A call to men to fight gender violence
GENDER-BASED violence (GBV) is a global problem of pandemic proportions. According to the United Nations, one in three women will be beaten, raped or abused in her lifetime.
This translates to one billion women who are both directly and indirectly affected by gender violence. Across the many different types of violence defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), including self-directed, interpersonal and collective violence, between men and against women, the perpetrators are primarily men.
Likewise, according to a GBV Indicators Study carried out by Gender Links in six countries of Southern Africa, the most predominant form of GBV experienced by women and perpetrated by men in the six countries occurs within intimate partnerships. This ranges from 90 percent in the Zambian districts surveyed to 23 percent in Mauritius. Men interviewed are also confirming these figures, and in some cases exceeding them.
From 73 percent men in Zambia to 22 percent in Mauritius admitting to perpetration of gender violence at least once in their life time.
The proportion of men reporting rape perpetration in the six countries is significantly higher than the proportion of women reporting experience.
These statistics are alarming, pointing to an urgent multi-pronged approach that targets men and demands that they join the fight to tackle gender violence.
The same study shows that men who were abused in childhood were more likely to be violent to their partners and were also more likely to have done so more than once. Misogyny and male violence is learned behavior that is affirmed and perpetuated in homes, schools, the media and many different cultures around the world.
Men’s use of violence is usually an assertion of gender ‘norms’ and a form of sexist masculinity they have internalised. This is part of an entrenched patriarchal power structure in which men, especially those with more power, use violence to subjugate women, girls and other men.
At the recent UN Women launch of the He4She campaign, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson gave a rousing speech in which she invited men to step up and contribute to advancing gender equality.
Although her speech was a passionate, it lacked the critical and practical steps that men need in order to contribute to healthier, safer and more equal communities. One crucial step, which gets to the root of patriarchy, is to ensure that governments and communities change the way we educate and socialise boys and girls.
Men can also get involved by lobbying policy makers to incorporate gender studies into primary and secondary school curricula. Men must be encouraged from an early age to become active supporters of gender equality.
Many organisations and sectors around the world are making concerted efforts to involve men in their strategies to eradicate GBV and gender inequality, which encourage men to be active in ending sexism and violence against women in their communities.
In the United States, organisations such as A Call to Men and Men Can Stop Rape (MCSR) train and educate men and boys with the aim of changing negative gender norms, and to develop a healthier definition of manhood.
They believe that preventing domestic and sexual violence is primarily the responsibility of men. In Southern Africa there are many organisations doing the same, such as Men as Partners (MAP), who work with men to promote gender equity in relation to sexual and reproductive health; South African Men’s Forum; Agisanang (ADAPT); Khotla in Lesotho; MenEngage in Malawi; and Sonke Gender Justice.
These organisations are all working to advance gender equality and non-sexist masculinities by sensitising and re-educating men and boys.
During and beyond Sixteen Days of Activism, governments and civil society across the globe must think more creatively about their strategies for tackling inequality and the GBV pandemic.
We need effective, evidence-based programmes and interventions that target and involve men, and that address the foundation of the scourge.
Most importantly, men must involve themselves, not only for Sixteen Days, but every day of their lives!
Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende is a public Health scholar-practitioner, activist, writer and founder of the Africa Research Foundation for the Safety of Women. This article is part of the Gender Links News Service Sixteen Days of Activism special series. The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign that starts on 25 November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and ends on 10 December, Human Rights Day.
The campaign hopes to raise awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue at the local, national, regional and international level. This year’s theme is ‘Let’s challenge militarism and end violence against women’.