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Insights from the HeForShe Summit: Disrupting the Narrative on Men and Boys

Panel 3 at HeForShe Summit

In a world grappling with rising misogyny and alarming statistics indicating that 9 out of 10 people are fundamentally biased against women, now is a time when gender equality is more crucial than ever. Conversely, suicide has emerged as the leading cause of death for men under 50, painting a stark picture of the struggles men face in contemporary society. The recent HeForShe Summit was a pivotal event where leaders converged to delve deep into the factors that shape current narratives around masculinity. 

The panel "Disrupting the Narrative on Men and Boys" was crucial to the summit. It aimed to shed light on the need to reshape the prevailing narratives on masculinity, with a focus on inspiring men to recognize the direct benefits of gender equality. 

UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous set the stage by highlighting an alarming trend - the attitudes of young men seem to be regressing. A recent survey unveiled that 58 percent of young men aged 16 to 19 believe that men are better political leaders than women. 

"For the first time in modern history, the concept of gender equity is now actively regressing amongst young men." - Rachel Lowenstein, Global Head of Inclusive Innovation, Mindshare 

Richard Reeves, President of the American Institute for Boys and Men, added depth to the discussion by pointing out that men face higher risks of suicide, educational underachievement, stagnant wages, and diminishing representation in certain professions. Reeves emphasized the importance of addressing these issues directly, as grievances can easily be weaponised if left unaddressed. 

"If there are real problems in a society faced by a group and they don't see and hear those problems being addressed directly by mainstream institutions, they can turn into grievances, and grievances are weaponized," he added. "We have a responsibility to take those problems seriously." 

Washington Post columnist Christine Emba asserted that we must provide men with a positive vision that aligns with their experiences. Encouraging men to pursue diverse career paths and lifestyles is crucial. Men should be empowered to explore a wide array of roles and ways of living without the constraints of traditional expectations. 

"If we want men to do better, be better, be better allies, we have to provide a positive vision for what men can be that's specific to the lived reality of being a man." 

Emba made it clear that the progress of one gender should not hinder the other. This unity is the essence of the respectful disruption called for in the pursuit of gender equality. 

"One thing we have to make clear is that women's success does not and should not come at the expense of men," Emba added. "The sexes have to and will rise and fall together." 

In a world rife with gender bias and staggering disparities in mental health, education, and employment, this panel's discussion illuminated the need for a paradigm shift. Rethinking masculinity and reshaping the dominant narratives is the first step toward fostering true gender equality. 

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