Encouraging men and boys to become gender equality advocates

By Bonnie Chiu

Despite having strong female role models and going to a very good school in Hong Kong, when I was 13 years old, my aspiration was simply to get married and have children. But little less than a year later, my horizons began to expand as I came to read the Diary of Anne Frank — a young, brave girl who influenced millions of people with her writing. It was the first time I realised that a girl’s voice actually matters, and that it has the power to change the world.

I feel passionate about fighting for gender equality because I don’t want any other girls’ dream to be limited by their gender. In the past five years, I have embarked on a journey of being a gender equality advocate, and given the global remit of Lensational’s work, I have developed an understanding of how gender equality advocacy works in different parts of the world. What makes me especially hopeful is the role of Millennial men in recognising their duty to advocate for women and girls.

The case for investing in women and girls is clear, and it benefits all of us. When 10% more girls go to school, a country’s GDP on average increases by 3%. Yet these statistics haven’t yet translated into action. Women and girls across the world still overwhelmingly have fewer opportunities and lower attainment than their male counterparts — with the exception of very few women who have ‘made it’. Change is slowly happening, but it is too slow.

My father has always been a keen advocate of gender equality, and when I asked him why, for the purpose of this blog post, he posted a rhetorical question: “Why not? He said. “We should make the world balanced”. But unlike my father, most men do not seem to see this as a priority issue. According to a World Economic Forum article, when asked about diversity efforts in their respective companies, 45% of white men gave positive ratings; but among women and people of colour, only 21% agreed.

As men wield more significant political and economic power, engaging men and boys will ensure changes are brought in more quickly. We need to break the false mindset that men and boys are threatened by women’s empowerment. We need to encourage more men and boys to step up to the role of gender equality advocate. For me, this is really a missing piece looking at gender and gender politics.

Having met many “He for She” champions who came to volunteer or support Lensational, I think men, especially young men, are increasingly vocal about gender inequality, and recognise that empowering women and girls is an investment in our common humanity. There is a story that I want to share from Samir Sakir Siddiqui, our Programme Officer in Bangladesh, who is only 19 years old.

“Why should men contribute to [empowering women]? The backward mentality towards women can only be reduced when not only women but men come to believe in women’s empowerment. For that we need to encourage youth to get involved, as youth are the most adaptive to change. Let it start from individual families, and this is how a society will change.”

One of our other young male volunteers told me that he would call out the apparent inequality in his workplace: why aren’t there women as engineers, developers? His comments come up against unconscious bias, but I admire him for walking the talk. They are sometimes ridiculed for standing up for women’s rights, as if this is contrary to the masculine ideals that society expects of them.

Indeed, it is socially more acceptable for women and girls to support the gender equality cause, and I think we have the responsibility to encourage the few men and boys who have currently stood up for gender equality, and to build a more inclusive movement.

Nelson Mandela once said, “When a country ignores half of its population, it is doomed to fail.”

This post is a series as part of Millennial Bloggers.