How can men and women work together in leadership, particularly when a country is experiencing conflict or is undergoing a political transition? That is the question that was posed by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), who, through the Global Women’s Leadership Program (GWLP), are developing a Male Allies for Leadership Equality (MALE) training curriculum to search for answers. In order to inform the development of the MALE curriculum, the IFES set out to conduct focus group discussions and key informant interviews to understand how to best foster the development of coalitions of women and men to advocate for more inclusive political processes. The aim was to enhance understanding in three key areas: men’s understanding of, and actions toward, gender equality in institutional contexts; how men can or do support women’s leadership within household settings and communities; and the challenges women face as leaders, and their approaches to engaging male allies.
Working in Abuja, IFES met with a wide variety of stakeholders including the members of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as well as male and female political party leaders, youth advocates, civil society representatives, and community activists from the northern states that are currently experiencing security challenges and instability. Overall, it was found that both men and women attributed the low number of women in leadership roles to cultural stereotypes about gender roles, such as the notion that a woman’s role in society is that of the caretaker limited to being within the household. Many don’t see women as leaders, and participants believed that if more people were aware of how women’s leadership could and would benefit society, then they would be more encouraging of it. Additionally, it was noted that in areas experiencing conflict, it was even harder for women to take leadership roles due to the perception that women should, or did, focus solely on humanitarian issues. Workplace equality was also cited as a key barrier to women’s leadership, with sexual harassment and a culture of corruption and favouritism hindering women’s advancement.
The authors note reasons for hope however, with examples presented of women’s success when working with male allies to tackle gendered barriers. One woman interviewed related that a few of her male colleagues had encouraged her to apply to be the Dean of the college where she was teaching. As a result, she applied for the position and became the first ever female Dean of that college. Another female activist was encouraged by her male colleagues regarding their leadership at the local level in helping to encourage women and girls to take part in local level decision-making processes. Elsewhere during the study, interview questions precipitated an internal debate within the Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC) on the importance of gender equality in politics and methods to increase women’s representation. Finally, the feature article profiles the GWLP, briefly outlines the Support to Electoral Reforms Project (SERP), and provides three videos in which men and women working on gender equality in Nigeria share their thoughts on the need for and effectiveness of engaging male allies in efforts toward gender equality.