Gender. It’s a hot topic in the global aid-working world. Policy writers scratch away for hours, drafting policies that promote gender balance in staff hiring and pay. Meanwhile, those busy on the ground make every effort to favor female beneficiaries in the activities they implement, typically viewing women as the most vulnerable of the two sexes.
But, what really does gender mean? Why is it so often associated with women, entirely omitting the male sex? Importantly, how does this focus on women in the discussion on gender affect men? How has the movement to promote women’s rights impacted the lives of the husbands, partners, and other men in the shadows of such empowered women?
Is it possible that, as women have become empowered, men – the excluded sex – have become disempowered? Is it possible that the exclusion of men, or their “disempowerment”, is adversely influencing global issues, like HIV/AIDS? Are humanitarian and development agendas and expectations too female-centric, resulting in a failure to account for half of the world’s population and, in particular, their deeply-embedded cultural and gender-based perspectives?
By delving into notions of male identity in Africa, Aernout Zevenbergen, Zambian-born journalist and writer, calls on us to reconsider what it means to be a man in his recently published book, Spots of a Leopard.
The inspiration for Spots of a Leopard, began at a meeting between an HIV+, AIDS activist and a group of men in a Nairobi slum. It started with thoughts, like this one, shared by the men: “It is our duty as men to plant as many seeds in as many flowerpots as possible. Condoms prevent us from doing that.” And, it resulted in a captivating book that should make any global aid worker re-consider the concept of gender and how it may be influencing and shaping not only humanitarian and development policies but also the often overlooked sex – men – and their male identity.
Check out Aernout Zevenbergen's blog.
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(Please note that the view discussed in this piece focuses, in particular, on the male-female issue of gender. While transgendered individuals are not being discussed in this particular piece, global aid worker welcomes discussion on the issues faced by transgendered individuals and, in particular, in the global aid working world.)