We have advanced significantly in the last 20 years to make gender and gender inequalities visible in terms of the lives of women and girls. We have, however, too often neglected how gender plays out in the lives of men and boys – to the detriment of women, and to the detriment of men and boys. All too often the quest for gender equality is still characterised as a zero sum game in which women’s gains are presented as requiring significant but inevitable losses for men. We continue to fall too easily into a view of the world of men as perpetrators, or careless, self-centred or potentially violent and women as victims and disempowered.
With this event, and these case studies, we offer a more optimistic and at the same time a more comprehensive view. We seek to call attention to the relational nature of gender – that is constructed in the power relations between women and men, and within groups of men and groups of women. In other words, we posit that gender is about women and men, and girls and boys, and argue that it is intertwined with the structural factors of poverty and inequality that frame their lives at the individual level of their relationships and daily realities. “Gender” as a concept calls our attention to how these power inequalities play out in the daily lives of men and women, boys and girls, and how women, girls, boys and men are too often socialised to live inside rigid constraints about what women and men are supposed to do and be.
As we look at research from Africa on the state of women, we can focus on the negative – and there is no shortage of it. Many men continue to use violence, or remain indifferent to the needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls, while others use their economic, social and physical power to exploit women and girls. But – and this part we too often miss – there are also stories of change. There are changes happening throughout Africa, for the better in how women and men live together, at the country level, at the cultural level, at the community level and at the individual level, which these case studies provide an overview of.