"Men need to see alternatives. Most men have never seen another example – not from their father and not from the society. Therefore, it is important for the religious leaders to not only preach, but also model this behaviour. If you believe God has placed you as a leader, you have a responsibility, a mandate." - Prabu Deepan, TearFund
How does faith inform our ideas of what it means to be a man and how can it be used to disrupt harmful notions of masculinity? How do religious communities handle discussions around gender and what are the best practices for working with religious leaders around issues of masculinity? These were the driving questions we reflected on throughout the planning and follow through of our seminar on” Engaging Religious Leaders in Gender Transformative Work” which took place on February 2nd, 2017 at Kulturhuset in Oslo, Norway.
Religion and sacred texts have been used as tools for both arguing against and in favour of women’s empowerment, yet their potential for working with men and boys around masculinities within communities where faith plays a large role has received far less attention and thus remains an important area of exploration.
CARE has placed a strong emphasis on mainstreaming masculinities into our work with women and girls in partnering countries, both as a response to the requests of the women we serve, as well as an effort towards identifying the unique and often invisible needs of men. While attempting to identify the obstacles men face when engaging in more gender balanced behaviour, our experiences have shown that local religious institutions are fundamental sites for promoting and sustaining healthy gender transformative norms and behaviours.
Thursday’s event aimed at identifying new strategies and practices for working with religious leaders around issues of masculinity, as well as creating a discussion between local organizations, academics and individuals active or interested in working with faith based communities. We were joined by speakers Prabu Deepan from TearFund, Beatrice Halsaa from the University of Oslo’s Center for Gender Research, Knud Jørgensen from Areopagos, and Christiane Seehausen from the Nansen Centre for Peace and Dialogue. Using both theoretical and practical frameworks, the seminar was led by discussions ranging from the role of actors within sacred texts, views of feminism within women’s faith circles, practical examples from the field and using dialogue as a tool for communicating across differences.
An underlying element in our discussions was the interplay between gender norms and religion, both informing and shaping one another simultaneously. It was reiterated that in order to utilize religion for promoting healthy masculinities, we must work closely with textual analysis to identify empowering interpretations of sacred texts alongside local role models who actively use faith as a tool for promoting equitable norms and behaviours.
The rest of the key take-aways from Thursday’s seminar will be compiled in a learning document to be released in March. We look forward to share new insights gained from the participation of both speakers and attendants so that we may strengthen our understanding of the growing field of engaging men in gender equality work and ensure that masculinities are a part of the conversation.