Forum: Not good enough that men attend dialogues on gender issues

I agree that men should play a role in the push for gender equality (Men have serious role to play in push for gender equality: Shanmugam, June 4), but this role should primarily be one that listens actively.

Having participated in one of the dialogues myself, and after reading some of the reports on the dialogue series, I am surprised by how frequently men are celebrated for merely attending these dialogues.

As a man who agrees with the sentiment that we can do better by the women in our society, I believe the starting point for most men should be to listen and help hold space for women - being physically, mentally and emotionally present for them - to share both their aspirations and pains.

In a society that is still learning to grapple with what gender issues entail (for example, it was only in 2018 that the repeal for marital immunity for rape was passed after being held back due to patriarchal societal norms), drawing attention to and emphasising the presence of men in these conducted dialogues reinforce the harmful idea that these spaces may be legitimised only with the presence of men.

I agree that gender issues affect both men and women, and a productive discussion on equity and inclusion should look at how societal norms and stereotypes also negatively affect men, but we must recognise that we live in a society where men hold most positions of influence in our society, whether in government or business.

The journey to equity should therefore - while continuing to include and engage men on topics that affect them like the controversial "national service for all" counter-proposal - prioritise keeping spaces safe and functional for women to be seen, heard and celebrated.

The success of these series of dialogues should not depend on the mere presence and participation of men - it should be on how everyone in the dialogues - including the facilitators, government representatives and representatives of any gender - keeps the conversation focused on listening to the needs of women and contributing to the advancement of women's development.

If we reinforce existing norms and power dynamics in these spaces, we lose out on a great opportunity to move forward.

Rovik Jeremiah Robert