Despite the recent innovations in laws across Europe decreeing equality for men and women in all areas of public life, society is far from being truly egalitarian. Aware of this reality, Antonio García Domínguez is working with a collective that is often overlooked in solving this problem: Men. To involve this half of society in shaping a society in which men and women can live together in the same conditions, Antonio is creating the first movement of men in Spain working towards gender equality through their own internal transformation and assuming responsibility in changing their reality. With his experience and knowledge in the field, Antonio is perfectly positioned to respond to the increasing demand and take full advantage of the historical opportunity represented in the new European Union directive aimed to work with men to overcome gender discrimination.
Antonio believes societal equality between men and women requires a shift in the male mindset and the prevailing model of masculinity. He works with egalitarian men—which he defines as men who accept the existence of structural discrimination against women, understand the responsibility of men in promoting change, and who understand the personal and social benefits of life in an equitable society—and equips them as masculine role models, spokesmen, and leaders of a bottom-up equality movement.
To achieve a truly equal society, where gender is not a motive for discrimination, Antonio is convinced that any effort must include the male half of society. Therefore he is designing a movement of men working to achieve equality by serving as both references and the driving force behind a public debate on gender equality from the perspective and with the active engagement of men. He brings together men that are in the process of achieving this transformation and who understand that becoming egalitarian means accessing new benefits that a sexist society doesn’t offer. This focus attracts men to the movement who often hadn’t considered the importance of adapting internal changes.
To initiate and fuel this social movement, Antonio founded the Association of Men for Gender Equality (AHIGE—the only one of its kind in Spain), with a model that includes support structures for men, programs for youth, awareness activities, advocacy work, as well as the production of the necessary tools and materials to equip egalitarian men. Antonio and AHIGE have two main objectives: First, to bring the role of men, in the effort towards gender equality, from the private space to the public sphere and, second, to be a network that offers new models of masculinity for men, especially young men, who do not have positive role models for change.
Despite the Constitutional guarantee of equality among men and women in Spain, concretely expanded through a set of laws and regulations, Spanish society de facto is not egalitarian, a situation not exceptional to the rest of the World. In the last few years the advances in this field have been quite considerable (including a massive incorporation of women into the work-force and an increase in the number of women in positions of political and institutional responsibility) but men and women in Spain are far from enjoying the same opportunities.
This lack of equality is visible through various statistics, such as employment rates: In the European Union women fill only 32 percent of CEO positions (10 percent in administration boards) and a mere 3 percent of the presidents of the most important companies in the EU are women. According to estimates by the Eurostat (European Communities Statistics Office) in 2005 women’s salaries were an average of 15 percent lower than those of men. In the private sphere, households and family life, women who work outside of their homes spend 111 percent more time than men on domestic chores and 56 percent more time caring for children. More than 96 percent of childcare leaves are still taken by women. At the same time the rates of violence against women continue to be chilling; a report put together by the European Parliament Commission of Women’s Rights and Equal Opportunities found that more than 80 million women in the EU had been victims of abuse, on behalf of their partners, at least once in their lives; this represents 25 percent of the entire female population.
The attitude of today’s generation of youth doesn’t suggest a change is in hand. Spanish youth have been raised in a society whose apparent egalitarianism doesn’t correspond to the reality. Most young people, especially young women, believe that the feminist discourse and battle for equal opportunity is already won, and that it belongs to the past—to their mothers’ generation. This view leads to complacency that reinforces negative social roles, especially among young men.
Historically, questions concerning gender equality have been dealt with from the female perspective, since it was women who were fighting against structural discrimination. The women’s movement has achieved a series of important victories in its conquest of the public sphere, but it has also isolated many men from the debate about gender equality. The fight for equality is still seen from the male collective as something that doesn’t concern them; in most cases it is considered a threat. Men understand that to have a more equalitarian society they must give things up, including power, which provokes a sense of loss and makes it harder for them to understand the benefits and gains implicit in living in an equal society. Most efforts and initiatives to achieve equality have had a common and concrete goal: Legal equality among men and women. A recent example of this in Spain is the approval of an Organic Law for the Effective Equality of Men and Women and an Integral Law Against Gender-Related Violence. Nevertheless the implementation of these laws and the internalization of the principle of equality is a more difficult change because it affects peoples’ “intimate sphere”: Their behavior, thoughts, and values. It is here that laws do little, because the change must occur in the attitude and mindset of individuals. This implies complex change processes that are slow, particularly for those without role models.
Antonio works with men to create a more egalitarian society. He understands that the key role the male population plays in creating this change cannot continue to be ignored. To achieve his objective, Antonio is creating a movement of men for equality which integrates individual, social, and societal elements. His work is focused primarily on men who feel the need to redefine concepts, confronted by situations they aren’t quite prepared to deal with. For example, working for a female boss for the first time, having problems achieving a healthy relationship with their romantic partner, or finding themselves unable to control aggressive behavior. He attracts men to join the movement by marketing the benefits of becoming egalitarian—more fulfilling fatherhood, better relationships, less pressure to be the “superman” that feels nothing, etc.—in contrast to the stereotyped view that equality for women means loss of power for men.
To achieve a major social transformation, Antonio founded AHIGE in 2002, with the goal of bringing the equality movement into the personal sphere to reach a greater number of people—beginning with men who were already inclined to support this kind of change. Since its founding, the organization has centered its work on three pillars: Creating and supporting men’s groups, providing equality training to increase awareness, and building a social movement led by positive male role models working on gender equality from the bottom up.
Antonio understands that the first step in the transformation to a more equitable society must be a change in individual men and their attitudes. With this as his objective, Antonio brings together men who establish discussion groups that represent the foundation of AHIGE’s organization and action. These groups become spaces for reflection and sharing between men who need to “deconstruct” themselves—changing their values and behavior—to “reconstruct” as more egalitarian men. Key questions are discussed and analyzed such as gender-based violence, fatherhood, and responsibility-sharing in family life. The groups are also an important mechanism to spread and disseminate the equality movement and to provide feedback, such as new arguments, issues, and ideas from the men involved.
AHIGE develops programs and initiatives on topics such as gender-related violence, family co-responsibility, equality, and personal relationships. AHIGE typically focuses on men although some sessions and programs are gender mixed. In addition, some initiatives target specific groups of men—like the Gandhi Project in which aggressive men voluntarily submit to find help preventing and solving violent situations in their family surroundings; provoked by their sexist attitudes.
In the process of identifying the most important challenges to create a new awareness about gender equality, Antonio found that reaching youth was critical. Therefore, AHIGE supports networks of youth to spread of the message of equality, dedicating particular efforts to work with youth in rural areas, where inequality tends to be more extreme. To reach the greatest number of people possible, Antonio and his team have established an educational program with workshops, talks, and conferences targeted at youth. They have also recruited a variety of professionals who work with youth, such as teachers and designated “equality agents” working for local government administrations. AHIGE produces materials for groups of men and similar initiatives and associations across the country. A strong nation-wide network of empowered citizen groups will increase the strength and visibility of his message.
Just as other movements have functioned historically, such as the environmental and feminist movements, Antonio aims to organize the active minority that is already aware—about 5 to 10 percent of the male population—to serve as the engine and spokespersons for the larger movement. The minority that is conscious, organized, and that has a coherent message will be the social lever that moves the rest of society, helping the message of equality take hold in the subconscious of a majority of men.
For more than five years, Antonio has demanded that the government administration offices assume a leading role in this field of work, but only recently has the European Union understood that the work and the subject of equality and non-discrimination must target men as a group. In the latest Action Plan Against Gender Discrimination, the European Commission included a concrete action step to work with men that all countries of the EU must implement in the coming years. To take advantage of this historic opportunity, Antonio is distilling his strategies and producing materials to facilitate efforts of replication. This system will be based on the knowledge he has acquired and practiced through his extensive work experience in the field.
Since he was young, Antonio has shown an entrepreneurial character as well as an enormous interest in social issues. In high school, he organized a group to publish a magazine and mobilized hundreds of people in his neighborhood to work for improvements in their area and make public demands for other social needs to be covered. When he was seventeen, caught in the middle of the democratic transition in Spain, he discovered the neighborhood associations and temporarily left college to become involved in the grassroots democratic social movement.
At university, aware of the terrible employment situation of the time, Antonio created a help-service for the unemployed in the university. Although this project didn’t fully take off, Antonio kept working to create mechanisms to connect people. After achieving his degree, he taught himself computer science skills, and created the first Internet portal of social work documentation in Spain when the Internet was still taking its first steps. In three years, despite initial skepticism from his workmates, the portal was referenced as a successful virtual community for social workers in Spain (increasing the organizations’ budget tenfold from his initial project).
After a period of travel, volunteer projects, and sporadic jobs, in 2001 a work-related crisis turned personal when Antonio realized that the values he had acquired during his life struck hard against the reality of his surroundings and he began to question his role in society as a man. Despite considering himself an egalitarian man, he realized that part of his behavior and personal relationships were deeply influenced by values and mandates that were passed down to him without his awareness. Trying to find answers to the many questions that confronted him and finding no clues in textbooks, he sought help among his female friends, many militants in feminist associations and movements. They encouraged him to use the same methodology that women were using to find these answers: To form groups to share feelings, experiences, thoughts, and doubts.
In this quest, Antonio created the first groups of men in Malaga and began finding some of the answers he sought. However, this wasn’t enough for Antonio. The personal reflection in the groups was only affecting the private sphere, more of a personal emotional unloading than a step toward true social transformation. Antonio saw the need to support men’s attempts to change, raise awareness in society, present positive male role models, and generate the materials and training courses necessary to spread this change of attitude across male Spanish society. Antonio has dedicated his life to build the structure and foundations for a men’s movement for equality by founding AHIGE.