Sida organised the Swedish side event during the Commission on the Status of Women at UN headquarters.

Sida organised the Swedish side event, held during the Commission on the Status of Women at UN headquarters.

Photo: Sida

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Men and boys needed for gender equality

Updated: 30 October 2014

Men and boys have an important role in achieving gender equality. That was the theme of Sweden’s side event, held at the Commission on the Status of Women’s annual session in New York. The side event’s discussion concluded that change of norms is possible, but the work should start early and take place on several levels.

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) session* is an annual gathering of Member States, UN entities, and ECOSOC-accredited NGOs from all regions of the world to address critical issues related to gender equality and women’s rights.  During the 58th CSW, currently taking place at the UN headquarters, Sida organized the Swedish side event called “The role of men and boys in contributing to the achievement of gender equality goals and female empowerment in the MDGs”.

During the event, the Swedish Ambassador Mårten Grunditz stressed how the inclusion of men and boys has been central in Swedish gender equality policy since the 1970s, and therefore also central in Swedish development cooperation for gender equality.  A panel with Sida’s long term partners and champions of gender equality discussed the reasons for involving men and boys, evidence of result and lessons learnt.

Dr Abijit Das, from the MenEngage Alliance, stressed that the active and accountable engagement of men is a question of humanity. Hakima Abbas from the Association for Women’s Rights in Development  agreed, but warned that we must make sure that women are present in the room setting the agenda.

– In Pakistan, there are examples of how economic empowerment of women combined with addressing attitudes on masculinities among their sons, have led softened perceptions of fundamentalism. But there is also a risk with the rising of the so called “men’s rights groups” in Kenya for instance, who argue that women are “over-empowered, she said.

Dr Jeni Klugman, at the World Bank Group shared evidence from recent research, where she stressed that most evidence comes from the North and that we still need to know more on what works in the developing contexts.

– We know from attitudinal studies that change is possible. Four out of ten women have no say in health decisions, but we know from Bangladesh that when men are informed about health, they are more likely to allow the women access to health.

Maria Andersson, Secretary General at RFSU, stressed that both men and women, both girls and boys, must be targeted in order to change norms and attitudes.

– Our experience is that change occurs at the individual level, but it must be combined with a community focus. To stand up against traditional norms alone is difficult, but if community leaders and key stakeholders are involved, sustainable changes occur.  In our work we have reached millions of girls and boys and we see significant results in drop in teenage pregnancies, which obviously also lead to less school drop-out and increased opportunities for income and livelihood. We also see that when couples discuss sexual and reproductive health and rights, this has an impact in how they divide work, both inside and outside the home.

Top three on the post-2015 agenda

The panellists were finally asked to give their top three recommendations for the post-2015 agenda, in terms of involving men and boys for gender equality and women’s empowerment. Hakima Abbas stressed the importance of eradicating poverty at the roots, to move away from the market driven perspective on development to a human rights based approach, and to ensure women’s human rights and financing for development.

Jeni Klugman’s recommendations included starting early – social rules and norms are sticky and evidence shows that work in schools and even pre-school is important; promoting positive roles and examples as well as mobilising men as agents of change in their own right and not only engaging them as instruments for changes for women. Abhijit Das’ stressed that we need to provide a space for holding men accountable and also broaden the arena for change to include the market, the workplace and the media. Maria Andersson’s recommendations included the importance of gender equality as a standalone goal and SRHR as a clear target including comprehensive SRHR education and addressing men as agents of change – not only as a problem.

The Swedish Minister for Gender Equality Maria Arnholm stressed the Swedish position on gender equality as a stand-alone goal for the future post-2015 framework.


The seminar was held on 10 March and was moderated by Carolina Wennerholm, Lead Policy Specialist on Gender Equality at Sida.


* The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), It was established in 1946 and is the principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women. Every year, representatives of Member States gather at United Nations Headquarters in New York to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and women's empowerment worldwide. The 2014 theme is “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls”.

Page owner: Communication Unit

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