Building an inclusive movement to advance gender equality

Article Date

12 November 2014

Article Author

Brian Heilman

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

My favorite word is palimpsest. It’s a little bit obscure; you might not have heard it before. But it has a rich and precise meaning, so bear with me. It refers to a page – one piece of paper, say – where you’ve written something new on top of something you’d previously written and erased, but where you can still see traces of the prior piece of writing. One page with many layers of writing, all still visible but in various stages of fading. Quite a lot of detail for one word!

I’m thinking of my favorite word because I’m in one of my favorite cities: Delhi, India. To me, “palimpsest” is the perfect metaphor for Delhi: it’s a city with many layers of history, all still visible but in various stages of fading. The skyscrapers of 21st century “emerging” India abut the government offices from Delhi’s days as the capital of British India, which themselves nestle against the majestic forts of the Mughal empire and tombs from the earlier Sultanate era. And on and on for 5,000 years and you get the palimpsest picture.

I’m here, along with some 1,000-plus activists, teachers, artists, policymakers, filmmakers, researchers, and programmers, to write a new layer on yet another palimpsest: the ongoing saga of efforts to promote gender justice around the world. The second MenEngage Global Symposium is here this week (the first was five years ago in Rio de Janeiro) and during this week we’ll all be hearing brave testimonies and urgent program guidance which will help point us toward a more inclusive, ethical, and honest global movement to advance gender equality.

With all the great landmarks from feminist and gender justice movements through time still visible and shining through, we will add one more layer to the story. I will assist with this in a very literal sense, helping to co-author the “Call to Action,” the declaration of the symposium’s definitive outcomes and affirmations, which will be read out to all delegates in the closing session and widely disseminated thereafter. It’s an enormous challenge to try to capture in just a few pages all the knowledge, self-reflection, evidence, and intention tied up in the last five years’ progress to pave inclusive paths toward global gender equality. And to be fair, not all of that progress aligns with the heading of “Engaging Men and Boys,” itself an important lesson for this Symposium to reckon with!

But, if we pull it off, I have a feeling that this week might mark an important turning point for our field. It just might be the moment where the notion that gender equality is good for women and bad for men starts disappearing on the page, where the idea that gender programs should only work with one or the other sex in isolation will start fading slowly into history. In their place, in crisp new pencil: women, men, and transgender persons standing together, calling on everyone to build an inclusive movement, for the benefit of everyone.