This Friday, November 19, is International Men's Day. It is the day to celebrate the positive value men bring to our world, their families and communities.
Individuals of all genders face myriad issues in relation to their gender, particularly vulnerable groups. However, it is less common that we discuss the gender specific issues that men and boys (and those who identify as such) face. In developed economies, boys tend to be academically outperformed by girls at all levels of education. Men are less likely than women to seek mental health services and less likely to report sexual violence or abuse, often due to gender stereotypes and stigma around men seeking help. This may in part contribute to the fact that among all suicides in Hong Kong last year, men comprised 61% of victims. Men and boys make up 79% of reported drug abusers in the city and are 71% of those arrested for crime.
From our own research on young men’s masculinities, we know young men face pressure to live up to being an ‘ideal’ man: wealthy, morally upstanding, has a flourishing career and happy family as well as acts as the primary earner and protector. Many of these young men also held gender stereotypical views about family roles, preferring their future spouse to manage childrearing and household matters. The majority also tended to believe in rape myths and prefer their spouse to have traditionally feminine characteristics.
It may seem unusual for TWF, an NGO dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls, to commemorate International Men’s Day. However, we know that the root causes of the above challenges facing men and boys lie in gender inequality as well as rigid gender roles and expectations. We also know the solution to these problems lie with gender equality and transformed equal relations for all genders. We can only achieve this with the help of all genders, particularly men who generally comprise the most influential and powerful stakeholder group across sectors.
This is why we run our Male Allies Initiative - to engage business leaders to act as advocates in promoting gender diverse workplaces and supporting more balanced home lives. To date, our Male Allies have been a positive force for change, launching over 30 initiatives within this year alone. It is also why we are planning to launch our Young Allies Initiative next year to help boys and young men address harmful masculinity constructs and ultimately adopt and promote gender equal actions.
As individuals, there are many starting points to start addressing some of the constricting, harmful gender stereotypes and social expectations that men and boys face. For boys, introduce them diverse male role models who have chosen non-stereotypical career paths. Stories for Boys Who Dare to be Different is a good starting point and help them respect and develop their need for connections, vulnerability and emotional capacity. Among adults, Catalyst provides a helpful set of suggested actions to help promote gender equality across genders and we have suggested actions that may be helpful in the workplace.
Let's enable everyone to embrace gender equal behaviours and mindsets so that all of us can thrive.
Get in touch at Fiona.Nott@twfhk.org.