Gender Equality: Not Just The Promotion Of Women

“In order to do this,
we must see men as our allies,

our partners through thick and thin.”
-Ana Ake, Tonga, Africa

Photo credit: UN

Photo credit: UN

With the 2015 target deadline fast approaching, many NGOs are evaluating how far we’ve come in reaching the Millennium Development Goal benchmarks. These are 8 goals officially established on September 8, 2000 at the UN Headquarters to set an action plan in place for international development. Of the 8 goals, the goal that I feel most passionate about is Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 3: Promote gender equality and empower women.

This goal has come a priority for me to carry out in my personal life. I’m still sorting out what it looks like—- and what it doesn’t look like.

For most of my life, I’ve viewed gender equality as focusing on changing the stereotypes of women and ensuring women equal opportunities outside of the home. However, as public policy expert Anne-Marie Slaughter points out in her “Can We Have it All?” TED talk,

“I still think we should do everything we possibly can to empower women, but that’s only half of real equality. I now think we’re never going to get there unless we recognize the other half…”

To share a personal example of how I see this in my professional life, let me share some of my thought processes in working with men and women living with HIV and substance abuse. In this particular grant project, I am assigned to both male and female patients for a six month behavioral intervention focusing on empowerment to achieve health and social goals, including HIV care and substance abuse. When I would be assigned to partner with a woman, I’d get really excited at the prospect of seeing a woman empowered to live out personal, economic, and health-related successes. When I was assigned to work with a male, I would feel an initial sense of disappointment because I thought that somehow I wasn’t living out my passion for women’s empowerment. But to stick with this mindset is a narrow-view of gender equality. As USAID notes, “Gender equality means that males and females have equal opportunities to realize their full human rights and contribute to and benefit from economic, social, cultural, and political development.” In my work context, I now see how healthier men, free of substance use, who become elevated to greater personal, health-related, and economic prosperity turn into allies in the journey towards gender equality. When men can be healthy, whole, expressive people without mountains of societal expectations placed on their shoulders, women can also be healthy, whole, expressive people without having to see “work OR family,” but instead, the both/and: “work AND family.” I learned to change my perspective and now, whether working with a man or a woman, I realize that I am contributing towards gender equality when I view the larger picture of the societal impact of healthier women and men. For some, this is a no-brainer, but for me, it took some time to connect the dots between male and female empowerment.

Though I still feel convicted that more energy, capital, and social will need to be given towards advancing the promotion of women and girls, as partners and allies, we also need to see that part of gender equity is highlighting non-traditional roles of males in the media and in our lives. When men are portrayed as fathers, caregivers, educators, and participators in home and family life, we alleviate the burden of women being pigeon-holed into these roles. We offer women and girls a larger perspective of parenting- that not all of the responsibilities of parenting will inadvertently fall on one parent simply because of their gender. Girls and boys see that men and women truly can become and do anything. 100 years ago, it was hard for some to imagine a world where women could vote. 50 years ago, it was hard for some to imagine a world where interracial marriage was legal, let alone socially acceptable. 10 years ago, it was hard for some to believe that any more states would come alongside Massachusetts to instate marriage equality. And today, thought it might be hard for some to see men as care providers and other “non-traditional” roles, history has shown us time and time again that,

“the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
(Martin Luther King, 1965)

Men At Work

Photo credit: UNFPA

To Dad, With Love

“I can tell your Dad must mean a lot to you,” she smiles endearingly.
“Yes, yes, he does. I’m grateful to have him for a Dad,” I smile back, unexpected tears welling my eyes.

I’m on a flight back from Portland, chatting with a fellow traveler-turned-friend thanks to warm conversation over the backdrop of the early April Rocky Mountain snow.

I find myself in conversations with friends, whether new or old, in which I mention my dad, enthusing about his character with gratitude, and don’t worry, in a world of 24 million children with absent fathers, I don’t take him for granted.

So, Dad, Pops, Daddy-O,

Sit on down, ’cause this daughter of yours is about to give you a talkin’ to.

Dear Dad,
Growing up with you was like a grand adventure… that is, until we’d drive somewhere and you’d turn the radio to “Car Talk” on NPR. I can still hear those annoying men with thick Boston accents diagnosing callers’ concerns, “Well ya see, here’s what’s really wrong with ya caaaaah.” I’d sit in the front seat of the Oldsmobile van wondering how quickly we’d make it back from errands, while you tuned in intently, occasionally laughing about a joke that went over my five-year-old head.

There were bike rides and runs, and there still are today. You demonstrated fitness and showed me how to take care of my body, in the milieu of running paths and trails, from Valley Forge State Park to Boathouse Row, Philadelphia. There were camping trips each summer, my favorites being New Hampshire and Maine. You put your hand on dad campingmy shoulder and pointed towards the night sky.
“You ever seen the milky way?”
“No, Dad.”

We gazed upwards, two heads staring into vastness and mystery, overtaken with appropriate smallness and grandeur, as we marveled at God’s artistry. It was you who cultivated in me a love for the Earth around us.

dad snowYou taught me how fun life is when you stay young at heart, by running with a grocery cart down the grocery aisle, hopping on, and shouting, “weeeeee!” You reminded me how humorous life can be when you have a penchant for toilet humor. How fun each morning can be by watching cartoons in your suit and tie. Oh, and how ’bout the time you broke your arm while playing basketball with the kids next door? Christmas 2010 sledding?

dad laurenYou showed me what was in my control and what was not- and to let go of what you can’t change. I’m sure you never anticipated the behavioral challenges that having a child with special needs would entail, but I watched you hang on with patience and love. In doing so, you introduced me to the wonderful world of Special Olympics, where I watched you set your soul on fire with life as a coach. You know each athlete by name, and can probably quote their P.R.s by heart. You took a van full of athletes up to Rhode Island for a 5k race, and patiently sat through Sunday afternoon George Washington bridge traffic, while one of the athletes talked incessantly,
dad“Are we on 95, Coach Scott?” “Are we in New York, Coach Scott?” “Coach Scott, what time will we be home?” You kept your eyes on the road and patiently, but firmly requested that the athlete please be quiet ’til we got home. Amazing how much quicker the ride seemed to go from that point onward.

The family challenges didn’t stop with Lauren. You took two days off work to take an indignant 17 year old (that would be me) on mapped out campus tours of New England colleges, while I cried, and informed you that I didn’t want to grow up.

A year later, I totaled the Corolla when I fell asleep at the wheel. You answered that dreaded 12:30 AM phone call, met me at the hospital, and drove me home, not shaming me or belittling me. When I got into my next car accident a few years later, I remember walking into the house, expecting to be yelled at or grounded for being so irresponsible. I approached you with tears in my eyes, because disappointing you was a punishment in and of itself. Instead of punishing me, you took my yellow swimming towel from my hand, dried my tears, and asked me how I was doing. It felt like that Prodigal Son story, and I still tell people about your actions whenever that story comes up. You’re a lavish grace-giver, and I have no excuse not to do the same for others. 

When I eventually succumbed to the fact that college was coming whether I liked it or not, for four years you made four-hour round trip car rides down 95 to sweat through five-hour long swim meets at Burdick Hall, just to watch me swim for 3.5 minutes of those 5 hours. But you were no fair weathered fan; you cheered on the Tigers from Boston to Virginia and almost every state in between. You celebrated PRs with me, and provided encouragement when I struggled to hang on as it got hard and I hit plateaus. You took pictures of me in my cap and gown on starting blocks after graduation, donning a bittersweet farewell to the NCAA. But it didn’t end there. You drove us down a year later to watch my college roommate on her senior day at Burdick. Except this time, we both sweat together through the meet from the stands.

You supported me when I cried my way through my decision not to leave for Peace Corps and prepped me through my first real job interview. You helped me set up my first retirement account. An older co-worker asked me lots of questions about it, stating she wished she had a Dad like you to guide her through these choices. I’m so much better prepared for the future thanks to you.  A year into the real world, you coached me on how to complete my own performance review and told me that I needed to stop worry about my life.

You’ve listened to me muse about marriage and family, and when I told you I’m keeping my last name whenever I get married, you supported me with an open mind.

As we both get older, and I’ve watched a small number of friends lose a parent, I think of you with a cherishing grip. I want you to be here as long (or longer) as your now 94 year old mother. I hope that everyday, until that day, I will tell you how much you mean to me, so that you die knowing every good and beautiful thing you’ve done. I want to remind you that each time you hung on with strength and patience in the midst of challenging adversity, I noticed, and am better for it. You’ve been a wonderful father and I know you’ll be a great grandfather too, one day, perhaps, (far, far, away).
But spare them on the Car Talk.

I love you; I always will-


dad mel