Men’s Perceptions of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Evidence from four South Asian Countries
Dr. Sara Amin & Md. Shahidullah Kaiser
Keywords: Men, Gender Equality, Women’s Empowerment, Masculinities, Muslim Families, South Asia.
In empowerment literatures men are represented as homogenous groups: Violent men who oppose empowerment with force, Irresponsible men who address their needs without regard for family or partners, and opportunistic men who attempt to gain control of the material benefits of the empowerment process for themselves. While research shows the way this form of hegemonic masculinity works to negatively impact on women, it has also shown how not all men occupy the same position of power and how hegemonic masculinity obscures other masculinities. The Gender and Development (GAD) approach goes beyond the preoccupation with women alone in ensuring gender equality. GAD approaches emphasized the socially and historically constructed relations between women and men, which allowed for a better understanding of the relational nature of gendered power, and of the interdependency of women and men. In this paper, we examine men’s views of gender equality and women’s empowerment through the in-depth interviews with 111 Muslim families in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan as part of an on-going research study. Analyzing how men think about gender equality and women’s empowerment in response to increased education and employment opportunities for girls and women in these four countries, we argue that men’s perception of gender equality and women’s empowerment is contextual and dependent on their educational qualifications, religiosity, geographical locations and types of relations with girls and women. It is evident from our study that men’s attitudes towards gender equality and women’s empowerment can often be simultaneously resistant to and embracing of changes in masculinities, women’s rights and gender relations. We use our findings on men’s responses to changing gender relations to make suggestions for how to better engage men in gender awareness, equality, and women’s empowerment process and programmes.