush. And, in practice, simply excluding men from development (of women) is not, in fact, an option at all! Why? Well, although the logic goes that, given that it is women who are disadvantaged by gender inequality; it is women who have a claim for redress; and thus gender issues are of no concern to men, yet, this logic can no longer be sustained, for as Connell (2003:3) notes:
Men and boys are unavoidably involved in gender issues.
This is because gender inequalities are based in gender relations, and in the complex webs of relationships that exist at every level of human experience. And, thus, including men in the development process (of women) is necessary because gender inequality is intimately tied to men’s practices and identities; men’s participation in complex and diverse gender relations; and masculine discourses and culture. And in order to foster gender equality, it requires change in these same arenas, of men’s lives and relations, as well as their thought patterns. In other words, we need to examine the factors that have contributed to their thought processes and their actions, for I strongly believe in the saying: “Cure the symptom – the root of the problem – not the disease.” (Oh, and before I go any further, I need to make it clear to my readers here that when I mention ‘gender’, one must not assume it to be exclusive to women only, for gender refers to both women and men.)
Anyway, so when we involve men in the gender and development agenda, the greatest and most rewarding challenge is to understand gender in a more nuanced and interactive way. This not only implies the sole need to bring men in, but also to interrogate how exactly ‘men’ and ‘masculinities’ are defined and conceptualized. And believe me, there are a plethora of definitions, depending on which perspective we’re looking at. And because my research focus is on gender and development in the South (particularly among Pashtuns), I am pretty sure there is a deep inter-connectedness between men, power, and patriarchy, which are all undoubtedly at the forefront of hindering women’s development in the region (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa).
Like, for instance, when we discuss violence against women, especially in the South, it relates directly to the power ascribed to men by patriarchy (I will go a little deeper into what patriarchy is exactly [definition], how it came about/originated, and why it’s such an issue, especially among Pashtuns, in another blog post). And exploring patriarchy in light of the diversity of masculinities in Central and South Asia, including their points of vulnerabilities can indeed foster alternative conceptions of masculinity. In other words, when we include men in the development process, we come to accept the notion that their identities and roles in society are not fixed; but because they are socially constructed, they can be modified and transformed in order to accommodate freedom and rights of fellow women.
There is no denying that male inclusion increases men’s responsibility for change. Explicitly addressing men can increase men’s belief that they, too, will gain from gender equality and can engage men directly in the renegotiation of gender relations. Male inclusion can speak to many men’s sense of anxiety and fear as ‘traditional’ masculinities are undermined. And, just to put it bluntly, men can be, and are motivated, by interests other than those associated with gender privilege. There are important resources in men’s lives for the construction of gender-equitable masculinities and forms of self-hood; these include men’s concerns for children, intimacies (sexual) with women, as well as ethical and political commitments. And while men ought to change, it is also in men’s interests to change. There is a moral imperative that men give up their unjust share of power, which I strongly believe will benefit men themselves, hence paving the way towards gender equality.
And, so, it would be utterly unfair to constantly see men only as obstacles to women’s empowerment; for it is also worth recognizing that some men are already playing a role in fostering gender equality. And there already exist many men who are already living in gender-just ways, not only in the West, but in the East as well. These are men who respect and care for the women and girls in their lives, and they reject traditional, sexist norms of manhood. And it would be particularly interesting to hear from these men – hear them explain what shaped their thought patterns, despite little or no education at all; and what were some of the key factors involved in their respect and promotion of women and girls? Perhaps, I will address this in one of my research endeavours one day soon, as it’s quite unique and intriguing.
However, despite the positives of the involvement of men in gender and development, I do not want to imply that it is devoid of concerns and critiques, for they do exist. But because this blog post is on the positive involvement of men in the development sphere, I will perhaps touch on the critiques in another post.
Thanks for reading and please feel free to share your thoughts/concerns in the comment box below. I’ll try my best to address them to the best of my ability.