Why International Men's Day?

By Meghan Donahue
Nov. 19, 2013

These days it’s not lost on anyone – especially Peace Corps Volunteers – that women in developing nations have far less access than men to education, land ownership, credit, training and jobs. 

Not to mention women are less likely to be politically active than men and far more likely to be victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. 

So with all the work that development organizations are doing to lift up women and girls, why do we celebrate International Men’s Day?

Gender inequality is part of the social context of the countries where Peace Corps Volunteers work. Whereas stories about lack of opportunity for women and girls abound, Volunteers also tell stories about men and boys who can’t fully participate in the important development activities of their communities. In many regions of the world, boys have jobs at home to complete before going to school, and many Volunteers work with men who didn’t complete school and greatly regret that they can’t read or write. In some countries, certain aspects of formal schooling, including corporal punishment, have led boys to leave school at an early age. Like girls, they can’t learn when they are afraid of the teacher and don’t feel safe in their learning environments.

Peace Corps believes in empowering women and girls – but we know that can’t be done without addressing masculinity and working to empower boys and young men.

Therefore, for the fourth year in a row, the Peace Corps is commemorating International Men’s Day. International Men’s Day began in 1999 as a celebration in Trinidad and Tobago, supported by the United Nations, to promote gender equity and bring attention to the role that men and boys play in developing their neighborhoods, communities and countries. Today it is celebrated in over 60 countries on November 19. This year’s theme is "Keeping Men and Boys Safe."

By working from within the community, Volunteers are able to work with their partners, friends, and colleagues to identify culturally-acceptable actions that will address gender inequality and lead to sustainable development. 

For example, Volunteers in Senegal invite fathers to attend Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) with their daughters providing the opportunity to see them as individuals with dreams, goals and ambitions.

Volunteers in Morocco have created trainings called “Honorable Men” and “STOP Sexual Harassment” to discuss and reflect with youth on positive male models and goal setting for boys and girls.

In Eastern Caribbean, Jamaica and Samoa, Volunteers ensure that young men are included in programs from health to education because it is often adolescent males who drop out of school or don’t have access to resources and information.

Male Volunteers are an integral part of the gender equality process. (Photo above features Colombia PCV Nathan Mullen cheering with his boys' baseball group.) They work with community partners to help men and boys look past ingrained gender attitudes, and they are leading gender groups at posts, writing blogs and newsletters, and conducting gender trainings more than ever before. A male Volunteer presence helps facilitate discussion with host country boys and men on issues such as fairness, safety and equality, and their encouragement leads to increased participation among men and boys in sharing the domestic workload with their partners, mothers and sisters.

Increasing gender equality is critical to the development of every nation, and failing to pay attention to gender inequality often constitutes a barrier to national development.

Meghan Donahue