NATIONS can build a future that is free of gender discrimination if young men and boys are reached out with programmes that redefine manhood, increase their perception of themselves as responsible, caring, and non-violent partners and promote gender-equitable attitudes.

This was said by the Organisation of African First Ladies for Development (OAFLAD) during a presentation made by its vice president and Zimbabwe’s First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa at a virtual meeting held on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on “engaging men and boys to advance gender equality”.

OAFLAD outlined its efforts to achieve gender equality to various empowerment programmes which it is prioritising for this year.

Speaking on behalf of OAFLAD, Amai Mnangagwa said gender equality and women empowerment were important agendas of ensuring sustainable socio-economic development globally and in the African region as envisioned in SDG goal 5.

To achieve this, it requires buy-in from men and boys.

“It is key to reach young men and boys with programmes that redefine manhood, increase their perception of themselves as responsible, caring, and non-violent partners and promote gender-equitable attitudes if we intend to ensure a future that is free of gender-based discrimination,” she said.

Some gender equality movements and initiatives, she said, failed to bring the anticipated results because they did not involve men.

“Most gender equality initiatives are led by women and girls and rarely are open for men and boys to take part. It is important to frame gender equality as an issue that men and boys have a stake in and actually benefit from. This could be an effective way to motivate men to get more involved and some women to be open for discussion.”

African First Ladies expressed their appreciation to spouses of Caricom leaders action network (SCLAN) for affording them a chance to share their position with the international community.

On the local front, Amai Mnangagwa has been pivotal in strengthening women empowerment and gender equality hence her travels across the length and breadth of the country, attending to issues that affect citizens.

She said since the inception of OAFLAD in 2002, African first ladies had resolutely advocated gender equality and women empowerment.

“Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls and Agenda 2063 goal 17: full gender equality in all spheres of life.”

The African Union (AU), she said, had developed various frameworks to support gender equality and women’s empowerment at the regional level.

African first ladies through their organisation, OAFLAD had collaborated with various stakeholders to hold governments accountable for the commitments they signed over the years, in various ways involving a multi-stakeholder campaign called “Right by her”, which strives to make gender equality to move from paper to reality.

“Despite the efforts mentioned above, there are still gender-related inequities that need to be addressed such as: harmful practices, early child and forced marriages and female genital mutilation; discrimination and unequal participation and opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life; domestic violence; lack of universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights; unequal education opportunities, even though the gender gap on education is rapidly closing due to intensive promotion of girl child education.

“An emerging challenge is that there are limited programmes and initiatives to ensure inclusivity of the male in education and in sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. These are gaps that can be addressed through advocacy, community mobilisation, resource mobilisation and ensuring strategic partnerships.

“We, at OAFLAD believe that this is an opportune moment to discuss gender equality and women empowerment, particularly where gender inequality and violence have been exacerbated during this time where Covid-19 has had a huge, economic, psychological and social impact in our communities, leaving women as victims.

“Expressing our concern, we issued a joint statement with Plan International to draw attention to the risk of an increase in the incidence of violence, in particular against women and girls, which could be triggered in a state of panic and mandatory confinement initiatives,” she said.

The involvement of men, Amai Mnangagwa said, was crucial to ensuring that women’s rights were respected and their potential tapped for the betterment of their communities.

“It is important to not only make men part of the discussion of the women equality agenda, but also encourage them to become solutions and take visible action to ensure women’s advancement in life.

“Partnership between women and men is key since men in most parts of the world exercise power over women by impacting many aspects of their lives. Most heads of state and government officials, in charge of policy-making are men, most religious and community leaders deciding on the norms and rules of lives in a community are men, and households in most countries are solely led by men who are unwilling to share decision-making with their spouses.”

Besides, she said, in most households and cultures, men control sexual and reproductive health information and services, finance and other resources.

“In most cases, men tend to use coercion and violence to enforce these cultural norms in their homes, their workplaces and their activities in the community.”

The mother of the nation said to address gender inequality in all aspects of life, it was crucial to engage men and boys alongside women.

“Now is the time for accelerated action. It is critical that we expand the conversation on gender equality and look at how men and boys can help push the gender equality agenda forward at the local, regional and global level if we need real change.”

Spouse of Bahamas Prime Minister and SCLAN executive member Patricia Minnis agreed with Amai Mnangagwa’s sentiments, adding that gender equality was not a woman’s issue as it affected everyone hence the involvement of men in such initiatives was key.

Paraguayan First Lady, Silvana Abdo, weighed in saying to achieve gender equality fully, there was need to identify gender stereotypes and eradicate gender violence.

She described gender-based violence as a serious human rights violation.

Kim Simplis Barrow, wife to the Prime Minister of Belize, said boys should be taught in an enabling environment to respect women.

Argentine First Lady Mrs Fabiola Yanez was also part of the panellists.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) resident representative for Jamaica Denise Antonio shared similar sentiments, saying domestic violence reared its ugly head in all spheres and was not confined to a particular society or socio-economic class.

“From a broad perspective citizen insecurity manifesting itself in crime and violence is a major issue in Latin America and the Caribbean. In fact, the region is seen as the most violent in the world which has a profound negative impact on social and economic development and therefore impedes Caribbean development.”

James Arana, a representative of North American-Men Engage Network gave an account of cases of violence against women and children he witnessed as he grew up and said it was critical to work together against violence.

“It is holding men accountable, working together with women that the work of ending gender-based violence, sexual violence will happen. It’s an ongoing work and when men and women work as partners they have the opportunity to improve the world,” he said.