Men and boys in Gender policies

The annual conference of the Gender Equality Commission (GEC) co-organised by the Council of Europe and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iceland was held in Strasbourg on 27-28 April 2023 in the framework of the Icelandic Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the CoE.

The conference focused on the following themes:

Men and boys as agents of change
Negative impacts of social norms and gender stereotypes
Men and gender equality in care
Role of men and boys in combating violence

In the opening, Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić stressed the need for men and boys to stop violence against women by breaking barriers to gender equality. She spoke against gender stereotypes that can do “terrible harm to men and women alike”. While human rights are universal, she acclaimed, “so too are human wrongs – like sexism and stereotyping.” She emphasized that just as it is wrong to expect women and girls to behave in certain ways, “the same is true for men and boys.”

Because violence against women is often rooted in gender stereotypes, the Secretary General welcomed campaigns in member states to break such stereotypes, including  Iceland’s plan of action for gender equality, which promotes the idea of “positive masculinity”.

The Iceland’s President H. E. Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson: “I call on my fellow national leaders. I call on all men and boys to look critically at their own attitudes and hold each other accountable. It’s on us to fight against gender-based violence. We must fight for full gender equality.”

First part of the event was focused on men and boys as agents of change, introducing the Icelandic Barbershop concept – a tool to get man involved in the discussion about gender equality, which looks at the innovative ways for men to mobilise and motivate other men to address discriminatory stereotypes of masculinity. Barbershop events provide a setting to discuss and reflect about men behaviours, privileges and roles, creating barriers for women’s empowerment and how men can instead become agents of change in promoting gender equality.

From mental health and well-being, achievement, and education to equal participation in the family and gendered segregation in the labour market, the role of men and boys in issues relating to gender equality has long been a subject for debate.

The conference provides an opportunity to discuss and promote the need for strategies on the role and place of men and boys in gender equality policies and in policies to combat violence against women.

Violence against women is one of the most widespread human rights violations in Europe. Questioning harmful aspects of traditional norms of masculinity, while recognising that masculinity takes many forms, offers an opportunity to implement sustainable violence prevention initiatives.

As part of the Council of Europe Gender Equality Strategy 2018-2023, the Gender Equality Commission (GEC) wished to look more closely into the place of men and boys in gender equality policies. Accordingly, a Study prepared by two independent experts to inform the GEC’s work was approved by the GEC at its April 2021 plenary meeting. The GEC was mandated by the Committee of Ministers to draw up by the end of 2022, Guidelines on the place of men and boys in gender equality policies and in policies to combat violence against women. A Working Group composed of member States and observers to the GEC was set up to support the drafting of these Guidelines. 

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