Men can transform gender stereotypes and inequality — Executive Director

Speech by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the Opening Plenary of the 2nd MenEngage Global Symposium in New Delhi, India on 11 November 2014.


[As delivered]

Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Colleagues and friends.

I am honoured to be here with you today on this important occasion. I am very thankful to everybody who made this event possible.

As I have said yesterday, this event will go down in the books as a game-changing event. This is true not only of the number of participants and how many countries are represented here — it is true because of the seeds of change we are planting.

On behalf of UN Women I would like to thank all of you for being here.

We all know that in order to achieve development, peace and sustainability we have to achieve gender equality.

This is a precondition and it is an imperative. We have to carry it into the post-2015 development agenda.

With greater gender equality comes enhanced well-being of communities and society as a whole, in terms of:

  • Improved educational outcomes;
  • Better health;
  • Greater economic prosperity; and
  • Sustainable peace

But gender equality can only be achieved if men and boys take full responsibility, working side by side with women and girls, to redress the dynamics that hinder progress.

And here I would like us to remind ourselves that achieving gender equality is first and foremost a transformative enterprise.

We cannot shortchange ourselves. Gender equality is about disruption. It is about breaking social norms and gender stereotypes that limit opportunities for women and girls, and restrict men and boys to certain roles.

The reconfiguration of power relations, transforming masculinities and traditional perceptions of manhood are at the heart of this agenda.

It requires men to question and challenge power dynamics in their actions or their words, and to take responsibility for change.

It also requires women to continue to take responsibility for change. Women also contribute to sustaining gender stereotypes and harmful masculinities.

Men’s decisions and behaviours are profoundly shaped by these expectations related to masculinity.

We know that social and cultural norms about masculinities shape power relations and gender inequalities.

We need to use this as a positive influence.

In a negative context this has close links with violence against women, as does men’s experience of violence in their own childhood.

From an early age, boys are socialized into gender roles that keep men in power and control. Many grow up to believe that dominant behaviour towards girls and women is part of being a man.

Systematically changing this narrative is important.

We need greater positive male parental involvement, as evidence shows it increases more equitable gender relationships and less violent behaviours.

Engaging fathers in modeling non-violent behaviours is crucial to ending the cycle of violence.

And educating young boys and girls in relationships of justice, dignity and gender equality should accelerate achievement of gender equality.

Encouraging men and boys to choose deliberately to act in positive ways lies behind the launch of UN Women’s HeForShe campaign.  

This is a platform to start a conversation, to promote positive masculinity, to build a large network of supportive and like-minded people.

It calls on men and boys from all over the world to take steps to advance gender equality. For example:

  • To take action to stop violence against women, refuse to be a bystander, to denounce it and reject impunity.
  • To lead by example in their family and community by treating women and men equally, by challenging gender stereotypes in all spheres of life, and by sharing equitably in family and household responsibilities.

We know that through their actions and their engagement men can transform social norms, behaviours and the gender stereotypes that perpetuate discrimination and inequality.

Yesterday, at the opening of the Symposium, I spoke about the post-2015 development agenda. A goal on achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment is included in the outcome document of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals. Men need to take responsibility for the achievement of this goal.

For example, one of the targets aims at ending harmful practices. Men need to take responsibility for this target.

Men need to stand up and say they refuse to marry a child.

Men need to stand up and reject female genital mutilation (FGM).

Men need to stand up against video games that teach boys about being violent. There is a fine line between the reality on the screen and the reality in life. Gaming can provide opportunities for virtual rape. This is also a harmful practice that needs to be eliminated.

The target on unpaid care work also needs men’s engagement and responsibility. We at UN Women are pleased that this target is included in the outcome document. Now men need to take responsibility for care work in the home. This is something that happens at the individual level. Every man can effect change to recognize, redistribute and reduce care work.

The target on ending violence against women — the most dehumanizing form of discrimination and inequality — is another area that requires male responsibility. We need the beater not to beat. It is as simple as that.

Men can also help achieve the target on women’s leadership and participation. They can remove themselves from bodies that are not gender balanced. They can refuse to participate, they can denounce those bodies’ illegitimacy and lack of representation.

In enacting legislation that promotes women’s rights, and repealing laws and policies that discriminate against women, men can also help.

Men can also exercise their leadership for women’s economic empowerment. The male CEOs, the male employers — they need to play an effective and meaningful role in promoting women’s full participation in the economy.

So, my friends, there is some homework for the men of the world.

Thank you.