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New Men on the Block

Women’s fight for gender equality gets a boost from a group of men who believe that gender discrimination brings disadvantages to both sexes.

Twenty-nine-year-old Dedi Setiawan believes gender equality is an issue relevant to men as much as it is to women.

“I feel that the burden the man has to carry is getting heavier. I mean [my] life burden is already heavy,” the civil servant said.

The bespectacled man complained about the general assumption that pigeonholes men as strong, fearless and responsible for everything — including paying the bills.

Fortunately, Dedi is not alone in his sentiments. Many guys encounter similar problems, including Rinaldi Ridwan, 23, who doesn’t like to be the one who always pays for dinner or movies when going out with women.

Activist Aquino Hayunta, 36, has also felt this kind of injustice in the male stereotype that says men’s bodies should be big, strong and muscular, which has discouraged him, born with a thin and weak body.

“What about me?” he wonders.

But Dedi, Rinaldi and Aquini have the chance to fight this unjust system and the assumptions it begets.

They have joined a new group called Aliansi Laki-Laki Baru (New Men’s Alliance) that strives for women’s rights on the assumption that the patriarchal mentality that supports men’s dominance also harms men.

The organization was formed by a group of men who care about women’s struggles for gender equality in society. They decided to join the effort of the women’s movement on grounds that gender equality is equally important for women as for men.

“Gender inequality is a problem both for women and men,” alliance head Nur Hasyim told The Jakarta Post.

Patriarchy, Nur Hasyim believes, brings injustice to society, victimizing both men and women.

It not only victimizes women, relegating them as the second gender in the society, but also makes men suffer from misleading stereotypes.

A survey from the US CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) showed that the male-to-female ratio for death by suicide was four to one in 2010.

Indonesian men have also demonstrated the same tendency, with the number of male suicides higher than female, especially during the financial crisis in 1998.

Many believe that men, deemed the primary breadwinners in Indonesian families, are more prone to depression due to the economic burden they carry. The social pressures and stereotypes that paint males as independent souls who do not need mental support have led to suicide as an escape from the responsibility.

Realizing the harm that male-dominance causes society, Nur Hasyim, from Yogyakarta-based Women’s Crisis Center Rifka Annisa, and a group of friends from Yayasan Jurnal Perempuan (Women’s Journals Foundation) set up the New Men’s Alliance in September 2009 to help end centuries of patriarchy.

The alliance’s main goal is to stop all forms of violence against women and negative gender stereotyping that causes not only women but also men to suffer.

After more than a year, the organization has grown with more groups joining the movement. At least 30 people from six NGOs in five provinces — Jakarta, Yogayakarta, Aceh, Bengkulu, Riau and East Nusa Tenggara — participate in the organization.

The alliance just had its first meeting last month in Jakarta to map and organize the future agenda of the feminism movement in Indonesia.

Among the topics being discussed is the strategy for expanding the alliance, involving more people to join the feminist men’s movement

The coordinator from Jakarta, Wawan Suwandi, says the alliance plans to intensify the use of social networking sites to disseminate information about the movement to the public.

“Apart from Facebook and Twitter accounts, we will also hold contests that will invite participation from the public, especially young people, to join our alliance,” he said, referring to photography and design contests.

However, the alliance, Wawan added, opted for caution in determining the expansion strategy to avoid any irresponsible individuals potentially joining and misusing the movement.

He referred to a recent case where a man claiming to be a member of the New Men’s Alliance had misused the status to impress a girl.

The alliance, therefore, has drafted a code of conduct to avoid such misuse in the future. It also plans to only recruit individuals affiliated with certain organizations.

Are you real men? The members of New Men Alliance pose at one of the seminars held by the organization in Yogyakarta. Courtesy of New Men AllianceAnother challenge comes from the women activists, who fear the feminist men will take over the movement, bringing it all back to the same black hole of patriarchy.

Nur Hasyim is confident that this movement has no intentions of dominating feminism.

“Our alliance will be a part of the women’s movement striving for gender equality. We even include women activists in our membership to make it more balanced,” he said.

An observer to women issues, Nur Iman Subono, who also edited the book Feminis Laki-laki (Feminist Men) says it will require dialogue and discussion between both fronts to ensure that this movement heads in the intended direction of destroying male dominance in society.

“We also must know that the men’s feminist movement is born from the women’s movement and is not something that stands alone,” he says.

Ika Krismantari, The Jakarta Post, 6/4/2011

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