MYTH 8: A WOMAN'S HEALTH IS NOT A MAN'S CONCERN

MYTH 8: A WOMAN'S HEALTH IS NOT A MAN'S CONCERN

Posted
10/11/13

LOOKING BACK: Stephen Lewis, Canada

Stephen Lewis is a self-described feminist. The Canadian politician turned global human-rights activist says he lives in a feminist family. His adult children are also feminists. "They know if they weren't, they'd be disinherited," he says.

For Lewis, the ideals of the women's rights movement are inseparable from the larger mission of social justice. "One can't marginalize more than half of the world's population," he says, "and pretend to approximate social justice."

A former leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party, Lewis was appointed Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations in 1984, the first of several senior UN roles. From 2001 to 2006, as the UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, Lewis drew world attention to the devastation the pandemic disproportionately inflicted upon the continent's women and girls. Lewis then assumed — and today remains — a blunt, gutsy voice for all victims, especially women with the disease. Part of his message is that support from fathers, sons, brothers and male friends is key to staunching the pandemic. "I have never in all my adult life imagined that gender inequality should wreak such damage on women," Lewis said in 2006. "I have never imagined that one communicable disease would exhibit such a ferocious assault on one sex. What is happening to the women of the continent of Africa is perhaps the most distressing dimension of the entire pandemic."

Men, Lewis says, hold inordinate power to reverse cultural patterns of sexual violence and entitlement and undo misogynistic property and inheritance laws.

Today Lewis, 73, runs his own Toronto-based foundation to help community-based groups battling HIV/AIDS in Africa. He recognizes that the behavior of men and boys can be changed, but few HIV programs reach out to them. With that in mind, Lewis continues to target male leaders with his message: Helping women live is helping everyone live better.

LOOK FORWARD

The single most important struggle on the face of the planet is the struggle for gender equality. If schools can do nothing more than get young boys to understand and resprect young girls, you will have made an immense contribution.

- Stephen Lewis

SOURCES: 1 Lewis, Stephen, speech to Christian Aid. 2 Lewis, Stephen, speech at Carnegie Council's "Public Affairs Program," March 23, 2006. 3 UNAIDS report on the Global AIDS Epidemic, 2010, p. 121. 4 McMahon, Tamsin, "'Most important struggle' is gender equality," The Record, Feb. 23, 2008. 5 "Policy approaches to engaging men and boys in achieving gender equality and health equity," World Health Organization, Department of Gender, Women and Health, 2010, p. 12. Photo Credit: © Cameron MacLennan. 

© Cameron MacLennan

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