Gender matters to men as well

This article was originally published on PRME Working Group on Gender Equality by Melissa S. Fisher, Ghada Howaidy, Gudrun Sander. The following extract is from a chapter which is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives 4.0 license

Over a five-year journey as a mature professional doctoral student in the UK, I came into my feminist consciousness and named my approach to agency as “bricolage.” Opportunism, in a positive sense, enabled me to seize an organizational “moment” and articulate the institutionalization of the women on boards observatory in Egypt. This is not only about gender equality in my country but about disruptive social change that starts at the top of organizations. I seek to participate in changing the public discourse about whether women should work, and whether there are qualified women to serve in senior positions, into an awareness of the economic contribution of women in Egypt.

Official statistics confirmed that women are the main provider for 30% of Egyptian families. The baseline report of the Women on Boards Observatory for 2018 showed that 9% of board seats in listed companies, the banking sector and public enterprises are already held by women. In 2019, this became 10%. Ministry of Planning statistics also revealed that the unpaid labor of women in the care economy in Egypt amounts to EGP500 billion, which was equivalent to almost 8% of GDP.

As I worked at the local level, I related to the values, research, partnerships, and dialogue principles of PRME. I contributed a chapter about the Women on Boards Observatory in a GEWG book in 2016. I created a consortium of relevant institutions in Egypt who partnered to support the Women on Boards Observatory. In addition, I actively engaged in dialogue at the local and regional levels to promote Women on Boards by launching the 30% Club MENA and partnering with The Boardroom Africa.

Men represent 50% of society, so their voice should not be ignored. I could not ignore the crisis of masculinity and how it also played a role personally, organizationally, and politically. Feminism gave women the language to describe their new constructed self. Strong and independent are in my mind positive attributes for women. Men do not have the language to describe their new role in society as partner and not only provider. I faced this in my family with my husband, father and brother. I faced it at work with male colleagues. I also faced it politically in a patriarchal system where the state was my “father” and “provider.” While the regime in Egypt may appear progressive by having the largest number of women ministers and largest number of women in parliament, this is happening in a restrictive political atmosphere.

We can’t have women’s rights at the expense of broken masculinity. My feminism is about wholeness, personal wholeness through the alignment with values, organizational wholeness through the alignment with purpose, and societal wholeness through inclusivity. Will a reconstruction of male identity from provider to partner change patriarchy? I would say the answer is yes and no.

Patriarchy looks different and is experienced differently in the multiple contexts in which it thrives, both explicit and hidden. But our everyday choices, actions and conversations create and construct reality that is ever changing. Some elements of patriarchy will remain, some will change. Will it still be called patriarchy in retrospect after some time? Change is not linear, we don’t know. However, if we believe that our everyday actions create reality then it is important to have the awareness and the language to create a better reality. Gender equality is a game changer for social justice and a better world. I don’t want the men I love to be left behind.

Ghada Howaidy is the founder of Egypt Women on Boards Observatory, and associate dean of executive education at the AUC School of Business.

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