Dean Peacock’s remarks at meeting with Organization for Security Co-operation in Europe

Dean Peacock, Sonke’s Executive Director and Co-Founder, spoke at the OSCE – The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe‘s meeting on working with men and boys for gender equality, which was held on Tuesday, 19th April 2016. See below what he said at the meeting:

Remarks by Dean Peacock, Executive Director, Sonke Gender Justice, at the OSCE Human Dimensions Committee meeting, April 19th, Vienna.

1) Thank you very much for the invitation to participate in this important meeting of the OSCE. It is an honour to have this opportunity to share my thoughts on how the OSCE can best engage men and boys to end violence against women and advance gender equality. My comments today draw on my experiences working for the last twenty five years to end men’s violence against women and to engage men in achieving gender equality. Women around the world have called on men to change and the work I do to engage men is grounded in a commitment to working in close dialogue with women’s rights advocates and to always being informed by their priorities and leadership.

2) In far too many parts of the world definitions of manhood still equate being a man with superiority – and often dominance – over women, with aggression and willingness to use force, with sexual conquest and the pursuit of multiple sexual partners, and with a refusal to compromise or seek help. In many parts of the world manhood is also equated with the ownership and use of guns.

3) These ideas about manhood contribute to alarmingly high levels of men’s violence against women the world over and underpin the resistance we still see from far too many men to women achieving their full human rights. They also quite obviously also contribute to the escalation of armed conflict and to poor outcomes in peace negotiations.

4) As a result of concerted activism by women’s rights advocates, a growing number of men across the world now recognise that they have a personal investment and responsibility to advance women’s rights and challenge rigid and oppressive notions of manhood. I’m going to identify five reasons why men have a stake in advancing gender equality: a) many men have strong political convictions for equality and human rights for all and so recognise that it’s a matter of principle and a political imperative to stand up for women’s rights, b) almost all men care deeply about the women in their lives – whether women they are connected to in their families, communities, workplaces, or places of worship, and share in their urgent call for access to rights and justice c) in a world in which men use violence against women and otherwise oppress women, all men are cast as perpetrators or oppressors, d) the same gender roles that contribute to women’s oppression also limit and restrict men’s lives in predictable and dangerous ways.

5) I’m sure if I asked the men in this room how many support gender equality and believe it’s a political imperative the vast majority would indicate their support. I’m even more sure that if I asked men here whether they knew women who faced discrimination, harassment and violence the vast majority would say they did and that they had been deeply affected by this. Certainly if I asked the fathers in this room if they wanted a fair and equitable world for their daughters and were willing to speak up on their behalf we’d get a resounding chorus of concern. I am like those men. My life has been buffeted over and again by discrimination and violence perpetrated against women I know and love. My life has also been immeasurably enriched when women are able to access their rights and achieve their full potential.

6) Over the last thirty years many civil society organisations across the world have built local movements of men and women working together for gender equality. These organisations and movements have demonstrated that men can and do change and they have increasingly called on their governments and international bodies to accelerate that change by using the powerful policy levers at their disposal.

7) More recently, there has been increased recognition within multilateral agencies and international bodies like the UN and the OSCE that achieving gender equality and advancing women’s rights requires that the international community and its members states also engage men and boys to shift men’s gender related attitudes and practices.

8) Since the Beijing Platform for Action many member states have made formal commitments to engaging men and boys in achieving gender equality, including in many UN commitments and resolutions. This year’s UN CSW agreed conclusions recognized “the importance of fully engaging men and boys as agents and beneficiaries of change in the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, and as allies in the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls, as well as in the full, effective and accelerated implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and in the gender responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” This language went further than that contained in previous conclusions in that it affirmed not only that men have a responsibility to support change but that they also benefit from greater gender equality and from women being able to achieve their rights.

9) The OSCE has of course also made very real commitments to engaging men for gender equality. In December 2012 I joined your Secretary General to launch the OSCE MenEngage Network and together with the gender unit here at OSCE concerted efforts have been made to build a movement of OSCE ambassadors and staff who are committed to increasing men’s support for gender equality. Just a few weeks ago I had the honour to meet informally at Ambassador Atlason’s residence with about thirty five ambassadors and talk together about how the OSCE can champion change amongst the many very influential men here. It is clear to me that there is real commitment here amongst many OSCE Ambassadors to advancing gender equality and to engaging men as one of the key strategies to achieve that.

10) I was pleased to see that the Addendum to the 2004 OSCE Action Plan for Gender Equality includes strong language on engaging men and boys. I was also pleased to see the recommendation to “upgrade the level of the Head of the Gender Section of the Secretariat, to report directly to the Secretary General, and allow it, through participation in the decision making bodies of the Secretariat, to more effectively carry out its responsibilities, while maintaining its current functions. I congratulate you on these important commitments and look forward to the speedy resolution of the addendum.

11) Now just over twenty years after Beijing we have lots of evidence that is possible to effectively engage men and boys and that there are many ways to do this. However, too often efforts to engage men and boys remain small in scale and are often ad hoc and scattershot. Few governments have ambitious plans in place to increase men’s support for gender equality. Even though we now know lots about how to engage men and boys to achieve gender equality, too few government’s use the powerful legal and policy tools they have at their disposal to shift ideas about masculinity and manhood. It’s time for this to change and for us to collectively put in place policies and programmes that more robustly engage men and boys in achieving gender equality. Here we can learn from the successes of many OSCE member states.

a. Through concerted action, the passage of the Violence Against Women Act and better coordination of the criminal justice sector and a focus on violence prevention, the US has sharply reduced levels of domestic and sexual violence over the last two decades. Led from the front by President Obama and Vice President Biden, the US government is now working to end sexual violence on college campuses, including by challenging the sense of entitlement too many men have to women’s bodies.

b. In the Nordic countries we have seen the powerful changes brought about by equitable parenting leave policies that engage men early in the joys and responsibilities of equal parenting and facilitate women’s full participation in the economy.

c. Elsewhere we have seen governments ban corporal punishment in all spheres of life because they understand the linkages between children’s experience of harsh physical punishment and their subsequent use of violence as adults.

d. And in many countries National Governments are developing and implementing fully costed and funded multisectoral national action plans to end GBV which include a strong focus on engaging men.

12) Those of you seated here today have enormous power to shape ideas about manhood and to increase men’s support for women’s full political, social and economic empowerment. This needs to happen more in peacekeeping where women are still far too often left out of peace processes altogether. I understand that are currently no women in the formal negotiations for peace in Ukraine. The Syria peace negotiations give us a good idea of what happens when women are excluded – ongoing war and impasse.

13) As ambassadors and high level diplomats, those of you here have enormous power to challenge these antiquated and sexist approaches to peacemaking. I know you can count on the members of the OSCE MenEngage Network to speak out against such exclusionary practices.

14) I know you can also count on members of the OSCE MenEngage Network to support the passage of the addendum which reiterates the OSCE’s commitment to “promote and facilitate gender equality in their peacemaking activities, policies, programmes and projects as mandated in the 2004 Gender Action Plan. The participating States are encouraged to consider taking advantage of the Organization’s tools and capacities for gender mainstreaming the politico military dimension and enhance their own efforts to implement relevant OSCE commitments.”

15) I have been inspired by the work of the OSCE MenEngage Network and am honoured to continue to support it and the OSCE Gender Unit in whatever ways I can.