Emerging evidence on men and boys: reflections on an EMERGE workshop

A four day workshop at IDS brought together partners in the EMERGE project, academics and activists working on engaging men and boys for gender equality. Benjamin Zeitlyn and Amy Ballard from DFID also attended. The purpose of the workshop was to provide guidance for policy makers on how to include men and boys in programming and policy making for gender equality. It was also a useful opportunity to discuss the final outputs of the EMERGE project. Sessions in the workshop focused on the way men and boys are framed in international development work, interrogating the evidence on the roles of men and boys in gender equality and taking the lessons from EMERGE into policy.   

In true IDS style, the workshop was a participatory experience with group work exploring issues such as the identifying and overcoming the challenges to engaging men and boys in work on gender equality, understanding processes of policy, power and influence and crucially for DFID - communicating with policy makers.

I was struck by the processes of translation needed and the delicate balances of different agendas. The diverse group included people from different countries, organisations, disciplines and professional backgrounds. Each has its own language, its own limitations and freedoms. I want to discuss three of these tensions. 

Thinking and doing?

The more academic people in the room were most interested in how to frame, discuss and think about the position of men and boys in working on gender equality, by critically debating and reflecting on the evidence and on documenting promising approaches coming up from the field. The key messages coming out of this discussion were that policy makers need to take a more gender relational and intersectional approach to work on gender, going beyond the silos of girls and women and boys and men. Another message was about how the thinking and the doing should interconnect. We discussed how better framing of these issues could guide improved policy and practice, so that policies and programmes engage more meaningfully with power, positionality and relationships to women’s movements. There is a lot of potential in the EMERGE project for useful theoretical reflection, but with my DFID hat on, I wanted to know more about what to do than how to think. We worked on communicating findings from the EMERGE project to provide more practical suggestions for policy makers.

For men or for women?

There was also a lot of discussion about how to position work on men and boys in relation to wider struggles historically led by the women’s movement for gender equality. Dialogue with the women’s movement and feminists was the clear call from this discussion – but which feminists? Feminists are diverse, just as people advocating for work on men and boys are. Participants in the workshop were unanimously supportive of women’s struggles and pro-feminist but aware that there was some ambivalence towards development programming on men and boys because it was sometimes seen as being in competition with work on girls and women. This trap is one where the importance of ways of thinking and framing this work as being about gender equality comes back into focus. 

From activists to policy makers

Convening individuals and organisations with long histories of working on gender equality brought together experienced leaders of movement(s) in their own countries and internationally. Many of the participants had well-meaning and well-founded critiques of the way work on gender and development is framed and enacted. Asking them to put down their critiques and set out proposals, within the political and practical constraints under which DFID operates was a challenge. It inevitably means compromises, which can be difficult for the leaders of activist groups and networks that represent long standing movements. For DFID, having the discussions, experience and opinions of this knowledgeable group of people translated into suggestions for programmes will be the most important output of the workshop. 

November 2015

Benjamin Zeitlyn

Social Development Adviser, DFID