Sunday, April 25, 2010

Men, Feminism, Gender Equality and Call to Action!

The Women’s Movement has not been very good at including men in the discussions and strategies to advance gender equality. We justly complain about being excluded from men’s tables, but I truly challenge us to ask ourselves if we are doing the same thing by not inviting them to ours? This has to, and is, slowly, changing.

I want to honor the history of women’s organizing and action. Women needed a safe place to share stories, be heard and create strategies for change. We certainly still need that, but broadening our movement to include men that share our values has, I believe, become mission critical.

I also want to honor the many incredible women leaders and activists, so many of which I had the good company of this past week in Denver, at the Women’s Funding Network Annual Conference including Gloria Steinem, Chris Grumm, Helen Lakelly Hunt, Barbara Dobkin, Katherine Acey and so many more. These women have been fighting for the rights of women and girls for decades. But for the movement, our movement to advance, I believe we need to do a much better job of including men and male leaders who share our mission and our values. We need more than a few good men, we need a lot of them, and one such man is Kumi Naidoo, International Executive Director of Greenpeace International, who joined us in Denver.

Kumi travelled all the way from Amsterdam to speak on a panel at the conference called “United In Purpose: A Cross-Sector Stakeholder Exchange.” The other panel members were Saadia Zahidi ( World Economic Forum) , Anne Mosle (Kellogg Foundation), Ana Maria Enriquez (UNIFEM), Pamela Shifman (NOVO) , Cathy Woolard (CARE) , Kim Azzarelli (Goldman Sachs) and moderated by Nicky McIntyre ( Mama Cash) (link to all speakers bios). More and more organizations are investing in strategies that see women and girls as solution builders to the world’s problems, and the question is, how do we work together for maximum impact? How to we make sure that this is not a trend but sustainable? Organizations like CARE, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Initiatives, and the NOVO Foundation are BIG, yet relatively new players in this work, so how do they partner with Women’s Funds that have been doing this work for 30 years? How do they both absorb and leverage the knowledge that exists and not reinvent the wheel? And what can we as a network of women’s funds learn from these organizations and how they come to see investment opportunities and strategies? Rather than give you all my notes, I will link to the session when it becomes available next week.

My point in this blog entry is that a MAN, a self defined Feminist MAN, was there with us brilliantly adding to the conversation with insightful perspective and great tactical ideas. He did not need to be convinced that including women and girls in discussions around climate change, poverty, health issues was the right thing to do, but the absolutely necessary thing to do. He did not need to be coached about what to say and how to say it in a respectful and inclusive tone, be modeled it. He did not duck tough questions about inclusion and voice, he addressed it head on. He did not cushion his comments about what hold the women’s movement back, he gave targeted advice on how we could both gain access and influence. This man was a breath of fresh air and I for one sat there wishing for more of guys like him. I cannot wait for you all to watch the video of this session, I cannot wait!!

Now I know of course there are many feminist men, (my hubby, James B to name a couple) but my point is that there are not enough, and few that are in positions of power and influence like Kumi is. If you ask most men, and sadly some women, if they are feminist they are likely to say no. ( see definition below ) We need more, so many more feminist men, and it gives me great hope to know that Kumi is at Davos, is leading conversations about climate change around the world, is meeting with the top CEOs of the world at their request, and is one of us! He is someone who believes that gender inequality is the root cause of so much that ails the world and that reducing it offers the hope for what can heal it.

So here is the call to action Girlfriends. Increasingly see the recruitment and engagement of men, our men and men we do not know, as key to OUR success. Let’s help them understand that gender inequality is NOT a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue. Let’s help them understand that when women and girls are safe and secure, so are families, communities, and our nations. I must have said this 100 times on this blog, and I will say it 100 more. Reducing global gender inequalities – in leadership, education, political participation, wages, civic engagement, legal rights and more…. is what will help save and heal our planet. I know this with every ounce of my being and I will work, engage, fund, fight and march for this until the day I die. Join me and let me join you.

As for you men who might be reading this here is your call to action. I challenge you to ask yourselves do you believe that women and girls should have the same access, opportunity and security as men and boys have? If the answer is yes then think about why it is ok that women still earn in the country 77 % of what men earn? Why is it ok that women are largely absent from corporate boards and leadership positions? Why is it ok that 70% of the world’s poor women and children? Why is it ok that millions of girls go missing every year and so little is done about it? Why is it ok that you can buy the body of a teenage girl on Craig’s list? If none of this is ok, please ask yourself what are YOU going to do about it?

The great news is that it is not JUST about giving money to organizations that do this work, the work can begin in your home in terms of how you interact with and empower your wives, daughters, and yes, your sons too. Turning the TV off when you see women and girls objectified would be a great place to start. In the workplace, hire, mentor and encourage women, as well as men. We need so many more men understanding, caring about and acting like gender inequality matters TO THEM.

Thank you Women’s Funding Network Staff for an incredible few days at your annual conference, and I hope next year that if you are reading this and have not attended, you will. It is my goal as Vice-Chair of this organization to make this event the must attend gathering for those funding women and girls around the world.

footnote...
Feminism has this definition - "the policy, practice and/or advocacy of political, economic and social equality for women." (It does NOT mean anti-men) For those of you, especially women, who say you are NOT feminists, I urge you to think about and explore the definition. Many people think it to be a very left wing political movement, which is not it's true definition.

If you just cannot for whatever reason embrace the word feminist consider owning this ...

Humanist - "a person having a strong interest in or concern for human welfare, values and dignity." Men and women, boys and girls.

4 comments:

Kamy said...

I love this post -- I will really feel like I have succeeded as a feminist mom when my two boys grow up to be feminist men, too. Can't wait to see the video!

Donna said...

Jacki,
Thanks for capturing your thoughts and the opportunity. I totally agree with you and would go further and challenge us in two ways.

First, as a movement and organization, we tout our "inclusive" nature...but many in our movement continue to directly and indirectly discourage the inclusion of men. We do this explicitly by making overt decisions to exclude men from Women's Fund boards (yes there are still many that have this policy). We do this implicitly via the language we use. If I had been a guy in the audience at WFN I might have felt, um, excluded, by the overuse of the word "sisters" as a salutation from the podium.

Secondly, while Kumi is obviously a very committed guy who gets it...I would argue that the reason CEOs want to meet with him is more out of fear than opportunity. They want to make sure that Greenpeace is NOT going to take them on publicly. In addition to activists/agitators like Kumi we need leaders who are operating from a position of OPPORTUNITY, not just risk management. I worry that even framing the issue the way you have - "is it ok?..." would resonate even more if flipped 180 degrees. "Wouldn't it be fantastic if..."

I want to encourage us to frame this conversation with and to men in a way that will be true to our goals and ideals, and that speaks to them in the positions they hold. "Wouldn't it be fantastic if your market was xx% bigger because girls said they preferred your product because of the way you talk to them in the media?"

"Wouldn't it be great if your organization was held up as a leader in the financial services world because of your deep commitment to providing authentic opportunity for women to both succeed and mentor young men and women in the community/your company?" You get my drift.

Friendly amendments/thoughts and I'm with you - let's keep this conversation alive.

Donna

Jacki Zehner said...

Donna i totally get it and could not agree more. Thanks for sharing.

Jacki Zehner said...

This is from a male friend of mine...
I am a feminist on the definition that you gave, but for me the matter is one of women's self empowerment. One of my concepts is that in the 21st century, male will become the anachronistic gender. What I mean is that women freed of child rearing responsibilities are better capable of filling the majority of jobs in the world. I have cited the fact that in Saudi and Iran, the majority of students in college are women and how that threatens fundamental radical religion. In America women already have the majority of wealth and are the swing vote politically. So the power is in women's hands if they want it.

So change is inevitable and is happening as we speak.

Resistence remains at the pinnacle positions in corporate America and finance. Here women should assert their economic power in how they invest their money and how they vote corporately.

There are issues that men and women should join forces to fight aggressively such as abuse of women and girls.

And I do believe that for certain jobs there are diffferences. Men are better mathematicians and physicists. Women are better lawyers. OK so that leaves about 99.99% of the other jobs.