When faced with the complexities of delivering the White Ribbon message to men and boys worldwide, Michael describes the challenges and his decision to create a decentralised campaign. “Due to cultural and linguistic differences, it’s difficult to craft messages that have the same meaning or impact around the world. Gender inequality, and its many manifestations including violence against women, has specific expressions in different cultures. Justifications for inequality vary and some forms of inequality and oppression are subtle while others are blatant and horrific. But there is a common denominator: it is the supposition, traditionally held by most men and reinforced by the social, cultural, political and economic structures of our male dominated societies, that men should have power. Power over women, power over children, power over nature, power over other men, and power over our own emotions. People in their own countries and communities are best placed to reach out to men and boys, so it made sense to decentralise the campaign early on. An NGO, individual or a small group within a workplace, school, community, or a place of worship may choose to start a White Ribbon effort. White Ribbon is completely non-partisan, reaching out to men and boys right across the political and social spectrum”.
Michael works together with others on a broad range of gender equality issues, including two international alliances: The Men Engage Alliance and MenCare. The Men Engage Alliance brings together NGOs, community groups, UN agencies, researchers, and individuals and works to engage men and boys, working collectively in order to promote gender equality and healthy ideals of manhood. MenCare is a global fatherhood campaign active in more than 35 countries believing that true equality will only be reached when men are taking on 50 percent of the child care and domestic work around the world. June 16, 2015 saw the release of the ‘State of the World’s Fathers’ report, launched at the UN and at events in capitals around the world. Produced by the MenCare network, together with various UN and NGO partners, Michael Kaufman was co-author of the report, which examined the importance of transforming fatherhood for gender equality, in order to improve the lives of women, men and children.
State of the World’s Fathers: Executive Summary: A MenCare Advocacy Publication.
“It is critical that boys grow up with models of compassionate men” explains Michael. “This is one reason why the transformation of fatherhood is critical for the achievement of gender equality and positive changes in men’s lives. When a father (or father figure) does the daily nurturing jobs such as changing nappies, cooking, reading, looking after — and they do all this in loving and non-violent ways, then boys will start their lives with strong and positive models of manhood. This doesn’t mean that all homes must have a father present to provide a healthy upbringing for boys, but it does mean that when there is a father present, he has an important, caregiving role to play.”
In September 2014, Emma Watson spoke at the launch of HeForShe, a UN Women global solidarity movement to end gender inequality by 2030. The campaign saw 100,000 men sign up to show their support within three days, sparking more than 1.2 billion conversations on social media within the first week of launch. In her speech she said: “I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less ‘macho’.” She went on to say: “I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality either.”
This was a sentiment expressed by Michael when he took to the stage as keynote speaker at the 20th Soroptimist International Convention, Istanbul, Turkey. Delivering his message to a 2000 strong, mostly female audience he invited us to challenge men’s power and privilege with determination but also compassion and empathy. Michael talked of boys being ridiculed for having feelings; of suppressed emotions; of the need to redefine what it means to be a man. Michael says: “This issue is critical, and a key part of my own work. Looking at the negative consequences of our male-dominated cultures on men, including the pressure to always be strong and in control, always succeed, show no fear. In other words, there’s a paradox at the heart of men’s lives. Men have power in male dominated societies, but the ways we define and construct that power is the source of not only privilege but enormous negative consequences for men. Paradoxically, both this power and men’s vulnerabilities are simultaneously sources of men’s violence.”
Michael also talks of the dangers of collective blame. “How can we speak to men and boys about violence against women and have the greatest impact? Successful and evaluated programmes around the world show us that generalities such as “men always…” and “you men…” do not help. Rather, positive messages about men’s role in bringing about change are the way forward. Positive messages and looking at the paradoxes of men’s power are why I use so much story-telling and humour in my talks. They are a way of reaching men and helping men understand we can be part of the solution. Men can be allies with women in bringing about a society of gender equality, gender justice and freedom from the narrow limits we’ve place on both women and men.”