Bridging Perspectives: Engaging Male Allies for Gender Equality and Women’s Leadership
by Tazreen Hussain, IFES Gender Program Officer
Despite a persistent call for engaging male allies in efforts to empower women in decision-making roles, alliances between men and women in mature and developing democratic societies continue to be infrequent or unpredictable. These challenges extend down to the household level, where women can be excluded from leadership training for basic reasons such as restrictions on freedom of movement or lack of childcare.
We know that in order to achieve true gender equality the perspectives of men must be included. Working with political institutions and their generally male leaders, interventions that focus on men and women’s perspectives can provide opportunities to promote change from within and can gradually alter traditional attitudes about the role of women and men in public and political life.
The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has developed the Male Allies for Leadership Equality (MALE) training module, an addendum to IFES’ women’s leadership training curriculum. This module puts into practice a systemic and practical approach to work toward the understanding that gender equality and women’s empowerment will only be achieved when women and men work together toward that goal. The MALE module works simultaneously to sensitize women and men to the importance of working together to lead political processes and democratic development and includes a practical approach on how to share power; it provides an organized approach to training men on women’s rights and leadership, and demonstrates how to create opportunities for alliances and coalitions between men and women working on democracy and governance within their respective countries.
With generous support from the U.S. Agency for International Development Agency (USAID), MALE was created through a series of focus group discussion with men and women from Syria and Nigeria and piloted with participants from Libya. Since then, we have been implementing the training in several contexts, including in Haiti with men from departments throughout the country, and most recently in Ukraine and Libya.
In partnership with the International Republican Institute (IRI), IFES has trained male family members of female municipal counselors. Through these trainings, IFES has been able to discuss ways they, as allies at the family and community level, can work toward increasing awareness and support of female leadership and gender equality in their everyday lives. Further, we have worked to empower women to ask for the specific support they need from their family and community members in order to succeed in their leadership roles.
“This initiative moderates, rather than teaches. MALE allows [us to] talk to people about professional development, values, standards and approaches in their professional life based not only on gender component, but given the approach of the equal partnership where all participants, both men and women learn how to come into agreement on constructive proposals, practice effective decision-making, positive change and distribute responsibility together.” – Alyona Shesheniya, trainer, Ukraine
In Ukraine with support from USAID, Global Affairs Canada, and United Kingdom Aid, IFES recently conducted a MALE training of trainers with men and women. Over 200 professional trainers showed interest in becoming a MALE trainer, and IFES trained a select group to lead MALE initiatives in all 24 regions of Ukraine beginning March through May 2018. Specific sessions focused on women’s political participation, women, peace, and security, sexual harassment, and strategies to be a good ally. The interactive sessions encouraged deep discussions about gender roles and gender dynamics.
Our approach to working with men and women on gender equality is to work toward the understanding that gender equality is not zero sum and that everyone in society benefits from equal access to the political process and equitable representation. Through these important dialogues we have seen that male allies begin to work toward creating other allies and take on mentorship roles in order to do so. These efforts clearly signal that this is just the beginning of a bigger movement and that progress will be made through continuous dialogue and support.