It is an all-too-common misconception that activists in the women’s movement are, quite simply, angry, man-hating feminists. In the first place, this is an inaccurate portrayal of the women I know who fight for women’s rights, both domestically and globally. Sure, we get angry – but that is not the only motivating emotion. Indeed, it is about much more than that.
Second and most importantly, this belief stifles the involvement of perhaps the most imperative group in this movement: men. As long as these social attitudes remain, and gender equality continues to be deemed a “women’s issue,” men will not only refrain from getting involved but also will not change their own perspective on gender norms.
Whether one combats gender inequality in the legal field or working on the ground in a developing country, one thing is constant: social attitudes toward women are perhaps the greatest challenge. Re-framing the social construct is the foundation of the movement and a necessary strategy that is too often overlooked.
However, Marcos Nascimento from Rio De Janeiro, Brazil is tackling this issue head on.
Deviating From the Learned
Nascimento was working as an engineer on a construction site when he made the admittedly drastic decision to quit his job, go back to school, and study psychology. Why?
“The way [men] interacted and spoke to women, as if they were objects of consumption, it bothered me a lot,” says Nascimento. After finishing his studies, he founded the international organization, Instituto Promundo, in 1997.
Instituto Promundo operates on the tenet that violent behavior isn’t innate; it’s learned. Boys who are treated violently, are exposed to violence in their communities, or have strained relationships with their parents are more prone to be abusive toward women. Because this is learned, Nascimento has proven that it can also be unlearned.
A 2007 report issued jointly by Instituto Promudo and the World Health Organization revealed that, when given a chance to reflect on their actions, men and boys modify them. According to the study, the most effective programs are expert-moderated forums where participants are asked to confront the effect their behavior has on their loved ones as well as their broad conceptions of masculinity.
One of Instituto Promundo’s programs, “Program H” (H for hombres and homes, the words for men in Spanish and Portuguese) engages young men in reflections about the strict social norms that are accepted in their communities. This program utilizes education and community campaigns to change social attitudes toward women.
Evaluations of success have shown positive changes: men are more willing to participate in domestic responsibilities, they are less abusive toward women, and lower rates of sexual harassment were reported.
A Take Away
Even as a soon-to-be lawyer, I myself also overlook the importance of engaging men in the movement for gender equality. This isn’t intentional – it is what I have learned, albeit subliminally, from reading about many organizations that seek to empower women around the world. Too many overlook this critical step.
Organizations like CARE, however, promote the fact that empowering women is not at the expense of men. It is to bring entire communities out of poverty; or to protect women and children from violence.
As “Program H” acknowledges and proves, attitudes are learned and are the reason so many women are marginalized. It is imperative, then, to focus on young men and boys and re-draw their rigid social beliefs.
To learn more about Instituto Promundo or to donate, click here.