Paul Zens pictured at last year’s women’s day march carrying a sign for men in solidarity with women (”Hommes solidaires”). Library photo: Romain Gamba/Maison Moderne

Paul Zens pictured at last year’s women’s day march carrying a sign for men in solidarity with women (”Hommes solidaires”). Library photo: Romain Gamba/Maison Moderne

The International Women’s Day (JIF) platform on 8 March is organising its annual march in support of equal rights in Luxembourg. Paul Zens represents the Green party in the group and spoke to Delano about why men have to be part of the solution.

The JIF platform brings together different organisations in the grand duchy, including labour unions, political parties, human and women’s rights groups, to organise the annual women’s day march.

Cordula Schnuer: Why is it important for you, as a man, to be involved in International Women's Day and the platform organising the march on Wednesday?

Paul Zens: The whole subject is about human rights. Gender equality is by definition an equation, and it needs women and men on the same level.

I’m a member of the Green Party, a member of the gender council. Four years ago, the woman who was the Green representative on the JIF platform decided to step back. We discussed who would replace her and in the end it was me. And it was a decision because on the one hand, if men are the basis or a big part of the problem, they're also a part of the solution.

Looking at some of the demands of the platform, for example, it asks for three months birth leave for both parents. What do men stand to gain from supporting women's rights?

A better world? It's a better world when things are equal. I know it's very general, but it’s as simple as that.

At the same time, there are statistics showing that men are more likely to die by suicide than women. They're more likely to suffer from alcoholism and drug addiction. Boys are performing less well at school than girls. They're enrolling less at university. Men are overrepresented as both perpetrators and victims of violent crime. Should we be paying more attention to men's issues?

It's not about ‘this poor man who has a difficult life.’ This is not the point. The point is to have equal rights for everyone. Maybe men do not reflect enough but then that’s also a stereotype. I don’t know why these problems are. I don’t know if more gender equality will help, but we should work on it.

Arguably both sexes are stuck in patriarchal norms that have been created by society…

But these differences are artificial to certain degree. They are false traditions. We have been cultivating some actively; others we just accept that it’s like this. They were cultivated and became tradition, custom.

The fight for equal rights is continuous.
Paul Zens

Paul Zensrepresentative for déi Gréng on the JIF platform

Is there stigma attached to calling yourself a feminist as a man?

Not for me. I have no problem with this.

When I was a member of the gender council, I was asked by the chairwoman back then why I joined and I said it’s because I do not see the problem. We are all equal. We should at least have the same chances. What you do with the opportunities then is something else.

I’m also president of Eurosolar Luxembourg and I had the opportunity to go to Cop27. One day was dedicated to the role of women in climate change. I spoke to women from Burundi, from Nigeria and they said: ‘Give us women an opportunity to earn our own money to be less dependent. We can send our children to school.’ It’s about equal opportunities.

Because you mentioned women from Burundi, Nigeria and other countries… perhaps there's a sense in Luxembourg that things aren’t that bad here.

These changes are a long-term project. And you must always keep it going, and always make it work and go on and repeat. In French, they say ‘la meilleure pédagogie c’est la répétition’ [the best pedagogy is repetition, editor’s note]. The fight for equal rights is continuous.

As a member of the gender council and also the JIF platform, to what extent is it a balancing act for you to speak up for women, but not speak on their behalf?

I do not speak for women. They do it. They know best because they know what is good for them. I speak for men. Not all men, but those--and I wish it was all men--who want to have equality.

And it’s also something against the silence of men. The silence is not good. You need to talk about it. Sticking to the advantages I mentioned before is sad, pathetic. It’s not good.

International Women’s Day a time of year where there's a lot of attention around this topic, it's an opportunity to raise awareness. But what do you think men can and should do throughout the year to support and empower women?

Repeat, repeat, repeat. Set a good example and step back from time to time when you think you have to say something. Make sure that there are balanced committees, for example. When you saw the pictures of Ursula von der Leyen who didn’t get a seat at the table, for example. Things like this. Just do it because you know it’s the right thing. And it’s not even that a woman needs help to get there. Just don’t prevent her from getting there.

The men who are against feminism don’t have any backbone. They are not men. They are just weak.
Paul Zens

Paul Zensrepresentative for déi Gréng on the JIF platform

Every year when International Women’s Day rolls around, there’s a debate whether we still need this day. What’s your take on that?

We definitely need it internationally. It’s a global issue. We should show solidarity and act accordingly. I’m thinking, for example, of the women in Iran. And I think we still need it in Luxembourg. Maybe we are closer to not needing it, but we need to be part of the transition, even though globally, we don’t have that much influence.

To the men who think that women’s issues don’t concern them, or think they’ll be out of place at the march. Why should they attend?

Why should anyone come? Because it’s about gender justice, it’s about human rights. It’s about equality, the same opportunities.

The men who are against feminism don’t have any backbone. They are not men. They are just weak.

The International Women’s Day march in Luxembourg starts at 5pm on 8 March at Hamilius and will walk through the city centre to end at Place d’Armes.