What We're Learning - Some Thoughts on Accountability
by Rus Ervin Funk
Men’s accountability in working to promote gender equality and gender justice continues to be a contentious issue. Both NAMEN and the Global MenEngage Alliance view men’s accountability, both as individuals and within groups and organizations, as vitally important. As such, we believe in creating opportunities to continue to develop and expand the conversation about what it means to be accountable—and to offer some tools for how men and men's groups can act accountably. NAMEN recognizes accountability as a crucial area of our continuing work to build a vital male engagement movement in the US and Canada.
Towards this end, NAMEN produced a webinar, “Conceptualizing and Implementing Accountability in Men’s Gender Equity Efforts” In December, 2014. View the webinar here; and access handouts here.
Earlier in 2014, the Global MenEngage Alliance produced Accountability Standards and Guidelines (access here), outlining the standards MenEngage member groups hold ourselves and each other up to. These standards focus on four levels of accountability: global and regional, national, organizational, and individual.
The MenEngage Standards are based on three principles:
Prevent the violation of or infringement upon MenEngage’s Core Principles and Code of Conduct;
Respond effectively if concerns emerge regarding the conduct of a member; and
Collaborate openly with women’s rights organizations and other social justice organizations.
One of the lessons NAMEN took from our conversations about the MenEngage standards is that men’s accountability is traditionally understood as after something occurs that is of concern -- that is, how we hold ourselves and each other accountable (as men) after we have done something or failed to do something. NAMEN is also interested in accountability before an incident occurs—being proactive. For NAMEN accountability is both about how we behave when we fail to act in accordance with our principles— i.e. done things that have caused harm; and how we act, make decisions, and more broadly interact with each other and with women’s leadership on an ongoing basis.
While NAMEN has adopted the MenEngage Alliance standards, we are simultaneously working on our own interpretation of definitions and standards. Here are some emerging points about how NAMEN views accountability:
Accountability as process, not end point
Managing multiple accountabilities
Accountability as proactive as well as reactive
For NAMEN, accountability is a process among various actors and a practice of how we act. Being accountable, and holding other men’s groups accountable, is not yet fully clear and presents us with both challenges and opportunities.
We’ve also learned that by understanding accountability as a “process,” we have room to move between contradictory expectations or demands. As a process, we can disagree about what I, as a man, should do and how I should do it and still be accountable.
That being said, there are times when we make mistakes, act in ways that are counter to our principles, or which cause harm. There need to be a process by which men and men’s groups accept responsibility for the mistakes we make and the harm we cause, as well as a mechanism to make amends.
In practice there are multiple accountabilities. Many of us are accountable to multiple women leaders (who, like most people, sometimes disagree with each other about what it is that they think men should do). But we are also accountable to other groups. As we engage men and boys—and as a consequence want to be accountable to the men that we’re seeking to engage, (as well as other men in our communities)— we’re also accountable to our communities. For most of us that means multiple communities to which we’re accountable. Those of us who work for agencies are also accountable to those organizations (which includes a level of accountability to our funders.)
Bottom line: being accountable means managing multiple accountabilities in as transparent and responsible manner as possible.
Finally, many of us argue that acting accountably means not only being and holding each other accountable when we make mistakes, but also being and holding each other accountable when we do well. In both cases, acting accountably is (or can be) proactive and reactive. Acting accountably means thinking and feeling as we’re conceiving of actions to take, about how we can do so in a way:
that is transparent about our decisions (and decision-making processes);
do what we say we’re going to do;
take responsibility for the consequences of our actions (both positive and negative, intended and unintended); and
apologize and make amends when necessary.
One short article cannot hope to comprehensively address a topic as complex as accountability. We encourage readers to continue to explore what each of you mean when you hear the term “being accountable.” In the meantime, check out the resources listed above, and please share your feedback on this vital issue.
NOTE: We plan on following up on this article in an upcoming issue of NAMEN News.