Craig Packer: Only security can unlock progress on gender equality

Craig Packer, founder of Stop the Worldwide War on Girls, says “misogyny is what drives the current structure” of oppression against women and girls.  Photo by: Craig Packer

From simple farm boy to male advocate for gender equality.

Born in rural Ohio and surrounded by hard-working women while he was growing up, Craig Packer learned from them the meaning of hard work, but was oblivious to the extreme challenges women and girls face across the developing world.

“All of that was far, far away and had nothing to do with me, at least that’s what I thought at the time,” Packer, a senior development writer for our #SheBuilds campaign partner JBS International, said in an interview with Devex.

But five years ago, he found out about the “gendercide” of thousands of young girls in India and decided to launch Stop the Worldwide War on Girls, which turned from a mere Facebook page into a worldwide campaign with over 25,000 members in nearly 50 countries that hopes to increase awareness of the global war on girls and women through partnerships.

Not only that — Packer is now a completely different person.

“What I learned changed everything about how I see our shared global community and how I approach gender issues. For me, it also fundamentally changed what it means for me to be a man,” he explained.

So what does it feel like to be a man in a predominantly female sector like gender equality? Below are the highlights from our conversation with Packer:

Tell us about the Stop the Worldwide War on Girls campaign. How did that come about?

I had known for a long time that men were in charge of things. Later I learned that misogyny is what drives the current structure. I just didn’t know how to call it, or how I had contributed to it, how I perpetuated it, or if and how I had benefited from it.

Then just a few years ago, a Facebook friend of mine posted a piece about the gendercide in India. I had no clue that was happening, I was horrified. That’s why I started Stop the Worldwide War on Girls, to do something to stop the gendercide. But the more I researched, the more I realized that the gendercide occurring not only in India but also the developing countries around the world is connected to a larger issue — a systemic set of structures that is designed to prohibit women from achieving legitimate economic, social, political and cultural equality. If we want to have a serious conversation about gender, then we have to consider what happens to girls and women across and entire lifespan, we have to look and the culture and social systems and structures that created and perpetuate these inequalities. Otherwise, we find ourselves falling into the bottomless pit of trying to solve symptoms rather than causes, and solving symptoms [fixes] absolutely nothing.

Our focus over time at Stop the Worldwide War on Girls has expanded to include all the issues that affect the global community of women and girls, and today, Stop the Worldwide War on Girls is made up of more than 25,000 members in nearly 50 countries. My work has been very illuminating, most of all that many people assume that I must be a woman because of the content we post, as if it is unthinkable that a man could be committed to promoting gender equality … While I will never fully understand what it’s like to be a woman in day-to-day life, there have been times when I have had a small taste of what it feels like to be a woman. That is both an enlightening and frightening experience.

Based on the work you’ve done, has your view of the world changed?

Yes. I can no longer look at something from a gender-less perspective. I look forward to the day when we have advanced to such a degree that a gender-informed perspective is no longer necessary. But we’re not there yet. In fact, we’re a long way from it. When I’m reading about the violence in Syria, I think about how it affects women and girls. When I read about the recent Iranian election, I wonder how the results will affect women and girls …  Almost everything I read or see on the news goes through a gender filter in my brain that did not exist five years ago. On one hand, a more gender-informed perspective can offer you more insight into what’s happening in our world, but on the other hand it’s also a bit of a curse, because once you go down that path, once that gender light bulb goes off over your head, there is no going back.

What are some of the most important messages you want to convey to men and boys?

First, we as males have to check our privilege. In the vast majority of societies in our world as a whole, males undoubtedly sit at the highest spot on the privilege chain [while] the dalat girl in India is arguably at the bottom of the privilege chain. As males, our privilege gives us power. Privilege makes us feel entitled. Now, I understand why many men do not want gender equality, because … it demands that we share our power with women. We as men were born with the upper hand, but gender equality demand that we give up some of that power, and many men simply will not do that.

I have found that some men begin to see the light on these issues when they think about how gender inequality will affect their daughters and granddaughters. This approach is not popular in feminist circles, but if you look at it purely as a starting point, how gender inequality determines the types of school subjects girls are expected and trained to prefer, or in the broader global market, whether girls have access to education at all, how it limits opportunities in the workplace, how it increases the risk of sexual violence, how it inhibits the degree to which a woman is empowered to own a business, how it unfolds at different levels in different parts of the world. When men look at gender issues through a different lens, they start to understand what gender inequality is and how it affects women and girls in their lives who are important to them.

The second thing is … we need to hone our skills at practicing the discipline of empathy … Take a moment to think long and hard about where the birth lottery put you in  this world, how different your perspective might be if it dealt you a different hand, how your world would look like had you been born female, how you would feel if you were told what to wear and who to marry, when you can leave the house [like for example] in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where rape is endemic and used as a weapon of war. How would you if you were raped by a group of soldiers? How would you feel if had no legal right to own property, or even if you did, cultural imperatives preclude it, and your land goes instead to your brother?

Gender equality is the right thing to do, and not to mention it benefits men, too. Stereotypes for men can be highly oppressive as well [such as] that we are [supposed] to be good providers. Men everywhere are finding it increasingly difficult to provide for their families alone, and the punishment for not meeting the standard … is unrelenting criticism. Women bring new talent, new skills, new perspectives and new ways of doing things that could help balance the world of the future in a very positive way, and research is already documenting this.

Want to learn more? Check out She Builds and tweet us using #SheBuilds.

She Builds is a month-long conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Chemonics, Creative Associates, JBS International, the Millennium Challenge Corp., United Nations Office for Project Services and U.K. Department for International Development.

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