March 12, 2015 / 4:48 AM / 2 years ago

Gender equality: What's in it for men?

UNITED NATIONS (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Convincing men that they are as likely as women to benefit from gender equality is the strongest argument to get them involved in reaching that goal, experts said at the United Nations on Wednesday.

Accepting equality and rejecting gender stereotypes would help end discrimination against men seeking jobs typically done by women, increase their participation in family life, and ease the economic burden of supporting their families as more women enter the workforce, they said.

"It has become clear that if we continue to live in a society where gender inequality exists, we all lose," Martina Vuk, Slovenia's minister for social affairs and equal opportunities, said on day three of the U.N. 59th Commission on the Status of Women.

Gender segregation in the labor market remains a problem for both men and women, said panellists from several countries.

Iceland, for example, has Europe's highest percentage of women in the workforce, at 71 percent according to the World Bank, yet also one of the most segregated labor markets, said Eyglo Hardardottir, the country's minister for social affairs.

"It remains harder for a man to be accepted as a kindergarten teacher than a woman to be accepted as an engineer," she said.

In Austria, less than 2 percent of kindergarten teachers are men, said Alexander Wrabetz, director general of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF).

In programming around International Women's Day earlier this month, ORF spotlighted professions with unequal gender representation, Wrabetz said.

In addition to male kindergarten teachers, they included a woman believed to be the country's sole female metalworker, as well as female music conductors, who make up only 17 percent of all Austrian conductors.

Panellists noted that laws and policies encouraging men to take paternity leave have increased their participation in family life.

Yet gender stereotypes rob men of openly enjoying domestic tasks traditionally done by women, said Bafana Khumalo, co-founder of South Africa's Sonke Gender Justice, an NGO working with men and boys to promote equality and fight domestic and sexual violence.

He recalled a workshop where men were reluctant to admit they liked cooking, and said they were so ashamed they drew the kitchen curtains when they made meals.

When asked to consider what men and women in their households did over a 24-hour period, the men in the workshop realized that while they enjoyed leisure time after work and school, the women and girls returned home only to cook and clean.

The discussion prompted some men to re-allocate chores at home, Khumalo said, noting that some reported back that their sex lives had improved because their partners were less tired.

"Gender equality is not just about policies," he said. "It's about the quality of life."

Reporting by Lisa Anderson, Editing by Alisa Tang

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