Interview with ITC - 2021 UN-SWAP Conference Entity Pitch Winners

ITC's MenEngage Pilot Programme

Gender equality, as an end goal, is the responsibility of everyone.

In the 2021 UN-SWAP Annual Conference, ITC's MenEngage Programme was voted one of the two topmost programmes to be prioritized for cross-entity adoption. In this interview, ITC shared their rationale for doing this and called for inter-agency collaboration in seeking Male Gender Champions. 

by Hannah Reinl, Michelle Khodara and Joanne Land-Kazlauskas, ITC

As part of our 2021 ITC Mentoring Programme for Women, we launched a MenEngage pilot programme. In addition to joining the 6-month mentoring programme, which has a strong focus on promoting gender equality, diversity and inclusion as is, a group of 11 male mentees, guided by MenEngage expert Michael Kaufman, went through multiple training sessions to reflect, share, and learn on their journey to becoming male Gender Champions. Topics included, among others, gender norms and beliefs, gender parity in the workplace, and sexual harassment. 

Congratulations that your solution was voted #1 to be prioritized for cross-entity adoption. Why do you think this is a popular topic for UN? What is the need/problem this solution comes to solve?

We were very excited to see that our idea resonated with the larger community!

We believe that the reason that this project seems to have struck a chord is that, while achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls is central to the United Nations’ Agenda for Sustainable Development, persistent gender norms continue to limit women’s economic, social and political agency. And there is mounting evidence that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic only seems to reinforce these pre-existing inequalities. 
The two and a half decades since the Beijing Platform for Action have seen much progress, but clearly, the link between promoting women’s empowerment and achieving gender equality is not as straightforward as we have long assumed. We will inevitably face limitations if we focus existing efforts on only 50% of the population. Empowering women, whether through our programmatic work or at corporate level, has the potential to lead to higher levels of gender equality. But it can also disrupt traditional conceptualizations of gender relations, thus creating resistance among men. 

Our MenEngage pilot understood the enormous potential of men as change agents for gender equality and was based on the premise that gender equality, as an end goal, is the responsibility of everyone. It is not an issue that will be solved without active male engagement and without critical engagement with the normative social constructs that shape all gender identities and relationships. Real equality based on a redefinition of these norms and societal expectations is a win for all - and men play an active role in this change.

Why male engagement is so important to ITC? Have you collaborated with other entities on this? 

ITC is strongly committed towards promoting lasting, transformative culture change. For us, fostering an enabling and inclusive work environment means going beyond gender parity statistics. To move the needle towards gender equality, we must engage employees at all levels of the organization and create space for authentic dialogue and lean into uncomfortable conversations. Our MenEngage programme is a direct consequence of ITC’s 2020 “100 Coffees for Inclusion” initiative, during which we met 100 employees for individual coffee conversations to learn about their thoughts on ITC’s organizational culture and direction. The need for a safe space for men to critically engage with the norms and beliefs around masculinity, while also feeling at ease to ask uncomfortable questions, emerged clearly from these conversations. 

The ITC Mentoring Programme for Women is an inter-agency initiative that is supported by ITC’s partner organizations, UNAIDS, WHO, the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) and the Organization of Women in International Trade (OWIT) Lake Geneva. As such, the MenEngage programme was open for male mentees from any of these entities to join. 

How do you envision an inter-agency adoption of your solution? What would it look like? 

Our solution was brainstormed around an existing mentoring programme, which at its core was about promoting gender equality through an inter-agency approach by offering one-on-one mentoring, opportunities for learning and development and a space for horizontal networking to women. While we focused our energy on piloting the engagement of men as change agents for gender equality as part of ITC’s Mentoring Programme, this is not necessarily the only entry point. 

We encourage all UN agencies to consider how they might include a male engagement component in their L&D (learning and development) portfolio, such as mentoring or coaching programmes, training plans or working groups related to gender equality, diversity and inclusion. There is no one-size-fits-all approach; solutions have to be tailored to the organizational context and employees’ realities. We do recommend, however, going beyond singular, one-off trainings. The active exploration- and deconstruction- of gender norms and relations is a process that can only truly unfold when given the time and space needed to build trust. 

Apart from that, we would love to see the institutionalization of MenEngage approaches through mainstreaming them across different UN strategies and documents in support of gender equality. With the UN-SWAP 2.0 cycle ending in 2022 and a likely third iteration of UN-SWAP around the corner, the UN system has a chance to incentivize the effective engagement of men for gender equality across the board. 

If other entities want to come on board with you, where should they start? Any cost/resources expected? would you like to support other entities to adopt this approach?

There is no one approach to strengthen male engagement, but for those entities wanting to adopt our pilot solution, reach out to us at ITC.  We will start a working group with those interested and are more than willing to support any agency wanting to build their own programme, using our model, by sharing resources and our experiences. 

In addition, every mentoring cycle (six-month programme, offered annually) ITC aims to grow the core programme by encouraging new partnerships.  This year we will continue to do so, so please let us know if your organization is interested in being a new partner with us at ITC.  That usually includes having some of your own mentors involved in the programme, as well as mentees, and by contributing to the capacity development trainings. 

We have learned that expert facilitation of such a programme is key. So, in addition to the personnel needed to support the programme, the male engagement programme does require resources to hire the facilitator to organize and facilitate the specific-male only sessions. We are happy to clarify the details to those who want to know more about our costs and the rationale for hiring an external consultant.  

Again, if you are interested, please do reach out to!

Read more at ITC's Engaging Men for Gender Equality