Last week I returned from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from the first ever Global Symposium on Engaging Men and Boys in Achieving Gender Equality. Organized by a number of international organizations who do this necessary work every day, including Promundo, The White Ribbon Campaign, and the MenEngage Alliance, it was both an honour and a privilege to come together to do something so many are not willing to do; in the spirit of making "gender issues" not solely "women's issues".
As a participant in the Youth Forum, I had the incredible opportunity to work with a host of youth all over the world to dialogue not just around what youth are specifically facing in terms of gender inequalities, but more importantly what youth can and must do about it. The results were phenomenal, and I am more than confident that we are the next seven generations who will change the course of imbalance between men and women that has for far too long, brought detrimental harm to our communities.
One of the many outcomes of the Global Symposium is the Rio Declaration and Call to Action, which is a fantastic document worth reading in its entirety and sharing with your own community. However we in the Youth Forum worked hard to create our own recommendations, and if there is indeed hope that the Call to Action will be carried out, it must be with youth at the forefront to continue paving the way for the fight to continue on. If not, then we must seriously question what is it all for? It has to last!
We acknowledge the following recommendations are the result of group collaboration, fully participatory in the spirit of holistic community. They are a global analysis of recommendations to achieve gender equality, reflecting the realities of youth, and encompassing multiple identities that must be fully intersected and acknowledged.
Regarding Sexual Diversity, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, HIV
We acknowledge that this group was not easily put together as the topics of reproductive and sexual health are still very taboo in many places all over the world. There is a lot that people are not willing to come to terms with to understand what is happening as a result of not making reproductive and sexual health a priority, and youth are thoroughly feeling the intergenerational effects. SRH is not yet understood as a human right, and thus the involvement in this field is that of mostly women, and not enough men.
-Youth be fully engaged to speak on behalf of our own bodies
-That sexuality encompass the total human condition, and that it includes the emotional, physical, and spiritual human elements
-SRH should include and directed to the whole family structure by way of competent campaigns. It should also be recognized that public health campaigns must start in the early formative years to ensure sustainability of information within and for the family
-We change the binary of the nuclear heterosexual family to include diverse, alternative, and family of choice
-Better policies be constructed for SRH by youth and for youth in NGOs
-Sexual diversity be fully expanded to include exploring and deconstructing dynamics of heterosexuality, not just LGBT
-Be a creation of safe space to discuss and facilitate issues of SRH in the home, in the community, and in the public sphere
-More youth movements and organizations must be consolidated and work in allyship more, otherwise the same issues will be worked by the same people, left to be burnt out and work alone in the same circles
-The history of sexuality being colonized be acknowledged and that youth are part of the solutions to decolonize
-Integrated sex education be free from religious and prejudicial morals and does not impose or force judgment
-Pleasure be an important and integral component of all sex education and sexuality studies, and that the concept of "feeling good" and knowing "what feels good" is equal to empowerment
-Pleasure also be considered a form of liberation from the oppressions of sexuality we are still attempting to survive through
-Youth have full options, choice, and consent regarding their own reproductive lives, including methods of contraception and emergency contraception, abortion, parenting, and adoption
-Young men be empowered to be fathers if they choose and given the adequate resources and support to be able to do so
-Youth need better and complete access to all SRH services, respecting our right to confidentiality
Regarding Masculinities, Vulnerabilities
-To name masculinity within all these risks/ vulnerabilities
-Recognize diversity of masculinities for young men and boys
-Recognize that gender is constructed for men and boys as well as women and girls
-Use a strength-based approach. See men as potential allies in the struggle for gender justice
-Promote healthy ways of dealing with emotions for young men and boys
-We start to talk about why boys commit suicide at higher rates than girls and connect this with existing ideals of masculinities
-Support structures in schools that strength work with psychical health
-Advocate for gender critical and norms critical pedagogies
-Consider young fathers needs and perspectives in service, schools, employment and policy
-Address bullying and way it shapes boys understanding of masculinities
Regarding Violence Against Women & Sexual Exploitation/ Sexual Trafficking
-To change the whole system, especially the education of men & boys (family, media, schools, etc)
-That more men are included in concretely discussing these issues
-We change people's mentalities (and go out of the box)
-Involve religious groups in fighting gender based violence (GBV)
-To work better with women's groups who exemplify how we can engage men in discussing that issue
-Create more international women's organizations (i.e. in Tanzania)
-Have more discussion groups with mothers and women and incorporate a gendered approach in government institutions
-Before engaging men, we should involve women themselves since the levels reached by countries in achieving gender equality are different
-Engender laws-incorporate gender approach in all laws/ constitutions, general laws
-Get more groups involved, make more connections with women groups, educate more children
-Focus on mothers (and specifically boys education)
We wish to express that as recommendations, what we have brought here requires action, by way of another conference, venue, or opportunity for concrete action that youth are leading, directing, and deciding for gender equality.