Gender Symbol - Creative Commons via Wikimedia
CAIRO –26 May 2017: The Arab region has witnessed various efforts to expand women’s rights during the last decade. Some countries adopted legislations to ensure equal rights for both genders and to criminalize violence against women. In addition, countries ratified and adopted the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) while some of them lifted all reservations on the convention to ensure full equality between men and women. Furthermore, some countries adopted the United Nations Security Council Resolution UNSCR 1325 on women, peace and security which calls for greater participation of women in politics and representation in security sectors. All Arab countries have family laws in place, also known as personal status code.
To translate these efforts on the ground and to ensure effective outreach to different segments of the community, international organizations including United Nations agencies partner with government institutions and civil society organizations to raise the public’s awareness on the advantages of gender equality and to gender sensitize various policies and strategies of development.
In light of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) all UN member states including Arab countries are obliged to adopt the SDGs in framing their political agendas and policies. The goals include a standalone goal on “Gender Equality”.
In conjunction with these efforts and building on lessons learnt from various interventions, came the realization of the critical approach that “engaging men and boys change agents and advocates for gender equality”. However, men are still challenged by the society if they stand in favor of women’s rights and gender equality and are often characterized by being “less masculine”.
On the other hand, advocates and professionals in the field of promoting women’s rights and combating discrimination against women are regularly challenged by the lack of evidence to support their claims on the root causes of gender inequality including the patriarchal views of men and boys as a result of a male-dominated culture in which they were raised.
Both facts, the importance of male engagement and analysis of both male and female perspectives on gender equality brings to attention the need for evidence-based research, desegregated statistics, and gender analysis of these statistics. This will result in deepening the understanding of men’s realities, practices, and attitudes with regard to gender norms, gender-equality policies, household dynamics, care giving and fatherhood, intimate partner violence, sexual diversity, health, and economic stress. Men frequently dominate public and private decision-making spheres, understanding where they stand is critical to developing policies and programs that foster gender equality.
Evidence based research is essential to provide a strong base for community outreach activities and advocacy campaigns to change harmful social norms as well as designing and elevating programs and policies to address these social norms to ensure that men and boys are part of the solution.
The accumulated data resulting from this research would help in changing the way both genders are raised at home and in the school system, in addition to promoting the role of men as partners and supporters of women’s rights in the long run, breaking the cycles of gender-based violence by implementing evidence-based prevention and response interventions, promoting men’s care giving responsibilities, and women’s full involvement in the workplace.
In May 2017, UN Women and Promundo in cooperation with local research partners produced the first ever comprehensive study in the Arab region on the male reality, their experiences in their public and private lives and their attitudes and perception of Gender norms and masculinities. The “Understanding Masculinities: International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) – Middle East and North Africa including Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon and Palestine “serves the objective of examining men and boys’ stances toward gender equality and masculinities.
The study was not only limited to men; it also included 10,000 men and women to present both gender perspectives to better articulate recommendations that reflect and respect men and women and to promote a sense of collaboration and partnership among them.
General results from the study showed that except in Lebanon, younger men’s views on gender equality do not differ considerably from older men. On the other hand, young women who took part showed a consistent desire for greater gender equality. It also showed that economic stress was the number one challenge facing surveyed Arab men with around 50 percent across all four countries saying that they felt stressed because they didn’t have sufficient work and income. This stress affects their mental health and is derived from the socially constructed role of the man as the breadwinner.
In Egypt, IMAGES MENA surveyed 2,782 persons (1,380 men and 1,402 women) aged 18-59 from urban and rural areas in Cairo; Menoufia, Sharkia, Souhag; and Beni-Suef.
Specific results from Egypt revealed that men and, to a lesser extent, women hold inequitable views about gender roles and rights. The majority of men surveyed have patriarchal attitudes towards female and male relations and practices that favor male privilege.
It also showed that men and women’s attitudes and beliefs begin to be shaped in childhood, and are influenced by the inter-generational cycle of violence and of sharing housework and childcare. Men and women follow the models established by their parents.
Fathers were found to be particularly influential in shaping children’s perceptions and behaviors. For example, men who witnessed their fathers use violence against their mothers, and men who experienced some form of violence at home as children, were significantly more prone to perpetrating intimate partner violence in their adult relationships. On the other hand, men whose fathers had participated in household work and care giving were more likely to participate in care work within their own marriages. Fathers who encouraged their daughters to work, take up non-traditional professions, and select their own husbands contributed towards gender-equal attitudes among the women in the household.
Women’s low labor-market participation increases pressure on men to be providers. Almost 80 percent of surveyed men represented the main breadwinners for their family. More than 50 percent of men reported frequently feeling stressed and worried about not meeting their family’s daily needs. A key factor associated with perpetration of violence, depression, suicide, alcohol abuse and higher rates of arrest.
Participating men reported that they support equal pay for equal work and willingness to work with female colleagues if women gain access to the workplace.
The findings also showed that two-thirds or more of men surveyed support educational equality for boys and girls. Only 29 percent of men think there should be more women in positions of political authority.
Housework continues to be the responsibility of women while men make most of the household decisions. However, both men and women reported having more power and control in household decision-making than the other gender acknowledges.
Men expressed that they would like to have more role in childcare. 60 percent of surveyed men said they spend too little time with their children because of work. 50 percent of men said that they participate in some aspects of childcare. While 44 percent of men expressed that they would like to have parental leave.
Men and women experienced high rates of violence growing up. Almost one-third of men were beaten as children at home, and more than 80 percent were physically punished by their teachers. Girls were less vulnerable to physical violence at school, but more vulnerable at home.
Men and women alike reported high rates of male violence against women. Almost 50 percent of men reported having used physical violence against their wives. 90 percent of men agreed that women should tolerate violence to keep the family together. The percentage across women and men who were of this view was 70 percent.
Sexual harassment on the street is commonly perpetrated by men and frequently experienced by urban women. More than 60 percent of men admitted to having sexually harassed a woman or girl, and a similar proportion of women reported such unwanted attentions.
Understanding who are the men who support women empowerment, believe in women’s aptitude to be in decision making positions, believe in equal opportunities for both genders including lifting the glass ceiling that prevent women from reaching influential positions, women’s rights to reproductive health and control over their bodies, and protection of women from violence along with working on preventing it from worsening is vital. What is even more important is to understand why they are different and how can they influence other men and boys; this would help in developing more responsive programs and policies that would succeed.