Engaging Men and Boys for Gender Equality

I recently welcomed nearly 800 activists, researchers and students to the first International Conference on Masculinities. Standing at the podium in New York City, I was humbled that people had traveled from all over the world in support of men and boys embracing the struggle for gender equality.

The landmark four-day conference -- the largest gathering of its kind -- was hosted by the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities, which I lead, at Stony Brook University. In organizing it, we partnered with the American Men's Studies Association and the MenEngage Alliance to provide opportunities for presentations, dialogue, training and community -- across continents, cultures, experiences, and perspectives -- to increase the involvement of men and boys in achieving gender equality.

The conference featured dozens of panels celebrating the work that's being done across the globe to promote equal rights: discussions on violence against women, fatherhood, engaging young people, reproductive health and work-family balance. Celebrity guests like Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem and Rosanna Arquette ignited the crowd with their passion; Sheryl Sandberg reminded us that, "Equality is not a zero sum game. That's something that makes everyone better."

I was most encouraged by the tremendous diversity of the participants. The speakers at the five plenary sessions represented six continents. The attendees were even more diverse -- evenly divided between men and women, with a sizable number of transgendered. About half came from outside the United States, including many representatives from the Global South -- especially Africa, Central and Latin America and much of Asia. Nearly 20 percent were under age 25.

Activist agencies ManUp, MenEngage, American Men's Studies Association and Promundo updated us on their work in every part of the world. So did HeForShe, a solidarity movement for gender equality initiated by UN Women.

I came away from the conference confident we are that much closer to gender equality in the United States -- and are making strides in developing nations. But I also know there is enormous work to be done. Worldwide, four areas are crucial to gender equality: ensuring education, improving healthcare, providing employment and ending men's violence against women. We will succeed in those four areas, if we all do our part.

At the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities, we will continue to be in the forefront of the quest for gender equality and will keep conducting research that furthers the development of boys and men in the service of healthy masculinities. In addition, Stony Brook University and the State University of New York system have embraced the HeForShe campaign as one of its 10 university partners.

On April 22nd, Stony Brook University will host its annual Stars of Stony Brook fundraising gala at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan. The event will honor Jane Fonda, one of the Center's biggest supporters, and a portion of the funds raised will be dedicated to enhancing the Center's future work.

Jane Fonda's leadership is especially important to the Center, and we are enormously grateful for it. She exemplifies the commitment of women in the quest for gender equality, but men and boys must increasingly join the movement in order to make the world a place where everyone has equal access and equal rights.

Two moments from the conference highlight the challenge and the opportunity ahead. At one point, a group from Bangladesh spoke about organizing men to prevent acid attacks on girls trying to go to school, underscoring the fundamental needs at risk. At another point, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, offered hope, saying "There are more and more men who want to stand up and say 'I'm proud to be part of the struggle, and I'm a feminist.' That's so refreshing."

It's time for everyone to stand up. We cannot look the other way. Gender equality is essential for all of us.