This week, hundreds of writers and activists have joined forces in the Girl Effect Blogging Campaign. The Girl Effect is an initiative that seeks to draw attention to the unique ways in which women and girls are affected by poverty and conflict. Although their outreach has affected diverse groups of all genders, the bloggers in the awareness-raising campaign this week have been mostly women. Is gender diversity important in gender advocacy campaigns? If so, how can organizers carve out space for men and people of all genders to join this effort?
The Girl Effect does not purport to exclude any group from participating in development initiatives on the basis of gender or any other factor. Rather, it seeks to highlight the necessity for a gender-sensitive approach to development since men, women, boys, and girls are differentially affected by poverty and conflict. In a fact sheet containing research from Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Population Fund and other agencies and institutions, the Girl Effect states:
Out of the world's 130 million out-of-school youth, 70 percent are girls. In Nicaragua, 45 percent of girls with no schooling are married before age 18 versus only 16 percent of their educated counterparts. In Mozambique, the figures are 60 percent versus 10; in Senegal, 41 percent versus 6. A survey in India found that girls who married before age 18 were twice as likely to report being beaten, slapped, or threatened by their husbands as were girls who married later. 75 percent of 15- to 24-year-olds living with HIV in Africa are female, up from 62 percent in 2001. [all statistics courtesy of the Girl Effect]
The statistics suggest a glaring need for gender sensitivity while crafting development programming, a priority that is echoed in the Millennium Development Goals. Both men and women are involved in policymaking and the implementation of development initiatives, but advocates within the Girl Effect Blogging Campaign have been mostly women. This is not necessarily a flaw in the campaign: Demographic similarity or uniformity in social movements can foster camaraderie and effectively promote a message. Some may also argue that as long as campaigns are impactful and meet their stated goals, the demographic composition of their participants is irrelevant.
In the conclusion of a 2010 report titled "What Men Have to Do With It," the International Center for Research on Women identified lingering challenges to including men in gender advocacy; primarily, "men remain mostly invisible in discussions of gender equality." Furthermore, "men are conceptualized as problematic in most policy that addresses gender" and that can "reinforce traditional stereotypes of men." Additionally, "men lack information about existing policies or laws." The report substantiates these and other claims with case studies from Mexico, South Africa, Chile, India, and Brazil.
Campaigns can become echo chambers and, ultimately, to effect social change, campaigners will need to reach individuals who would have otherwise been unaware of or opposed to their cause. Engaging men in gender-related advocacy and development needs to start with a shift from a mentality of blame to one of inclusion. Indeed, patriarchal structures, culture, religion, tradition, and the decisions of men have created some of the problems women and girls are facing worldwide. However, that should not preclude men currently living in those communities from becoming partners in development. Focusing on blame creates a gender dichotomy that is fundamentally hurtful to the cause of gender equality and advocacy.
The word dichotomy creates another false impression: that gender advocacy is only relevant to men and women, thus excluding people of all genders from the conversation. To some, this may feel like a scrutiny of pronouns, but ultimately, people of all genders have experienced the sexism Girl Effect describes or the exclusion and blame that men may have felt in gender advocacy campaigns. Their voices are valuable in these campaigns.
We do not all need to blog to be gender advocates -- or even need to do anything per se. As Tara Mohr, the woman who created the Girl Effect Blogging Campaign in 2010 and is leading it again this year, writes, "I think that too many calls for social change focus so narrowly on making sure everyone does “x” that they fail to create the foundation for real, sustained doing. That foundation is changed awareness and being moved, emotionally. "
So, how do we stir? How do we move? Here are the first steps. We become mindful of inclusion and wary of blame. We practice that inclusion in our own lives: by discussing the Girl Effect with people of all genders, asking them how they conceive of its relation to their life, not only in response to existing problems, but also as a conversation unto itself. We carve out space for people to practice gender sensitivity in the way that feels most appropriate to themselves. And we keep making gender one of the lenses through which we approach questions of poverty, conflict, justice, development, and social change.
Is gender diversity in the advocacy of gender campaigns central to the success of such campaigns? If so, what is the best way to make campaigns gender inclusive?
Photo Credit: hdptcar