Stockholm hosts global conference for men

Shereen El Feki, Senior Fellow, Promundo speaks on “Arab masculinities – men and gender equality in countries of origin”

On 15-16 May, more than 300 participants gathered in Stockholm, Sweden for the 4th International Conference on Men’s Equal Opportunities, known in short as ICMEO.

Many gender equality ministers in Europe were among the participants, along with other representatives of governmental agencies and civil society as well as many experts.

Lena Hallengren, Sweden’s Minister for Children, the Elderly and Gender Equality, together with Shanga Aziz, founder of Locker Room Talk, were the initial speakers, starting the conference. After that, several panel discussions followed revolving around how men and boys should play an active role in changing norms and increasing gender equality.

Lena Ag, the Director General of the Swedish Gender Equality Agency, participated in a discussion with among others Lopa Banerjee from UN Women, and highlighted Sweden’s national strategy to prevent and combat violence by men against women along with the role of the Agency in contributing to the prevention of violence

“If the goal is to stop men’s violence against women – which is one of the gender equality policy goals in Sweden – we must get boys and men involved. The participation of men and their taking responsibility is a prerequisite for achieving a society with social equality, free from violence,” she said.

“More men need to get involved”
Ag expressed her view that elected officials, policy-makers, and public authorities in general, must step up to the mark and take active measures to increase the focus on boys and men. At the same time, the civil society plays an extremely important role, which she has experience from in her previous work in the organisation Kvinna till Kvinna (Woman to Woman).

“Historically, women have been the driving force behind this work. Let us now hope that we see more men become engaged in gender equality efforts in the civil society – this could really facilitate a change,” Lena Ag remarked.

One example is highlighted by David Bartlett, from the Good Lad Initiative in England, promoting positive masculinity. 150 men in the 20-30’s go out to schools and lead discussion groups with boys, who get the chance to talk about gender equality, violence and the role of men, in a secure forum.

“As much as this is a great opportunity for the students, it is also an opportunity for the volunteers to become part of a movement going forward. It is as overwhelming and transformative for them as it is for the boys,” he explained

Six parallel workshops
The second day of the conference began with six parallel workshops with topics such as education and training, health issues, prevention of violence and prostitution and human trafficking.

Anders Simmelkiær, from DareGender Denmark, and Kimmo Saastamoinen, from Boys’ House Helsinki Finland, participated in a seminar on norm critical work in schools, where they presented examples of methods for prevention of violence work in Botkyrka, and where the Swedish Macho Factory presented its video-based educational materials.

Both are active in the Nordic network “Meeting for Engaging in Gender Equality.” Simmelkaer, who works as a teacher in his day job, thought that the workshop was of great value. “I like when it becomes hands-on – when you can get tips for new methods.”

Shereen El Feki, a journalist, writer and researcher, affiliated with the University of Toronto in Canada, was one of the closing speakers. The subject “Arab masculinities – men and gender in countries of origin,” was received with great interest from the audience.

The study that Shereen presented, which includes responses from 10,000 men and women in Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine and Morocco, shows above all that men in the Arab world have enormous pressure placed on them, Shereen El Feki notes.

“Being in the Arab world means fantastic privileges for men – if you are in the top layer of the society.
” The survey shows that men have their self-esteem in their work and as a provider for their family. In bad times with a shortage of jobs, the pressure on the men increase, she said.

More studies underway
There are also studies on gender equality with a focus on Arab men in Europe, but so far there are only a few experiences from refugee camps in Lebanon, according to Shereen El Feki.

“One can see there that it is mostly the women who are employed, while the men do not work. This increases both the divorce rate and violence is exacerbated,” commented Shereen El Feki, who welcomed cooperation with European organisations working with men on the run.

“Come to us, we have the knowledge, we have to work together,” she repeated.

Bosse Parbring, Communications Officer at the Swedish Gender Equality Agency and one of the organisers, thought that the conference provided the opportunities for these encounters in particular he had hoped for – encounters between people involved in organisations working with men and gender equality, and people working with these issues in various governmental authorities and agencies.

New knowledge for the Gender Equality Agency
“This is the kind of meetings that are needed in order to engage men in the gender equality work. It’s important to listen to each other and exchange methods of working and experiences,” he noted.

As for the Swedish Gender Equality Agency, the conference has provided new knowledge, which the agency will utilise in its continued efforts to fulfil its mission, Parbring averred.

“Not least when it comes to the violence prevention work focusing on young men, where we have a specific assignment from the Government.” he added.


Swedish Gender Equality Agency