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The Role of Men

June 21, 2000 · 

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Published in The Philippine Daily Inquirer
(June 21, 2000)

TWO of the biggest issues emerging at the UN conference were trafficking in women and children and the impact of HIV AIDS. And one of the most difficult tasks in negotiating the final document was linking trafficking to AIDS, as well as to men’s sexual behavior.” The issue we are dealing with right now is whether or not these governments are going to recognize that both the epidemic and trafficking are driven by mens demands for sex,” said Adrienne Germain, president of the International Women’s Health coalition. “If we’re going to deal with that issue we have to deal with both ends of the equation — namely, we have to recommit ourselves as we did in Beijing to recognizing women’s sexual rights and men’s responsible sexual behavior.”

Hedy Fry, the Canadian secretary of state for the status of women, said in her country report that trafficking of women and children “has become one of the most pressing challenges of the international community.”

A continuous point. however has been whether to consider prostitution a “form of abuse” of women, or a matter of free and honorable choice. Generally, the debate has split along the North-South divide, with the wealthier governments taking the position that prostitution can be considered an occupation like any other, while those on the developing world contend that the “choice” of entering the sex trade is often driven by poverty, childhood sexual trauma or violence.

Resolving the debates is key, since a government’s view of prostitution would certainly influence the zeal with which it would cooperate with international efforts to check the reach of global trafficking syndicates.

THE ROLE of men, and not just as the “demand” side in the sex industry trade, was indeed a prominent topic in this follow-up meeting on the biggest conference on women ever.

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The UN Fund for Women, or Unifem, hosted one of the more popular panels at the “Beijing + 5” meet on “Men and Boys Preventing Violence Against Women.” “We have to challenge the boys to understand the issue of consent, as well as challenging girls that they have the right to say no,” said Unifem Executive Director Noeleen Heyzer.

Heyzer, who is Singaporean by birth and the mother of two daughters, said she believes that including men in women’s issues has become more pressing since the 1995 Beijing conference. “After Beijing, we were able to launch all these campaigns and put them into action,” she said. “We realized how important it was to include them.”

Michael Kaufman, international director of Canada’s White Ribbon Campaign (against violence against women), said the majority of men are silent when they use violence against women.” We must identify the causes of such violence and then find ways to involve boys and men in partnership with women,” he said.

During the conference, Sweden declared its willingness to call an international conference to promote the role of men in creating gender equality.” So far the work for gender equality has not focused much on the man’s role,” said Equality Minister Margareta Winberg. “But without men’s participation, we will never achieve gender equality in society.

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THERE is an ongoing campaign for international signatories to a petition calling for the removal of US bases from Okinawa, Japan. The petition will be published as a newspaper ad in Okinawa next month, and already among the signatories are Daniel Berrigan, a former Catholic priest prominent in anti-war movements in the ’70s. Noam Chomsky, several U.S. representatives, and the Philippines’ Roland Simbulan.

Washington plans to construct a new state-of-the-art base at Nago City Okinawa. It will be the home of Osprey, a warplane of great speed and long range with helicopter capabilities. “The purpose of this new base, widely unpopular in Nago city and Okinawa, is to heighten the Pentagon’s interventionist posture in the Asia-Pacific region and the Mideast,” says a primer. “It coincides with Washington’s effort to annual the status of Hiroshima and Kobe as nuclear-free port cities.”

Part of the campaign, says the petitioners, is the planned July Summit meeting of the Group of Eight (G-8) which will be held in Nago City and “will have the effect of putting extraordinary pressure on the people of Nago and Okinawa to accept the new base.”

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