From Iceland — Foreign Minister Defends Barbershop UN Conference

Foreign Minister Defends Barbershop UN Conference

Published December 15, 2014

Nanna Árnadóttir
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In an interview with the Independent, Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson has defended what critics called a “men-only” UN conference on gender equality.

Gunnar Bragi argued that “we all need a seat at the table” in the discussion – precisely the same point the critics were making.

The so-called Barbershop Conference (named that because it is considered a predominantly “male space”) is due to be convened at UN headquarters in January.

“What is a barbershop?” Gunnar Bragi told the Independent. “It’s a place where men meet, where they get their hair cut or beard cut. What do they discuss? Politics, probably women and you know, their status and so on.”

Dyan Mazurana, an author of a report on peace, women and security for the UN Security Council claims the Barbershop Conference demonstrates a “lack of awareness of the history of the exclusion of women from decision making”.

But Gunnar Bragi explained most of the negative reactions he received as a “miss-understanding” over whether women would have a place at the conference.

While as many men from UN member states as possible are being encouraged to attend and discuss violence against women and gender equality, Gunnar Bragi insists women can also attend this, if they wish.

“If you are going to fight for gender equality, or stop violence against women, you have to take the discussion to the men and the boys,” Gunnar Bragi said. “Why not encourage them to speak together?”

“We have a lot of meetings and seminars on gender equality where the house is full of women, but just a few men. If you want to change something, you have to have the guys in the room,” said Gunnar Bragi echoing the sentiment of former Icelandic president Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the first democratically elected female president in the world.

Vigdís recently called for “men in top positions around the world” to meet regularly to discuss gender equality arguing that if leading male figures gathered to discuss gender equality, “attitudes would change quicker.”

Gunnar Bragi told the Independent that his conference is a continuation of Vigdís’ push for discussions between men, not be a place where men try to speak for women, but rather a space for men to understand more about the problems within their own behaviour.

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