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Monday, March 30, 2009

Live from MenEngage Rio: Empty Chairs No More?

Posted by Eric Ramírez-Ferrero

The Global Symposium on Engaging Men and Boys in Achieving Gender Equity kicked off at 6 p.m. on March 30, with leaders of UNICEF, UNAIDS, WHO and UNIFEM among those welcoming participants from more than 70 countries.

The mood was celebratory-the fact that more than 450 of us had gathered for the first global event for activists and practitioners supportive of male involvement was a reason to cheer! But there was also a cautionary tone: let's be realistic.we have a long way to go.

One veteran of the women's rights movement, Kim Bolduc, UN Resident Coordinator for Brazil, offered an image that stuck in my mind: Historically, when women gathered in global forums to act on issues related to gender equity and, ultimately, the well-being of women and families, there were often empty chairs. These empty chairs represented missing men, whose presence and commitment could have profoundly impacted and expedited progress on a range of sexual and reproductive health issues. I found this a mournful and regretful metaphor for opportunities lost.

Nevertheless, a spirit of hope pervaded and the speakers repeatedly lauded the efforts of individuals, organizations and governments for recognizing a basic idea - one which has informed EngenderHealth's own Men As Partners Program for more than 12 years: The beliefs and actions of men are intimately linked to the social well-being and public health of men, women and children.

Here in Rio, the chairs are full. Over the course of this week, the Symposium will examine how positive male involvement can lead to better health, indeed to a better life, for everyone. It's an issue I think about daily, and it reaffirms for me our decision to make CHAMPION about families. Our byline is "Men as facilitators of family health." We are building on men's capacity for leadership to act on behalf of their partners and families-the people who matter to them the most-while working to sensitize them, communities and policy makers that gender equality has health benefits for us all.

Eric Ramírez-Ferrero was born in New York City in 1963 of Cuban immigrant parents. He was raised in New York and in Enid, Oklahoma. He received his A.B. in biology and anthropology from Bennington College in 1985. His graduate training includes an M.P.H. in population, family and reproductive health from the Bloomberg School of Public Health of Johns Hopkins University, and an A.M. and Ph.D. in anthropology from Stanford University, where he specialized in critical medical anthropology and feminist theory. His doctoral dissertation, Troubled Fields: Men, Emotions and the Crisis in American Farming (Columbia University Press, 2005), is a feminist analysis of men’s health in light of the ongoing economic restructuring of rural communities in the United States. Ramírez-Ferrero has taught at Oklahoma State University and the University of Tulsa. He has worked domestically and internationally in the promotion of reproductive and sexual health for the Area Health Education Centers Program, Planned Parenthood, and Family Health International. He is currently chief of party for EngenderHealth in Tanzania, leading CHAMPION—a project to promote positive male involvement in the prevention of HIV and other adverse reproductive health outcomes. He lives in Dar es Salaam.

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