9 Men Fighting For Women's Rights And Gender Equality

Let's hear it for the boys 🙌

08/03/2017 15:26 | Updated 28 March 2017
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When it comes to gender equality and women’s rights it can often feel like you’re preaching to the choir - talking to people who walk, talk and act like you.

But how far does screaming into an echo chamber actually get us?

If the unprecedented size of the Women’s March taught feminism anything, it’s that we’re stronger when we work together: women, men and everyone in between. 

So this International Women’s Day, while we celebrate our annual project All Women Everywhere which champions the diverse range of female voices and experiences in Britain today, we also wanted to shout out to the men who are fighting the good fight.

From prominent men to those working in grassroots activism, from those redefining masculinity to tackling violence against women and girls, here are 9 men who we’re happy to have on side. 

Sadiq Khan, 46, Mayor of London and proud feminist

Sadiq Khan

What’s the biggest issue facing women in 2017?
It’s unacceptable that in 2017 your gender can still determine your opportunities in life, how much you get paid and your career prospects.

My daughters are both teenagers now, and they are growing up in London at a time when men still get paid nearly 12% more than women in this city, and while there are still too few female role models at the highest levels in public life. This simply isn’t good enough. 


When did you decide, as a man, that fighting for gender equality/women’s rights was important?
I’ve always wanted to make society fairer – and have spent my whole career as a lawyer, local councillor, MP and now Mayor fighting injustice and rooting out inequality.

Equal rights is not just a fight for women – all of us need to stand in solidarity with our mothers, sisters, daughters and friends to say that discrimination, in all shapes and forms, will not be tolerated. When we achieve true equality, we all benefit.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve done to contribute towards gender equality (so far)?

As Mayor of London, I’m proud to have published City Hall’s first ever gender pay audit because we need to be open and transparent about the scale of the problem we still face on pay inequality. We also published gender pay audits for all of the Mayoral bodies too – like TfL, the Metropolitan Police, and the London Fire Brigade.

On the back of these audits, I’ve asked City Hall staff to implement a real plan to reduce the gender pay gap– by increasing the availability of part-time and flexible-working options, aiding career progression within those roles, offering mentoring, career-support programmes and sponsorship for qualifications, and training senior managers to ensure recruitment processes are as fair as possible and piloting ‘no name’ application forms. Over half of my Deputy Mayors are women, as are ten of the sixteen of my Business Advisory Board.

Women are now leading at every level of society, from the arts, to politics, to science and in business and are inspiring Londoners across our city to fulfil their potential. 188 years after the Met Police was formed, we have the first ever woman to serve as Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, and after 150 years of the London Fire Brigade being in existence, we now have the first ever female Commissioner, Dany Cotton.

Luke Martin, 31, Domestic and Sexual Violence and Violence Against Women and Girls Training Officer

Luke Martin

What’s the biggest issue facing women in 2017?
We tell young boys to ‘man-up’ and not to cry, and fill young girls dressing up boxes with nurses’ outfits, princess dresses and maids costumes. We embed gender stereotypes in our children from a young age and it is debilitating.

Our rigid gendered roles are a huge issue facing both women and men, and have a significant impact on mental health and general wellbeing. We are slowly seeing some acceptance of fluidity of gender roles, but it doesn’t feel like things are moving fast enough.

When did you decide, as a man, that fighting for gender equality and women’s rights was important?
I first became interested in violence against women and girls (VAWG) when I covered domestic abuse as part of my law degree, it was the first time the issue had really been under the spotlight for me.

The statistics around domestic and sexual abuse are shocking, to consider that 1 in 4 women experience abuse in their lifetime and then to put that in to context within my own family and friendships I know that it will, and has impact the people that I love.

My gender is not significant, my passion for equality and to help people is what drives my work; nobody should have to suffer, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other protected characteristic. 

What’s the biggest thing you’ve done to contribute towards gender equality (so far)?

My role was introduced to up-skill as many frontline professionals across Brighton & Hove in dealing with domestic and sexual abuse and harmful practices as possible, over 50 training sessions are run across the year to try and reduce the risk to victims and survivors on disclosure of abuse. It aims to work across the gendered crime types that fall under the VAWG umbrella.

 

Simon Ragoonanan, stay-at-home dad and blogger at Man Vs Pink

Simon Ragoonanan

What’s the biggest issue facing women in 2017 and what would you do to tackle it?

To answer this I have to bring it down to the personal, so it becomes the biggest issue facing my daughter. As she is five, and in her first year of school, the biggest issue facing her is navigating the world of gender stereotypes for herself and how that relates to her future. School is at the frontline of gender stereotypes.

While we as parents have done our best to counter stereotypes where possible, I’m an at-home dad while my wife is the breadwinner, we both make a concerted effort to help our daughter unpick assumptions and stereotypes based on gender, so she realises that no interest or profession is closed to her because she is a girl.

It is really for her to lead this from now on, as she has to navigate the choppy social waters of school life, and judge for herself how to interact with others.

When did you decide, as a man, that fighting for gender equality/women’s rights was important?

For as long as I can remember I have always felt the need for equal rights - but it was only since becoming a father of a daughter that I took the time to see the world from a woman’s perspective, and was appalled at what I saw. Things I didn’t understand were issues became clear. I certainly class myself as a feminist, but as a man I also understand the need  for me to listen to women rather than enter into and try and dominate any conversations.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve done to contribute towards gender equality (so far)?

The biggest thing I have contributed towards gender equality are lots of little things: choosing to stay home with our child while my wife returned to work; not accepting lazy gender stereotypes when it comes to introducing our daughter to new interests; encouraging the same in her friends; Writing a blog about these issues; and working with our daughter to show others how she engages with interests not traditionally associated with girls.  

 

Nick McKenzie, 28, Great Men Project Manager

 

Great Men Project

What’s the biggest issue facing women in 2017?

The normalised culture of sexism and violence against women is being promoted more than ever in our post-truth society and often as a natural ally of the traditional right wing views that are re-emerging across the globe. We tackle this at Great Men by using our workshops to address this at its root causes - gender stereotypes and traditional models of masculinity.

Our workshops challenge boys to think critically about the gender stereotypes that fuel aggressive and negative masculine behaviours; that ‘real’ men shouldn’t express emotions other than anger or control, that aggression, money and promiscuity are the markers of ‘success’, and that women and homosexual men represent the opposite of these characteristics and should be treated as inferior.

When did you decide, as a man, that fighting for gender equality/women’s rights was important?

The realisation as I got older that sexual assault, along with relentless catcalling and abuse from men, were things that they all experienced was shocking. The realisation that these experiences were not unfortunate, rare, occurrences but day to day expectations of what it means to be a woman in our society prompted me to act and to become a volunteer.

In retrospect my awareness was decades too late and this is why our work with boys is so important - so that the next generation of men can take an active role in promoting gender equality.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve done to contribute towards gender equality (so far)?

Becoming a volunteer before working for Great Men and facilitating workshops allowed me to contribute towards gender equality in a space and in a way that was positive but that also didn’t mean I was using my privilege as a man to mean well but cause more harm than good.

That, combined with the continual challenges to my own views and sense of masculinity that comes naturally from speaking with boys and our volunteers about how they view themselves as men has been extremely powerful in redefining my own masculinity and my role as a man in our society.

Each day I learn more ways I can do better to contribute and I don’t expect this to change any time soon! 

Shamil Makhecha , 25, member of Plan International UK’s ‘Youth For Change’ project

Youth For Change

What’s the biggest issue facing women in 2017?

I believe the biggest issue facing women in 2017 is  also the biggest issue facing men: outdated perceptions of gender. This is because gender stereotypes become the root of discrimination and separation between different people, they influence people’s ideas from a young age and ultimately cause division.

When did you decide, as a man, that fighting for gender equality and women’s rights was important?

I believe that many young boys, myself once included, have a moral compass that will lead them to fight to gender equality. The question is whether they have the moral courage to follow that instinct, and use their voice to help defend women’s rights.

My awakening came in my early 20s, when I quit my job to spend my time defending these values. I know people would argue it is too little, too late. Too little it may be, but I’d always say better late than never to stand up for something you believe in.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve done to contribute towards gender equality (so far)?

Through my work with Youth For Change, I encourage boys to reach their own point of reckoning earlier than I did. To do so, we need to help boys re-assess what it means to be a man. We need to stop stereotyping, and give boys space to be sensitive and emotional. We need boys to understand that they will not be entitled to promotions ahead of their female colleagues. We need boys to stop psychologically differentiating themselves from girls.

Practically, this means helping boys escape social conditioning. Having them read books by female authors and making them unafraid to have female role models will help them define their own gender identity. Ultimately, small changes like these helped me come to my decision that using my voice for gender equality was important.

Daniele Fiandaca (44), Co-founder Token Man 

Token Man

What’s the biggest issue facing women in 2017?

Unconscious bias continues to be the biggest issue facing women in the workplace. It is a sad reality that women are constantly prejudiced against because of who they are. And sadly this prejudice comes from both men and women alike and is simply a construct of our society.

It impacts everything from pay, to job opportunities to promotion opportunities and is why we do not currently have equality in the workplace. 

When did you decide, as a man, that fighting for gender equality and women’s rights was important?

I run a club for Creative Leaders and in trying to recruit more women, I found myself as the ‘token man’ at a dinner with 12 other female creative directors. For the first time in my life, I experienced what it was like to be in the minority. I hated it. I lost my confidence. I was cut off mid speech. I didn’t have an affinity with the conversations going on around me. It made me realise what it must be like to be a woman in the boardroom where they are in the minority.

In that moment, I realised if we could get more men to understand these challenges, especially those in a CEO position, we could help accelerate change.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve done to contribute towards gender equality (so far)?

Two years ago, I co-founded Token Man with three brilliant women, Emma Perkins, Penny Othen and Georgia Baretta. The whole aim of Token Man is to create a safe place for men to talk about gender diversity without fear of being criticised for saying the wrong thing. We believe if we can inspire more men to get involved and help educate them about the challenges that women face in the workplace, they will make change happen.

So far we have interviewed over 20 CEOs about gender diversity, which been read over 25,000 times – and led to immediate change. The interviews are not only about showing others what good initiatives are happening but are also designed to challenge the CEOs further. We know the interviews have led to promotions onto boards, pay increases and changes in parental leave policies. We have also run over 10 ‘hacking gender diversity’ workshops across the creative, media and financial sectors, which aim to help companies think about gender in their own workplaces – and what they can do to change. 

 

Andy Woodfield, 44, PwC Partner, UK Leader of PwC’s International Development Consulting practice

PWC

What’s the biggest issue facing women in 2017 and what would you do to tackle it?

We must stop making the issue of gender equality, gender pay etc an issue for women, we must stop trying to train women to be better men, we must work together as men and women to unlock the potential of gender balance in the workplace, it’s an opportunity for business not an issue for women.

When did you decide, as a man, that fighting for gender equality/women’s rights was important?

I’ve always worked with women and always noticed that men perform better with women in the team and women perform better with men in the team, it’s been very logical for me because I’ve seen this from a business performance perspective.

I’m constantly surprised that more people don’t get it, and over the last 10 years I’ve tried to talk more about that, and demonstrate what I’m talking about. Words and actions must be aligned on this, it’s no good just wearing a HeForShe badge and hoping things will change, you have to take action yourself.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve done to contribute towards gender equality (so far)?

Making sure I run a gender-balanced business. Making sure I use my power and profile to support initiatives outside of PwC like Action Breaks Silence. Using my social media reach to keep talking about the power of gender balance and gender equality. 

EJ C. Galang, 34, Senior Creative, MullenLowe

MullenLowe

 

What’s the biggest issue facing women in 2017?

From my limited point of view, I believe there are several issues facing women today and choosing the biggest would be very difficult. One of the big issues is definitely a lack of representation, whether it’s in ads, TV shows, movies, or simply real life. As people, we haven’t been very good at celebrating women who lead, achieve, and succeed.

A symptom of this problem is in the way people (both men and women) react when they see women in positions of power. There is an almost immediate cynicism that easily turns to hate and sometimes violence. 

When did you decide, as a man, that fighting for gender equality/women’s rights was important?

I don’t remember a specific turning point in my life but I would say my education on the subject started early on. My mother was finishing her MA on Comparative Literature when I was around 12 and she was taking Feminist courses at that time. At home, she would sometimes challenge our biases like domestic duties being left to women (which was a good strategy to get us to do the dishes). My grandmother was known for organising women’s groups as a student abroad up until she retired in the province.

 

What’s the biggest thing you’ve done to contribute towards gender equality (so far)?

The biggest thing I’ve done for the cause (which is perhaps the most important piece of work I’ve ever done) is our #RedrawTheBalance campaign. It’s a small social experiment that shows how early gender stereotypes start. We launched it last year and so far it has been shared by prominent figures like Emma Watson and Sir Ken Robinson without any PR budget.

The follow-up campaign that launched on International Women’s Day focuses on the role of media in perpetuating gender biases. 

James Farndon, 25, Campaigns And Activism Officer at Action Aid

 

James Fardon

What’s the biggest issue facing women in 2017 and what would you do to tackle it?

It feels like in 2017 women’s rights have been under attack more than ever, but there’s also been a huge wave of women fighting back. It’s amazing to see women globally organising strikes against abortion bans and   taking to the streets to demand gender equality.

Now is not the time to go back to normal – it’s the time to get involved, and stay involved. We need to support the women leading this fight – in whichever way we can.

At ActionAid our focus has been on fighting to support the rights of the world’s poorest women and girls. We are campaigning to challenge the root causes of poverty and to tackle sexual violence. When we all come together, we can and will change the world for the better.

When did you decide, as a man, that fighting for gender equality/women’s rights was important?

When I was at university I realised my female friends faced so many struggles that I didn’t as a white man –  sexual harassment in the student bar, being talked over in lectures, not being able to walk home safely at night.

As I got involved in campaigning and activism I grew to understand that this wasn’t just an issue my friends faced, but a problem around the world - with women in poverty often have the least access to support services and justice. I realised that any campaigning I was involved in had to include the fight for gender equality.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve done to contribute towards gender equality (so far)?

I think the biggest thing has been to know when to step back as a man in political organising. I’m an active campaigner on gender inequality, and I’ve supported ActionAid campaigners around the country to do the same.

But, I really believe the fight for gender equality has to be led by women and girls, particularly women of colour, trans and queer women.

It is important that men are supportive of these movements, but we need to ensure we don’t try and lead the fight. We shouldn’t replicate the oppression we’re trying to fight. 

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