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10 Landmark Moments in Male Allyship

Updated: 4 days ago

By Divya Joseph

Women have led the way in the fight for gender equity but they've been joined by many men who've stood against discrimination to lend their allyship.

These men have recognized the systemic barriers that women experience and have used their influence and positions of power to create more inclusive spaces. Their efforts have paved the way for women to make significant progress in various sectors, from politics and education to technology and healthcare. Here are some notable examples of male allies who have helped to make landmark strides in the gender equity movement.

Frederick Douglass and the Women's Suffrage Movement

Frederick Douglass, an African American social reformer, abolitionist, and former slave, was one of the most outspoken advocates of abolition and women’s rights in the 19th century. Douglass participated in the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, recognized as the first women's rights convention in the US. At the convention, he fervently advocated for women’s right to vote. His support was instrumental in the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, which granted women the right to vote. Douglass was one of the earliest advocates to bring attention to the connections between racial justice and women’s rights movements.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's Gender Advocacy 

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey (now called Turkiye), was a strong advocate for gender equity. In the 1920s and 1930s, Atatürk introduced large-scale reforms that granted women the right to vote and be elected to public office. He also implemented educational reforms that allowed women to pursue higher education and professional careers. Atatürk's efforts significantly advanced women's rights in Turkiye, laying the foundation for future rights for women in the country.

Nelson Mandela's Commitment to Gender Equality

Nelson Mandela, the iconic leader of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and former president, was also known for being an advocate for gender equity. During his presidency, Mandela advanced women’s rights in South Africa by appointing women to key government positions and advocating for policies that promoted women's rights and opportunities. Under his leadership, the representation of women in government increased from 2.7% to 27%. His efforts helped model inclusive leadership for future generations of South African leaders.

Source: CNN Photographer: Jan Collsiöö

Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers Movement Champions Equal Rights

Cesar Chavez, a prominent Mexican-American labor leader and civil rights activist, is best known for co-founding the United Farm Workers (UFW) union, a human rights organization defending the rights of farmworkers using nonviolent organizing tactics. While Cesar Chavez primarily focused on improving the working conditions of farm laborers in America, he also recognized that women were the most marginalized subgroup among them and championed gender equity within the movement. He followed the lead of Dolores Huerta, co-founder of UFW and Presidential Medal of Freedom-winning female activist, in ensuring women’s voices were represented in UFW’s strategies. Chavez's commitment to gender equity was most evident in his advocacy for equal pay, better working conditions for female farm workers, and amplifying their vital contributions to the labor force.

Source: Library of Congress, Bill of Rights Institute Photographer: Marion S. Trikosko

Justin Trudeau's Gender-Balanced Cabinet

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took office in 2015 and made a landmark decision to appoint a gender-balanced cabinet, with an equal number of men and women. When asked why he chose to do so, he simply replied, "Because it's 2015." Trudeau's commitment to gender equity in his government highlighted the importance of representation and set a powerful example for other world leaders. His actions have encouraged a broader conversation about gender balance in leadership roles globally.

Source: CBC Photographer: Jonathan Miranda

HeForShe Campaign by the United Nations

In 2014 UN Women launched the HeForShe campaign and called on men and boys worldwide to stand in solidarity with women to create a bold and united statement for gender equality. Numerous boys and men answered the call, including UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, President of the Republic of Ghana Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo, Director General of the BBC Lord Tony Hall, and Entertainers Russell Crowe, Harry Styles, and Tom Hiddleston. The HeForShe campaign continues to mobilize millions of men and boys as advocates for change, demonstrating the critical role of male allyship in today’s gender equity efforts.

Source: HeForShe

Japanese Minister Shinjiro Koizumi Takes Paternal Leave

The World Economic Forum

In January 2020, Japan's Environment Minister, Shinjiro Koizumi, made headlines by announcing his decision to take paternity leave following the birth of his child. While it should be a fundamental shared responsibility for parents, Koizumi's move was groundbreaking, as he became the first cabinet minister to do so.

Despite having generous parental leave policies, only 6.16% of Japanese men take paternity leave, according to Japanese government data. Koizumi sparked a national conversation about work-life balance. By taking paternity leave, he set an important precedent for other men in Japan, encouraging a fairer distribution of childcare responsibilities and promoting gender equity in the workplace and at home.

“My paternity leave is being reported heavily in the news but I hope that [in the future] we will have a society where a politician’s paternity leave doesn’t make the news,” he said.

Source: CNN

Arunachalam Muruganantham's Pursues Solutions for Period Equity

Photo by Jigyasa Dixit for the Medium

Arunachalam Muruganantham, a Tamil man from India, revolutionized menstrual health by inventing a low-cost sanitary pad machine. Witnessing his wife use unhygienic rags during her period to save money on expensive pads, Muruganantham was frustrated by the period stigma and lack of access in rural India. He committed his life to developing an affordable solution.

After four years of research and development with limited resources, Muruganantham invented a low-cost menstrual pad-making machine. His invention not only provided women with accessible menstrual products but also vital entrepreneurial skills as they supported the production. He trained women to use 106 of these machines in various communities, equipping them with the resources to become community advocates to break social taboos in their communities. His efforts earned him a place on Time's 100 Most Influential People in the World list, the prestigious Padma Shri Award from the Indian Government, the country's highest civilian honor, and inspired the 2018 film "Pad Man."

Source: Al Jazeera, NPR 

David Oyelowo Partners with Girl Rising to Advocate for Girls’ Education

Photo by The Hollywood Reporter

David Oyelowo, the acclaimed British actor and producer, has been a strong advocate for female storytellers, intentionally acting in and financially supporting projects by filmmakers like Mira Nair, Amma Asante, and Maris Curran. “I personally don’t understand us living in a world where 50% of the population are women and such a minuscule percentage is being reflected behind the camera,” he said. “When you think about the impact film has on culture, to not have female voices infiltrating this art form that is so influential, we are all the poorer for it.”

Oyelowo has also partnered with Girl Rising, narrating stories from the original “Girl Rising” film and serving on its advisory council. He uses his platform to highlight the importance of girls’ education, emphasizing that educated girls are more likely to become leaders who contribute positively to their communities.

Source: IndieWire

Denmark Men’s Soccer Team Refuses Pay Rise to Ensure Equity

Photo by Liselotte Sabroe

In a remarkable display of solidarity, the Denmark men's soccer team recently made headlines by refusing a pay raise and accepting a 15% decrease in their insurance coverage to enable a 50% upgrade for the women's team. By redirecting these funds to support the women's players, they took a significant step forward in advocating for gender pay parity in sports. This gesture demonstrates that male athletes can leverage their influence and platform to drive positive change toward a more fair and just world.

Source: ESPN, AP

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