The Missing Men in International Development

> Posted by Joshua Goldstein aka Mr. Provocative

In The New York Times last week was a story of loss and despair titled “1.5 Million Missing Black Men”. It stated: “One out of every six black men, who today should be between 25 and 54 years old, have disappeared from daily life.” Where are these men? What does this mean to the women in their communities? The answer to the first question is that they often die early or are living out much of their lives behind bars. And the answer to the second question is equally tragic and heartbreaking: In many ravaged communities, there are not enough men to be fathers and husbands. In our republic, this reality of the missing men is a profound challenge to our values, our democracy, and our future as a nation. I think there is a consensus on that.

So, you ask me: What does this terrible set of facts about an American tragedy have to do with microfinance and international development? In my opinion, an awful lot. As policy makers and practitioners, it often seems that men have disappeared from our “interventions” and work plans. Resources are focused on empowering poor women, who will work hard and take care of the children (half of whom are boys), while the men are scoundrels or losers who cannot be counted on when it comes to the family’s well-being. Why prioritize men in poverty reduction strategies? Why waste resources on this failed sex?

Does this sound harsh? I hope so. I have been to enough conferences around the world, from Skoll to the Microcredit Summit, where poor men are missing from the conversation. And there is no urgent action plan being developed to counter this. Why? The pariah sex is treated as forsaken and unredeemable. This affects the next generation, too. As the fathers are written off, so will the sons be if this paradigm is perpetuated.

I believe international development professionals need to take up the challenge to return men to their families to be productive co-breadwinners. Not to empower these missing men is to condemn the poor woman in their lives to have to do absolutely everything for their families, from making all the money to changing all the diapers. Is that right or fair? In the U.S. and Europe, it is taken for granted today that men should shoulder more of the burden of raising a family—not less—in addition to working full time!  Women demand it. And men, to a great extent, have begun to comply. But when it comes to the “Global South” such expectations are not even part of the conversation.

In the U.S., as a response to the degraded and futile existence of too many African American boys and young men, the President has announced a bold new initiative called My Brother’s Keeper, “to help break down barriers, clear pathways to opportunity, and reverse troubling trends which show too many of our boys and young men of color slipping through the cracks in our society.”

In my view, we should launch a campaign beginning today to push international development professionals to do more to take the Global South’s “second sex” more seriously. Of course it is a challenging proposition! But hope for a better world is in ruins if half of humanity is written off from the get go.

Photo credit: Gates Foundation

Have you read?

Vulnerable Minorities: There’s an Elephant in This Room

Impact Study Needed: Do Microfinance Conferences Help the Poor?

Adding Gender to the Microfinance Bottom Line

Join the Conversation

Stay informed. Subscribe to our newsletter.