An Often Overlooked Ally for Women: Men

By Ashlee Burt

September 22, 2016


One of the themes common in many of this year’s Social Good Summit presentations was that our challenges are interconnected — and so are the solutions. When it comes to the challenge of empowering women and girls, there is an often overlooked yet powerful connected solution: men. Fathers, husbands, brothers, sons all have a vital role to play in improving opportunities for women and girls. Actress Connie Britton speaking on a panel at this year’s summit said, “If a man lets a woman use her voice to make change, it will make him stronger.”

Watch the entire panel below.


When women are given equal support and resources, entire communities can change. Equality doesn’t mean that women and men will become the same — equality means that opportunities will no longer depend solely on whether or not someone is born male or female. One easy way men can empower women and girls is simply to allow them to be born. Each year 1.5 million girls are denied the right to life because of gender-selective abortions in countries like China and India, where the cultural preference is for a son. Research suggests that the birth of a daughter causes men to adopt more progressive gender ideology and to increase support of women’s rights. Could there be a correlation with a country’s low female birth rate and their low ranking on human rights?

Men working for the rights of women and girls is not a new idea. In 1869, British philosopher John Stuart Mill argued for gender equality in his essay “The Subjection of Women,” stating the lack of gender parity was, “one of the chief hindrances to human improvement.” American abolitionist Frederick Douglass was one of 32 men who signed the Declaration of Sentiments at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, calling it a “grand movement.” (Note: Douglass had two daughters; Mill had a stepdaughter.) More recently, in protest of the strict dress codes imposed upon Iranian women, Iranian men posted pictures of themselves dressed in head scarves (hijabs) and full-body garments (chadors) that are traditionally worn by women.

Men supporting women’s rights might not be an entirely new idea, but it’s one requiring a more focused approach. In 2014, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated, “Over the years, men have supported the women’s movement. But for the most part, it was just that: a women’s movement—when in fact gender equality is the responsibility of all people.” That same year the United Nations launched the HeForShe program with the purpose of mobilizing one billion men to accelerate progress on rights for women and girls.

In our increasingly interconnected world, it will become harder for us to stay isolated from global problems — and their solutions. Perhaps when it comes to the rights of women and girls, no man is an island.

Take Action Challenge

There is a myriad of ways for all of us to better support the advancement of females in our own lives and across the globe. Check out these organizations for more ideas on improving opportunities for women and girls:

  • Every Woman Every Child is a global movement that mobilizes and intensifies action to address the major health challenges facing women, children and adolescents.
  • Mothers Delivery Kits supplies birthing kits to caregivers in fragile situations.
  • White Ribbon Alliance unites citizens to demand the right to a safe birth for every woman, everywhere.

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