Redefining Healthy Masculinity, SERATA’s Gender Equality Advocacy

Exploring New Notions of Positive Masculinity

Sabrina Aripen is committed to fostering healthy masculinity and gender equality through her organisation SERATA

Society for Equality, Respect And Trust for All Sabah (SERATA), an organisation advocating for gender equality, is taking strides to engage men and boys in the journey towards a more equitable world.

In an exclusive interview, they share their perspective on healthy masculinity and why it matters in shaping a better future for all.

“We think a lot of great work has been done on women’s rights and women’s empowerment, but progress on gender equality has been very slow. We felt that a new perspective is needed, and in order for true gender equity and equality to be sustainable, we need to include everyone in the conversation,” Sabrina Aripen, the founder of SERATA, says.

SERATA’s first focus is on promoting caring and respectful roles for men in their capacity as fathers. They organise events like the recent Fathers’ Day celebration, aimed at highlighting the importance of involved and engaged fathers.

They also conduct webinars addressing critical topics, such as the role of fathers in ending school bullying and the struggles faced by single fathers.

“Together with the idea of caring fathers is the need to engage them from the very beginning of their children’s lives, which requires paternity leave. Unfortunately, Sabah is yet to have paternity leave provided in our labour laws, unlike the Employment Act 1955. We are actively promoting amendments to the Sabah Labour Ordinance to be tabled and passed to support fathers’ active involvement in parenting,” Sabrina explains.

She firmly believes that when fathers are equally engaged in unpaid care work, it creates space for mothers to pursue income-generating opportunities and build their careers.

Additionally, SERATA conducts workshops and talks for youths and university students on healthy relationships and the significance of women as leaders as part of their gender sensitization programs.

“One of our favourite tools to use is the Man Box, where we have discussions about expectations and beliefs about what it means to be men and male,” Sabrina adds.

Reflecting on the changing landscape of masculinity, SERATA acknowledges a positive shift among college and university students. Many young men are increasingly interested in gender equality, not only in relationships but also in the workplace.

However, they also note that societal expectations of traditional gender roles still persist in some circles. Men are often questioned about their manliness if they do not conform to stereotypical roles, such as being the primary breadwinner or choosing to be stay-at-home dads.

“Healthy masculinity to me is about caring, responsible, and respectful men who are not easily threatened by different beliefs, thoughts, and opinions. They play important roles as fathers, brothers, uncles, grandfathers, or even friends and colleagues, regardless of the other person’s gender identity or sexual orientation,” Sabrina says further.

The importance of instilling healthy values starts from an early age.

One SERATA representative shares their experience as a parent, saying, “I have an 8-year-old son, and he loves rainbows. I notice the ideas of what it means to be a boy is largely coming from school or the friends and acquaintances that he comes into contact with. I always try to make conversation about the beliefs that he heard from his teacher/friends.”

The organisation emphasises the significance of open dialogue and questioning these beliefs. By challenging gender norms and encouraging reflective thinking, they hope to foster a generation of individuals who are more empathetic, accepting, and respectful of diversity.

Meanwhile, Sabrina says this about her partner: “He is as much of a feminist as I am. He knows my need to be independent, and he is okay with me taking the lead with many things, including my career. I still do most of the childcare, though, because I am more flexible in my work commitments, but he does the laundry at home as he knows how to do it better!” 

SERATA’s mission to redefine healthy masculinity and promote gender equality is an essential step in creating a more inclusive and compassionate society.

By engaging men and boys in this transformative journey, we can collectively break free from traditional stereotypes and forge a path towards a brighter, more equitable future for all.

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