Men Start to Make Women’s Struggles Their Own in Argentina

A group of men signing the “commitment to equality” during a meeting in Buenos Aires organised by the Men for Equality network, created a year ago in Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A group of men signing the “commitment to equality” during a meeting in Buenos Aires organised by the Men for Equality network, created a year ago in Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 30 2015 (IPS)

The meeting was about gender equality, but for once there were more men than women. It marked a watershed in the struggle in Argentina to make the commitment to equality more than just “a women’s thing.”

The Buenos Aires meeting was organised by the Men for Equality (HxI) network, which emerged a year ago to “generate a space to incorporate all men who promote gender equality and the prevention of violence against women, and achieve the commitment to carry out actions to that end in their areas of influence and/or workplaces.”

Behind the initiative are the United Nations in Argentina and the government’s National Women’s Council, along with two private organisations: the Avon Foundation and the local branch of the French multinational retailer Carrefour.

The president of the National Women’s Council, Mariana Gras, was surprised that women were in the minority at the meeting.“There are no ‘pure’ men, there are no men who haven’t discriminated at some point; it’s something that we men have become aware of little by little, on the public and personal levels, as fathers, as sons, as husbands – of the need to do something ourselves.” — René Mauricio Valdés

“The meetings are always made up of women,” she said in an interview with IPS. “When we talk to different authorities or leaders and say we’re planning a meeting on gender equality, they say: ‘I’ll send the girls’. Men feel uncomfortable, they make jokes, and prefer not to go to these meetings.”

The U.N. resident coordinator in Argentina, René Mauricio Valdés, told IPS: “This has been gaining momentum among a group of us men who often ran into each other at events of this kind, where we shared specific concerns. Almost all the events that we organised on women’s rights were attended virtually by women only.”

Representatives of the government, the judicial system, the business community, academia and social movements took part in the Sep. 22 meeting.

Several participants signed the “commitment to equality” – one of the HxI network’s initiatives.[

The document, whose signatories include Labour Minister Carlos Tomada, states: “I commit to making a daily personal evaluation of my behavior and attitudes, to avoid reproducing the prejudices and stereotypes that sustain systematic discrimination towards women and keep them from enjoying their rights in equal conditions with men.”

Gras said sexist and ‘machista’ stereotypes also affect men in this South American country of 43 million people.

“’Machismo’ is something we all experience in this society, because it forms part of our cultural norms, and marks us all. And it also works the other way: if a man goes to the police station to report that a woman beat him, they tell him ‘don’t be a fag, go and take care of it yourself’,” she told the audience at the meeting.

Valdés said, “There are no ‘pure’ men, there are no men who haven’t discriminated at some point; it’s something that we men have become aware of little by little, on the public and personal levels, as fathers, as sons, as husbands – of the need to do something ourselves.”

The challenge is for this commitment to come from a group of influential leaders and intellectuals, and to be reflected in all provinces, in urban and rural areas, in every neighbourhood.

“We aren’t inviting ‘pure’ men to join in; we want everyone to join and to assume a personal commitment so that in the very first place in our own lives we won’t tolerate or permit these things in the places where we live, study, go to church, have fun,” Valdés explained.

This is the aim of organisations like the White Ribbon Campaign in Argentina, which has been organising mixed workshops for young men and women in football clubs in the central province of Córdoba.

Hugo Huberman, the national coordinator of the Campaign, told IPS, “We are working with football club youth teams about how the process of male socialisation and sports, especially football, generates masculine stereotypes normally linked to violence, not respecting others, and other things.”

The White Ribbon Campaign is a global movement of men working to end male violence against women. It emerged in Canada in 1991.

But machismo also manifests itself in simple day-to-day things like visiting the doctor.

“We’re working on men’s health, to carry out small campaigns to get men to go to the doctor more often,” said the activist. “We don’t go to the doctor because of an identity thing: guys who visit the doctor are weak and vulnerable; we don’t follow treatment plans, we don’t watch our diet.”

Carrefour, the French corporation, is also making an effort in its chain of supermarkets in Argentina. For example, it allows men as well as women to take time off for their child’s birthday or to attend important meetings at school.

The company also tries to schedule work meetings in the mornings, or by 4:00 PM at the latest, so employees won’t get home late.

The company’s director of corporate affairs, Leonardo Scarone, told IPS, “It’s true that society today still sees men as breadwinners and that women assume – in quotes – the role of taking care of the family, running the home, etc. If you don’t give men the opportunity to do these things, at the same time you’re taking away the possibility for women to work and develop their career.”

To promote women’s professional development, the company also established the rule that there must be at least one woman on each list of candidates for managerial positions, and the company’s career committees have been instructed to make an effort to promote women.

“At a managerial level we have 20 percent women; the hard thing was breaking through that famous glass ceiling, so women could reach the position of senior managers,” Scarone said.

Today, three years after its diversity programme began to be implemented, the company has six women senior managers – around 15 percent of the total, up from zero.

Gras said, “To combat gender violence, everyone is needed, because if one part of society is affected and we think the solution only lies in those who suffer the problem, first of all what we have is a society absolutely lacking in solidarity, and second, we´re not understanding the effects that ‘the other’ has in our society. We are all actors.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

Learning from Korea’s ‘Saemaul Undong’ to Achieve SDGs

By Aruna Dutt and Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 30 2015 (IPS)

More than 3.3 billion people live in rural areas around the world. Rural development is therefore of vital significance if the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity” – is to become reality.

cq5dam.web.220.124A day after world leaders unanimously adopted 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) on Sep. 25 at the UN headquarters in New York, the Development Centre of the 34-nation Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) co-hosted a landmark event to discuss ways for reaching SDGs across developing countries.

The focus was on the New Rural Development Paradigm and the Inclusive and Sustainable New Communities Model, which is inspired by the successful Saemaul Undong in Korea.

Addressing the gathering, Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, who was the foreign minister of South Korea from January 2004 to November 2006, said: “Leaders have pledged to create a life of dignity for all people. We have promised to leave no one behind, including families in rural areas. There will be no progress on global movement without local development.”

Ban welcomed the Korean model to the U.N. and hoped that its principles could inspire other developing countries. “The Korean countryside went from poverty to prosperity,” said Ban, adding that the Saemaul Undong shares the ultimate targets of the SDGs. Based on the key principles of education, diligence, self-help and mutual cooperation, Saemaul Undong can be the new rural development paradigm for the sustainable prosperity of the world, said the U.N. Secretary-General.

Taking part in the event was also Park Geun-hye, President of the Republic of Korea, who explained how Korea is now cooperating with the UNDP and OECD to tailor the New Village Movement model in accordance with the specific conditions in other countries.

“Saemaul Undong,” said President Park, “uplifted Korea and has transformed our society. We were among the poorest countries in the world […] Now we are among the top 50 economies globally, and we are in the top ranks of major international aid donors.”

Although most attribute South Korea’s history of development to the country’s booming industry, the Permanent Representative of the Mission of South Korea to the U.N., Ambassador Choonghee Hahn, believes that Saemaul Undong was the critical factor which led to success in the 1970’s, and it is an inspiration for future environmentally sustainable development in today’s era of rapid urbanization and industrialization.

“This movement is needed in order for every person to change their vision from hopeless to hopeful, and from poverty to prosperity,” Hahn told IPS in an interview. “Korea would like to share this development experience with every country in the world.”

Hahn told IPS that the prominent aspects setting Saemaul Undong apart from mainstream development strategies, have been or are in the process of being incorporated into development projects in 30 countries around the world, such as Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. They include strategies such as promoting a can-do spirit, an enlightening perception of gender equality, and human rights.

Park Chung-hee, the father of current South Korean President Park Geun-hye, initiated the Saemaul Undong movement in 1970 by giving cement and steel to each village, ranking each village according to how well the villagers put the resources to use. The state then gave the top ranking villages more resources, thus creating an incentive as well as a sense of unity to work hard together in order to compete with neighbouring villages.

Consequently, the programme encouraged a sense of unity and belief in citizens that they can be a part of making their community and their country a better place to live. Motivational tools such as flags, songs, and spiritual testimonials raised people’s enthusiasm.

“This is why music is a big part of the development process,” Hahn said. The two most popular songs sung by communities were composed by President Hee. The song “Jal Sala Boseh” sent a message of being rich and prosperous, and “Saebyuck Jong-i Ulryutneh” said “a new day is beginning, let’s get together to build a new village”, Hahn recalled.

A strong belief in self-reliance, through local agencies, the idea of making the country less dependent on foreign aid, and eventually less dependent on government, were key growth strategies, according to Hahn. They also led to more sustainable projects, which by the early 1980’s, were funded more by community resources and financing instead of the government budget.

The Korean government policy led to the building of Saemaul training centres which linked the central government to local officials and residents implementing projects, which include leadership training for women at provincial and central training institutes. From each village, there would be 12 elected delegates and the government made it mandatory for at least one woman delegate to be included among the 12, leading to empowerment of women.

Can the Saemaul Undong experience be replicated successfully somewhere else? Yes, says Mario Pezzini, Director of the OECD Development Centre.

92 percent of the global rural population of 3.3 billion lives in developing countries, and it is projected to grow further till 2028. Therefore, using “rural lenses” is indispensable for the implementation and success of the SDGs, Pezzini said in an interview with IPS.

The majority of the poor are concentrated in rural areas, struggling with rising inequalities, and constraint by the inability of urban areas to absorb them.

Because these people face environmental, social and economic instability, they cannot be left behind. “We need to keep in mind that rural development is not synonymous of agriculture nor with decline,” explained Pezzini.

Agriculture represents a crucial part of rural economies. Any increase in agricultural productivity will produce further rural population redundancy, which is not necessarily employed by agriculture, added the OECD Development Centre’s director from Italy.

When discussing rural development, it is important to refer to an economy that is local, which includes agriculture, but it also goes far beyond including non-farming jobs as well, he insisted. Therefore, rural development will not necessarily coincide with agricultural development, nor will it necessarily coincide only with industrial development.

This, in turn, will bring a revolutionary approach to policy-making.

What the new rural paradigm, based on the Saemaul Undong movement, should imply is a new “type of local and regional development, a multi-sectoral, multi-agent and multi-dimensional development, which needs to take into account different activities,” said Pezzini.

New government agendas should concentrate on diverse assets of rural areas, which require different types of designed interventions. When central governments act on general schemes, putting input policies and without taking local population and local knowledge into account, very often they fail, he added.

“One actor cannot make it happen alone. But if the public sector wants to be effective it needs to involve the private sector, unions and citizens. The crucial point here is how to valorise assets that have not yet been used,” declared Pezzini.

This article is part of IPS North America’s media project jointly with Global Cooperation Council and Devnet Tokyo.