CSW62: UN Women, Promundo and Sida convene a side event “Understanding masculinities and gender equality and the Middle East and North Africa”

A Presentation of the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) – Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

Date: Wednesday, June 6, 2018

New York –During the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women, a side event was convened to discuss masculinities and gender equality in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region at the Japan Society in New York. The event, hosted by UN Women, Promundo, and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), examined the findings of the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) MENA, the first multi-country study of its kind, which was conducted in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, and Palestine and launched in 2017.  The CSW was a great opportunity to raise global awareness about the survey, benefiting from the large gathering of women’s organizations and government officials. The discussion was attended by more than 100 representatives of member states, civil society partners and the United Nations.

Emphasizing the importance of understanding masculinities as a pathway to gender equality and women’s empowerment, Eva Johansson, Lead Gender Policy Advisor at Sida in Stockholm, said, “There is still very little knowledge about masculinities, and the time is ripe to look at masculinities as a mosaic of opportunities for engaging men and boys in gender equality. UN Women and Promundo have published IMAGES MENA, and as Sida, we are proud to be partners of this important venture.”

Mohammad Naciri, UN Women’s Regional Director for Arab States drew attention to the importance of moving away from the idea of “men only supporting women as husbands and brothers,” but rather emphasizing that “we need to recognize that women and men are equal in all spheres of our lives.”

“This research helps to better understand the dynamics of male-female relations in the MENA region,” said Gary Barker, CEO and President of Promundo-US, while presenting the IMAGES data, “and to subsequently design and improve programs and policies that address these relations.” He emphasized the importance of engaging men and boys to advance gender equality and in forming thoughtful partnerships to support the work of women’s rights movements.

In a panel discussion which followed the presentation of key findings, Barker also highlighted that young men in MENA do not, as in other parts of the world, necessarily hold more gender equal attitudes than the older generation, an uncommon finding as compared to other regions. Reasons for this was identified through the research findings and could include: the impact of high levels of youth unemployment, instances of fundamentalism, and the difficulties young men may face while trying to assert their identity and masculinity in a changing world. It is therefore key to think about how to target young men effectively; panelists reflected on sports and social media as entry points for this work. Dhafer L'Abidine, a Tunisian actor and the event’s guest of honor, for example, emphasized that women are often not well represented in popular media, and that “there is a potential to use the media as a tool for changing attitudes.”

Despite a holistic look at how men can support gender equality as citizens, rather than only in their role as spouses or fathers, these relationships do provide certain entry points for programming and action. H.E. Ms Haifa al-Agha, Minster of Women’s Affairs, Palestine, highlighted some of the positive research findings: “Although results of IMAGES Palestine varied, there is progress in the views of men towards women. Many men are willing to help their wives’ in the upbringing of children and housework. Some men would like to have the option of parental leave. The IMAGES results can be built on and become an indicator for measuring the change we seek in men’s views of women.” Working with men as fathers was mentioned by several speakers as one entry point to work with men, specifically around their attitudes around caregiving and also on broader issues of gender equality. Anthony Keedi presented on how ABAAD, a Lebanese NGO working on gender equality and women’s empowerment, is working with Promundo in collaboration with UN Women to adapt Program P, an initiative to engage men as active fathers and equal partners, through a gender-transformative approach.

Lena Karlsson, Regional Programme Manager of the Men and Women for Gender Equality Programme, presented how UN Women is translating the research findings into action at the regional and country level in the Arab region through community-based programs to challenge social norms, as well as social media campaigns and advocacy efforts. Karlsson also introduced the ‘Because I am a man’ campaign, a regional initiative that aims to promote the positive role of men to contribute to achieving gender equality. The campaign uses key communication initiatives, such as the pioneer Virtual Reality social experience which highlights the cycle of violence (link), an animated film from Egypt (link) on the campaigns’ themes, and a documentary film featuring Adnan Melki (link), a Lebanese father who shares child care and domestic responsibilities with his wife.

To access the full report, executive summary of the study, infographics and more, visit www.imagesmena.org