If you think about it, it’s pretty much the same people every time. The Human Chain at Ledra, the bicommunal groups, the human rights activists. Further afield, it’s those who campaign for education or the environment or just change of any sort. And unless you’re one of the few who regularly bounce out of bed at the weekend and head off to the latest peace rally/beach clean-up, you’re probably pretty removed from the whole change movement. Which is why Costa Constanti has set about launching Deconstructing Masculinities…
Fast-talking, fast-thinking and a real powerhouse for good among the local community, Costa is well-known and well-liked across the board. As an employee of the Australian High Commission in Cyprus, he’s a bit of a public figure; as a family man he’s rightly proud of his wife and daughter; as a bit of a social media whiz, he’s the guy who entertains and inspires us all across a host of platforms. And as a strong supporter of human rights, he’s about to introduce a plethora of thought-provoking ideas to the island – and to our men in particular!
Taking place tomorrow and on Tuesday evening, the Deconstructing Masculinities Research Café was born from the idea that while local men do get involved in the struggle for gender equality, it’s the same men. And the same ideas. “Working to improve women’s rights and gender equality, we often notice that we’re not only all singing from the same hymn sheet, we’re also preaching to the converted,” Costa explains. “So we thought we’d flip this around: get a dialogue happening from another angle, focusing on men and on different ideas; bring in men from other ethnic, political and socioeconomic backgrounds – both as speakers and audience. These are the people who might not always get involved in these issues,” he continues. “They may not even know about them!
“One thing we are aware of is that it’s next to impossible to tap into the middle-aged and older Cypriot male demographic, and the same goes for the more rural male population – the men who have south-east Asian workers in their fields and daughters who must remain in the village.” While Costa admits that it’s unlikely this demographic will attend the conference, he hopes that by tapping into its periphery, ideas on gender equality and human rights may seep through to new sectors of the population.
To this end, the 11 diverse speakers will be touching on subjects such as ‘The Role of Men in Achieving Gender Equality’, ‘Boys will be boys: Unpacking militarised masculinities in Cyprus’ and ‘Rethinking on Gender Roles in Post-Conflict Societies’. It’s an entirely new approach to gender quality, especially in a society where issues such as women’s rights are driven almost entirely by the female demographic…
“I recently read a piece from a white middle class male which detailed how men also suffer at the hands of gender equality,” Costa reveals. “It talked about how men may actually want to jump on the gender equality bandwagon, but it’s just not acceptable in many societies: men are not expected to demand more paternity leave; relatives often frown upon them helping around the house… and this makes them feel guilty. I posted the piece online and got ripped apart, yet we’re all on the same side. We are all,” he repeats, “on the same side here.”
A passionate advocate of human rights himself – “I prefer this term to gender equality, because being equal is a basic human right,” he explains – Costa is very enthusiastic about the idea that change begins at home. “I have a daughter for whom anything is possible, and it’s up to me and to society to bring her up so she knows this. Sometimes I play cars with her, and I get told off; she’s given tea sets and pink clothing – the stereotypical accoutrements for little girls. But I want her to grow up in world where she can be whatever she wants; I just want to make sure she has the tools. We need,” he continues, “to encourage our daughters to realise that there are no limits, and we need to tell our sons that each and every person on this planet has the same opportunities and rights. Keep pressing this idea and your kids will pass this onto the next generation.”
At the same time, ensuring there are gender-balanced quotas in the workplace is very important, he attests, mentioning the Scandinavian model of gender employment equality. “Give women role models, like EU Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou and former Foreign Minister Erato Markouli – women who stand up for other women and are known not for their gender but for their policies on human rights. And, on a daily basis,” he adds, “we can all think about how we talk to and treat our daughters, our sisters and our mothers – and about the terminology we use in referring to members of the LGBT community…”
Speaking of terminology, there’s a reason Costa and his team have entitled the talks ‘Masculinities’, plural. “This isn’t just about heterosexual men, it will also appeal to gay men, feminist men, humanist men, young men, old men, Greek and Turkish Cypriot men from rural and urban areas. The plural was chosen to highlight just how many different types of people there are on our island.”
Having pulled the event together in about three weeks, Costa is incredibly thankful for all the support he has received. “From the get-go, gender and development expert Sophia Papastavrou Faustmann was on board; we’ve had moral encouragement from both AIPFE Cyprus – Women of Europe and a number of other activist groups, including ACCEPT and the Cyprus Academic Dialogue; and Rita Severis and CVAR have been wonderfully supportive of the event. And I can honestly say that none of this could have happened without the Australian High Commissioner and the Australian government,” he adds.
With talks running from 4.30 to 8pm on both days, Deconstructing Masculinities is set to be a landmark event. “Who knows what could happen?” Costa grins. “We’ll be talking about a variety of controversial issues: male victims of domestic violence, the LGBT community. And I’m hoping that it might instigate not only a recordable change in the achievements of the women in our society, but the opportunity for men to express themselves in different ways. Basically,” he concludes, “we’re trying to get men rallying for men who will help women. And perhaps, just perhaps, this could be the spark which ignites some kind of flame…”
Deconstructing Masculinities Research Café
At CVAR/Severis Foundation, Nicosia, from 4.30 to 8pm on June 19 and 20. All are welcome, attendance is free of charge, and refreshments will be provided. Participants must register beforehand. For more information and a full programme of events visit the Facebook page ‘Deconstructing Masculinities Research Café’. To book your place call 99 409694