Male Allies for Gender Equality

male allies gender equality
A United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) integrated convoy. Photo: Isaac Billy, UN

by Kelly Case

“For 16 years I had the privilege of working with male gender equality advocates on the committee and I saw firsthand their ability to speak out as active agents and stakeholders who can transform social norms, behaviors and gender stereotypes that perpetuate discrimination and inequality.” Pramila Patten

“It requires men to question power dynamics in their actions or words and their personal, interpersonal and societal level and to take responsibility for the exchange. This is only possible when both women and men work together towards the goal of gender equality.” Pramila Patten

“This is the world of 2020. We should not be having debates about shadow roles for women. Women should be part and parcel of every decision we make in society. It is not an option. It is the truth. It is the right thing to do.” Lord Tariq Ahmad

“It is incumbent on all of us, women and men, and men especially, to open up the space for women with the experience and the insights and the expertise to not just join the dialogue but lead the dialogue.” Lord Tariq Ahmad


On Wednesday, June 24th, 2020, in partnership with the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, Our Secure Future co-hosted the event “Gender Equality in Peace & Security: The Role of Male Allies” to draw attention to the important role men have in pushing the agenda forward. Introductory remarks by Ms. Pramila Patten, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth and the Prime Minister's Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, United Kingdom were followed by a panel discussion, moderated by Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Executive Director, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. Panelists included:

Maj. Gen. Patrick Cammaert, Former UN Force Commander for the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

Mr. Fikiri Nzoyisenga, Founder and Executive Director, Youth Coalition Against Gender-based Violence, Semerera, Burundi

Ambassador Don Steinberg, Founder, Mobilizing Men as Partners for Women, Peace and Security Project, Our Secure Future

While important successes have been made over the last 20 years since the passing of UNSCR 1325 that ensures the inclusion of women in all peace and security processes, men still hold many of the positions of power within the peace and security architecture. Cultivating men as allies and ensuring their support for women’s meaningful participation must be a tactic used to push this agenda forward. Within the last 20 years, we have seen men speak out and take active steps to ensure women are part of the decision-making process. However, as the panelists noted during the discussion, there is still a lot of work to be done to fundamentally change power structures that perpetuate gender inequality and inhibit women’s participation. 

The three male panelists provided unique perspectives on how they pushed this agenda forward in their work, the challenges they faced, and recommendations on how to make women’s participation a priority.  

Maj. Gen. Patrick Cammaert spoke specifically about how important it is for women to be included in peacekeeping missions and their impact on peacekeeping. He noted that evidence shows that when women are part of peacekeeping forces, it provides greater protection to communities and early warning systems are stronger. Yet, women only make up 4.7% of the global peacekeeping forces. 

He went on to speak about how this issue should not be “tabled for women activists only. In particular men should be advocating the importance of women empowerment.” And that support must come from the top. With “peacekeeping a lot of those things are starting from the top. The force command, the police commissioner, the leader in civil society etc. If they give the example. If they encourage. If they push to make sure that women are indeed getting the jobs that they need and being in the functions that they need to be in, then participation will increase. It is a change in mentality.” He reiterated that if male leadership won’t champion this agenda, it won’t happen and that it requires constant pushing to bring about change. 

Mr. Fikiri Nzoyisenga followed Maj. Gen Cammaert’s remarks and spoke about how he personally came to understand the importance of gender equality. Describing himself as a champion for women’s rights, Mr. Nzoyisenga spent five years in a refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the war in Burundi. During that time, it was his stepmother who provided for the family and kept them whole through a small income-generating business. She was an inspiration to him. From her, he realized that “women, even if they are not educated, can be pillars for the development of their families and communities.”

What was also inspirational for him and pushed him to become an ally was his father who supported and provided encouragement to his stepmother in everything that she did. His support was unusual given the patriarchal society in Burundi, but he saw firsthand through his parents how norms can change at the familial and community level. 

Reiterating the importance of changing societal norms, he went on to say “what is most important here that we all know is that social norms can change. It's possible to change social norms and even norms against women can change. And it starts with one person. I think one male champion can change a community. What is most important here is to identify those men who are willing to participate or join this fight for gender equality and to provide them with support.”

Ambassador Donald Steinberg rounded out the panel with his decades of experience working  in the US government, the United Nations, and civil society. Sounding a similar note, Ambassador Steinberg reinforced the importance of broad participation stating that the “single most important lesson I have learned is that peaceful and prosperous and a just society only emerges when we draw on the leadership and the full contribution of all of our citizens.” Yet, as he noted, so often the gatekeepers to ensuring inclusion are privileged, white, older men “who have little direct experience with exclusion and abuse based on identity factors.” Therefore, it is critical that men play a role, but also understand their role as “allies, partners, and facilitators of women’s leadership.”

Ambassador Steinberg then provided four concrete ways he ensured women’s participation during his tenure as Deputy Administrator at USAID. First, to support and empower women and women’s groups on the frontlines of peace, human rights and justice in their countries. Second, to mainstream and integrate gender into all efforts, including by requiring gender impact statements for all major USAID projects. Third, to help the Department of State and USAID become global thought-leaders, advocates, and partners for governments, international agencies, and NGO’s through formal policies and implementation plans with time-bound, measurable goals. Finally, to walk-the-walk within US agencies through gender-sensitive hiring and employment practices, widespread training, elimination of unconscious biases, and more inclusive leadership patterns.   

Changing power dynamics within the corridors of power is a long-term endeavor. There has been concern about elevating the profile of men within this agenda given the decades of work women have been doing to realize their full and meaningful participation. But engaging all key stakeholders, including men, is fundamental to ensuring this change occurs and gender equality is achieved.