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Anastassia Zinke interviews Rev. Joyce Kariuki, acting general secretary of the Anglican Councils of Africa.

Was this your first time attending the Conference on the Status of Women (CSW)?

I have been here several times before.  The last one I attended was the CSW focused on the Girl Child.  I think this is the fourth time that I have attended a CSW.  This year I was requested by the archbishop to come.  They send someone yearly, but some years for personal reasons I have been unable to serve as the delegate.

What have you learned or taken away from this year’s CSW?

We cannot let the Beijing Platform for Action to be eclipsed by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), or be dropped as a tool in addressing women’s rights.  We are far from achieving our goal.  It is a struggle to keep this movement going, to achieve the empowerment of women.  The Beijing Platform is useful to us though, because it reminds us and equips us to keep this struggle going.  It helps articulate women’s issues.  We can refer to it and make sure – through the use of the right language – that others understand.

What are the pressing issues that you see in Kenya?  In the church?

Also, gender equity in the church needs to be addressed.  We are far behind the governments in terms of gender equity.  This will not do.  The church ought to be the model for society.  We also have to acknowledge the huge reach that we have.  We reach everyone: girls, women, men, and boys.  We have the ability to ensure that the message is being heard.

This can be complicated however.  There is a debate that the girl-child has been promoted so much that the boy-child has been left behind.  So now I include the boy-child, so that it is about holistic participation in change.  However, we have not forgotten that that the child-girl has been in a difficult situation.  We all have become involved, and help them become and stay students.

Another significant issue is domestic violence against women.  When there is violence, a woman is reduced to nothing.  We need to change this.  The church has not been able to address this yet.  During this conference, however, I heard a South African man talk about his work of leading men to address violence against women.  Men themselves condemning the violence.  They see that it is their issue.  This is powerful and a model that I would like to see adopted in Kenya, so that men don’t push the issue aside.

In Kenya, we are changing the constitution.  This presents a great possibility for women.  We need to finish this process.  Though we can critique the government, we cannot let this opportunity pass.  We must recognize that we all function under the government, so we need to partner with the government to get the constitution to its the best stage.

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by Frederick Clarkson, first published in the WomensENews commentator on February 24, 2010

A religious think tank has issued a manifesto about breaking the silence in religious communities about a host of sexuality issues. It hasn’t stirred much media attention, but Frederick Clarkson thinks it could be revolutionary.

(WOMENSENEWS)–The Religious Institute has just issued a 46-page report on the state of sexuality in religious communities and a manifesto that seeks to transform the status quo.

Goals include improved pastoral care of marital relationships, domestic abuse and infertility, and training for prospective clergy in sexuality-related matters.

The institute calls for religious leaders to provide lifelong age-appropriate education for youth and adults and to become more effective advocates for comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health in society.

Clergy are often first responders in matters of domestic violence and potential (and actual) suicides by young people struggling with sexual identity. The Religious Institute points out that these first responders have usually received little to no training for the job.

A singular strength of the document is that it offers an uncompromised progressive vision that does not conform to recent fashions in seeking “common ground” with conservative
evangelicals and Catholics.

Particularly striking in this regard is its call for a society in which there is full access to reproductive health care, including abortion, marriage equality and full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the life of religious communities.

Since it was announced two weeks ago, the report, “Sexuality and Religion 2020: Goals for the Next Decade,” has generated little media attention beyond a few regional newspapers and online news sites.

Sometimes, this is the quiet way revolutions begin.

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by Abraham Simatupang, Indonesia. First published in Gender and Religious Education.

The more children you have the luckier you will be
My parents are from the Batak ethnic group, a sub-ethnic group in the north Sumatera province. My father is the fourth of thirteen children. My mother has eight siblings, though three of  them died in infancy. To have a big family was not unusual in Sumatra at that time. Lots of children meant a great help for the family. According to the Batak’-tradition or “adat”, the more children you have the luckier you will be.

I am the eldest of four children, and was born in 1960. At that time, the political and economical situation was not stable in Indonesia. My mother told me that stable was curt and expensive. Most of the people could not afford it. However, since my mother worked as a pharmaceutical assistance in the Health Department of Indonesian Air Force, she got rations of baby formula from her office. My father was still a university student when they got married. In the beginning of their marriage my mother was the breadwinner. After he had finished his study, he started his career as a junior lecturer at the University of Indonesia. Hence, both worked to support the family. I learned that my mother took a significant role in nurturing the family and being a good host. We lived in a small house in the capital city of Jakarta. I remember those times when we hosted our extended families and relatives from the village who wished to move to the city. It was not unusual to have many guests and share our house with many people. They helped us with housework, while they were studying or looking for employment.

In my childhood gender role was not clearly differentiated.  My brother and I were given the same tasks as the girls. Dish-washing and house cleaning were not unusual for me. Sometimes I helped pumping the water from our well. My parents often told me to look after my brother and sisters, especially on the way to school. Before I went home from school, I had to assure that my sisters and brother have already gone home. If not, we would go home together by foot or by becak, a tricycle with driver. At that time, as the big brother I learned to take responsibility for my siblings.

We went to Sunday school in a protestant church nearby our house. I was always fascinated of the characters of the Bible’s heroes, like Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, David, Deborah, Elijah, Ruth, Esther, Peter and Paul, told by our Sunday school teachers and the way they were called by God, men and women, to accomplish difficult tasks. In the majority of cases they had to make sacrifices. I learned that God calls anybody, regardless of which gender, to be God’s messenger and to be God’s partner for completing God’s plans.
Today women have more chances
Indonesia is an agricultural country. Like other agricultural countries, Indonesia has strong traditions where gender-related role allocation is very strongly differentiated. For example women were responsible for children while men took care of provision of food and shelter.
But, nowadays, since people are more open to influences from the outside, values change and gender-related issues or gender-role in society are no longer easy to define. To some extent, this gives benefits to female members, because they have more opportunities to fulfill their dreams as individuals. They can pursue higher education or career if they want. Many women work to earn money, not only for themselves but also for their families.

We even had a woman as president and a number of women are leaders in provincial or regional government.  A higher quota of women, up to 30% of the members of totally 550 of the national parliament, has recently been discussed extensively.

The fight for gender justice, however, is not fully realized. Certain groups, who have their own principles, try to slow down this process. They still require traditional custom like arranged marriages and imposing curfew for women in certain areas.

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by Samuel Nyampong, Ghana. First publisched in Gender and Religious Education.

Women get children and are not able to think

The traditional perception of females in Ghana up to the latter part of the 20th century was that females could not undertake arduous tasks and were better suited for child ‘producing’ and domestic, trading and farm work. Intellectual and professional developments were the preserve of men. A Ghanaian proverb explains it better: “Obea to tuo a etwere obarima dan mu” (When a woman is able to acquire a gun, it is the man who keeps it in his room).

A research on Position of Women in Ghanaian Society has confirmed that women in premodern Ghanaian society were seen as bearers of children, retailers of fish, and farmers. Given the male dominance in traditional society, some economic anthropologists have explained a female’s ability to reproduce as the most important means by which women ensured social and economic security for themselves, especially if they bore male children.

This ingrained perception about females gave justification for fathers to give their daughters to early marriage so they (fathers) would reap the benefit of receiving a dowry in the form of drinks, cash, cattle and other material goods prescribed by Ghanaian traditional customs. Early unprepared marriage has plunged many girls and women into difficulties which have entangled and imprisoned them with no hope of emancipation. Today the Constitution of Ghana guarantees equal rights for males and females.

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A personal reflection by Jonah Gokova, Zimbabwe, first published in Gender and religious education

I wanted to be different
I was born in 1956 in a family of very devout Christian parents who both were active leaders in the Methodist Church. I was number two in the family but first born son. I have a young brother who comes after me and four sisters.

Traditionally my status in the family was higher than the one of my sister who came before me. In my case, my sister is seven years older than me! It is not about, who is older; but who is the son. This emphasis was repeated throughout my formative years and even up to now.
The Zimbabwean society, in which I was born, is not different from any other society in the world in terms of social expectations relating to gender roles between boys and girls who grow up to be men and women. There was an unwritten law, which regulated behavior and was read as the following: boys must be tough, boys do not cry, boys do ‘men’s work’ outside the home. At every step the requirement on maleness had to be confirmed. Physical ability, toughness were objectified as necessary ideal, that had to be achieved by every boy in our society.

I had four sisters who had an enforced ‘cultural and religious obligation’ to cook, wash dishes and clothes for me. In my younger days I was not satisfied with this arrangement and wanted to be different from other boys in my community. I was interested in assisting my sisters in doing household chore and I gained a lot of satisfaction from it. I learnt to cook, to iron and to perform household tasks, normally done by girls and women. My mother encouraged me to work together with my sisters and I enjoyed sharing the tasks with my sisters. My brother was rather different. He enjoyed playing with other boys away from home and his level of gender sensitivity is not notably high today.

Well my involvement in all this is definitely not the result of some fantastic gender theories I had read before. At that stage of my development I was not even aware of the work of feminists, who later assisted me with tools of analysis of social organization and unequal power relations that seem to be consistent in our societies today.  I was simply doing what I felt as the right thing to do at that moment. It is important to note that my mother played a crucial role in encouraging and supporting me. She did not read any of the feminist theories and up to now, at the age of over 80 years, she is not familiar with the gender theories that are beginning to inform our critic of social and power relations between men and women in society.

It is very possible that as a leader in Church she must have been influenced by her belief in God  to develop a sense of justice, that is reflected in the way she worked hard to create opportunities for her daughters, and the encouragement she gave me to develop a sense of equality between me and my sisters. I listened to her and I have never regretted.

My concept of salvation
As I look back I always ask myself, what specific contribution has the church made to my gender consciousness? What I remember from Sunday school theology and youth leadership lessons in the church is that God has always been neutral to these issues. Gender stereotypes have always been glorified as God-ordained. Boys should strive to positions of leadership while girls should be submissive and learn to obey.

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By Simon Khayala, B. D. student at St. Paul’s University Kenya, and youth pastor in the African Church of the Holy Spirit

empowering youth KenyaYoung people in Africa grow up as prisoners of the elder generation. They usually have limited or no right at all to decision making. The community they come from led by the elders dictates what they should do and what they should not do. In most communities youth have no right to chose their spouses, the parents through the help of community will always influence who they should be married or get married to. Any opposition concerning this matter may lead to rejection or isolation from the parents and the community.

In the case of initiation, whether it is inhuman or not youth are expected to participate whether they like it or not. For example female circumcision has been termed as crude, painful and inhuman practice for young girls, but the communities practicing it have kept a deaf ear and expect no opposition from those undergoing it, who are mostly the youth. If one stands firm to reject this practice, they are simply expelled from the community.

In some communities in Kenya young boys are expected to go to the forest and kill a lion to prove they are men enough to marry. If he fails to do that no girl will marry such a coward man…

Many are the things therefore that happen to the life of an African youth that no one talks about. Similar to women, youth are expected to follow the customs and decisions made on their behalf. But they are not allowed to speak for themself. Elder men are usually regarded as the custodian of wisdom; they are the ones to be consulted whenever there is crisis in families or community. They are believed to be trustworthy and therefore highly respected. Young adults in Africa have some privileges which the youth do not have in the community. For example, they can be included in meetings, or can be given leadership roles.

Although things are now changing due to modernity and westernization, a lot has still to be done if significant change has to be realized. The  traditional belief that the youth and women are inferior group has cropped even in our modern time, where we find most leaders both in religious and political cycles in Africa are elder men.

This perception has to stop; I call upon the youth and women whenever they are to call for mutual relationship with the elder men, and to stand up strong to fight for their rightful place in the society!

Also read about the Youth Peace Summet, held in Kenya April 13-18, 2009.

crossposted from unaids.org

According to a new report published by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), estimated 50 million women in Asia, who are either married or in long-term relationships with men who engage in high-risk sexual behaviours, are at risk of becoming infected with HIV from their partners.

logo unaids_en

The HIV epidemics in Asia vary between countries in the region, but are fuelled by unprotected paid sex, the sharing of contaminated injecting equipment by injecting drug users, and unprotected sex among men who have sex with men. Men who buy sex constitute the largest infected population group – and most of them are either married or will get married. This puts a significant number of women, often perceived as ‘low-risk’ because they only have sex with their husbands or long-term partners, at risk of HIV infection.

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by Diana Sands.

To begin, I would like to borrow an exercise popularized by a very creative teacher and writer*. Below I have copied a quote from a human rights advocate. All clues to the identity of the writer, the writer’s religion, and the writer’s country of origin have been obscured. Please read the following three paragraphs and try to guess which religion is referenced, which country the writer is from, and if you’re really daring, who wrote it.

 “I have been a practicing [religious faith] all my life and a [lay leader and teacher] for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with [my religion], after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the [religion’s highest] leaders, quoting a few carefully selected [religious text] verses, … [declared] that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as [religious leaders].

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries…

The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of [prophets] and founders of [the] great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of [God]. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.”

Can you guess? I am sure that the media, which is truly a global influencer these days, must have had some sway over your guesses. Be honest with yourself. Did you guess the writer was a formerly Muslim woman from the Middle East or Central Asia who was fed-up with the politics of Islamic leadership in her community? Maybe you sensed a trick question and guessed a formerly Muslim woman from the West? Well, the writer is former United States President Jimmy Carter writing about why he is leaving Christianity. This exercise can show us lots of things about ourselves – I think primarily it shows that Islamophobia in the Western media is influencing us in very divisive ways. We have been distracted from the reality that women suffer subjugation and dehumanization at the hands of so many religious leaders across faith traditions. We have almost forgotten that opportunities for interfaith solidarity and cooperation around women’s rights are indeed possible through progressive and respectful dialogue.

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by Mary Button

The Ecumenical Women Parallel Event, Positive Masculinities and Gender Partnership for Equal Sharing of Responsibilities, was a packed event. We quickly reached capacity and people had to be turned away from the room. Dr. Ezra Chitando started the panel off with a bang. He introduced his presentation with the words; “it is better to build up boys than to repair men,” which was met with wild applause. These words became a mantra and were reiterated by the other panelists, which included Dr. Fulata Mbano-Moyo, Chaitanya Motupalli, and Doreen Boyd.

From left to right: Fulata Mbano-Moyo, Ezra Chitando, Chaitanya Motupalli, and Doreen Boyd

From left to right: Fulata Mbano-Moyo, Ezra Chitando, Chaitanya Motupalli, and Doreen Boyd

Dr. Chitando shared with us his personal experiences about the five areas of socialization for boys. He identified these areas as: home, community, school, church, and the media. In particular, I really responded to his criticism of the church’s role in the socialization of boys. He pointed out that the heroes of the Bible, as singled out in typical Sunday School settings, emphasize men like Samson and David, overlooking the rich stories of strong and powerful women like Esther, Ruth, and Sarah.

Speaking after Dr. Chitando was Dr. Mbano-Moyo who spoke of her personal struggles and triumphs raising three sons. Specifically, she identified the church’s model of fatherhood as one that ignores the extended family thus creating a friction that isolates boys and does not empower them to seek out father-son relationships with men in their extended biological and church families.

At the conclusion of Dr. Mbano-Moyo’s talk handouts were distributed to the audience which included the text from 2 Samuel 13: 1 – 22 (NRSV), the story of the rape of Tamar.

Dr. Chitando and Dr. Mbano-Moyo proceeded to lead us all in a short Contextual Bible Study. Among the questions we discussed were:

  • How did David, Amnon, and Jonadab (as main characters) conceive ‘what it means to be a man’?
  • How did the men in Tamar’s life understand her role as a woman?
  • Can we identify men such as David, Amnon, Jonadab in our contexts?
Chaitanya Motupalli spoke about how his mother inspired him to positive models of masculinity.

Chaitanya Motupalli spoke about how his mother inspired him to positive models of masculinity.

While the story of the rape of Tamar is difficult to hear and more difficult to internalize and contextualize; our distinguished panelists brought levity, humor and thoughtfulness to our discussion. The next two speakers were Mr. Motupalli and Ms. Boyd, who also shared their personal reflections and experiences empowering boys and men; Mr. Motupalli in the Christian student movement in India and Ms. Boyd among parishioners in the Caribbean. Mr. Motupalli spoke about his relationships with his mother and father and how profoundly influenced he has been by these relationships. Ms. Boyd talked about the ways in which she has successfully combated domestic violence in the Caribbean by empowering men and women to challenge gender stereotypes.

The presentations concluded with a rich question and answer period. Among the issues raised were the inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender voices in discussion about the equal sharing of responsibilities; the usage of gender sensitive language in the liturgical setting; and the most effective ways to facilitate inter-generational conversations around the subject of gender stereotypes. Leaving the panel, everyone was incredibly energized by the strength of our diversity, the compassion of our ecumenical thinkers and the great work that we have ahead of us at CSW!

Resources from the Panel

“It is better to build boys than to repair men.”

Ecumenical Women’s excellent workshop on positive masculinities and gender partnerships began with the above quote, repeated by both Ezra Chitando and Fulata Mbano-Moyo. Recognizing that repairs are still sometimes necessary they invited us into the process of Contextual Bible Study, through which texts of oppression (the example they used was 2 Samuel 13:1-22 – the rape of Tamar) can become springboards for liberating change.

Doreen Boyd spoke about positive masculinities and positive femininities at Ecumenical Women's panel

Doreen Boyd spoke about positive masculinities and positive femininities at Ecumenical Women's panel

Doreen Boyd with the United Methodist Church in the Caribbean, reminded us that the process of liberating women and men is inextricably linked: “For every woman who steps towards her liberty there is a man who discovers the path to freedom.” For example, as we women claim our right to be taken seriously intellectually men may find that they are allowed to express themselves emotionally.

The process of working towards gender equality is too important, and too large, to be left to only half of the world’s population. Men need to relinquish their undeserved male privilege and we women need to admit the existence of negative femininities as well as negative masculinities – and welcome male companions in the struggle for justice and equality. Working together offers us the best possibility of men and women both growing into the full richness of our shared humanity.

One sign of hope was found when Chaitanya Motupalli, a seminarian from India, spoke of his desire to be to his family all that his mother had been to him. Role models such as this would indeed help build boys who could play their part in creating a world where women and men could both flourish.

Parallel events for CSW53 have been announced!  You can view the calendar at the NGO Committee on the Status of Women website.

Events sponsored by Ecumenical Women are:

Positive Masculinities: Gender Partnerships for equal sharing of responsibilities
March 3 – 12:00 pm
10th floor, Church Center for the United Nations (CCUN)

HIV/AIDS caregiving, race and gender
March 4 – 2:00 pm
2nd floor, CCUN

Empowering the Girl Child
March 5 – 4:00 pm
10th floor, CCUN

Faith-based Grassroots Experiences in Caregiving & HIV/AIDS
March 10 – 10:00 am
2nd floor, CCUN

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