One in three women globally experiences physical or sexual violence during the course of their life. However, three years ago, world leaders vowed to eliminate all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls by 2030.
This cannot be achieved without involving men and boys. Women should not have to address the global pandemic alone.
Changing patriarchal cultures
In many cultures, young women grow up accepting violence. Men hit women, and women are ashamed and guilty to talk about it or reveal their scars. They hide it from society to avoid shame.
Our cultures normalise harassment and sexual abuse, and our silence encourages it. Just to give one example, in 2014 some 33% of women and 40% of men in Lesotho said they believe wife beating can be justified.
This violence stems from the subjugation of women — in particular in patriarchal societies from the global south — in the name of culture, tradition and religion. In India, for example, it is common to see parents raising their boys to be more vocal and speak their minds, whereas we tell our girls to be quiet, polite, accepting and accommodating.
According to 2016 Mandela Fellow, Catherine Nyambura, “culture plays a role in normalising violence against women and girls (VAWG) and also promoting paternalistic approaches and sentiments when engaging men and boys.” Society tells us men can be violent, and women and girls must do better, accept better and stay out of the way.
A Ugandan politician recently told a local TV channel “as a man, you need to discipline your wife.” He added: “You need to touch her a bit, you tackle her, beat her somehow to really streamline her.” But a male member of parliament justifying violence against women is not an inevitability — it’s the outcome of an upbringing exposed to unequal cultural practices.
When to involve men and boys
At each age, socialisation reinforces unequal ideas about gender. We tell young boys not to cry or show emotion. In adulthood, men must be breadwinners, and we test their masculinity through sexual performance and the ability to have children. If they are gay, we make them feel ashamed or excluded.
At all these stages change is possible. Parents can create homes free from violence. Caregivers can teach children the importance of respect and equality. Men can be encouraged to support women’s participation in the workforce by sharing unpaid caregiving and domestic work. Through involved fatherhood, men can empower girls and love boys.
Most importantly, men can identify, train and support other men to be positive role models. They can encourage other men to speak out against VAWG and to share household responsibilities more equitably.
Men supporting men for equality
There are many good examples of how men can reach out to other men.
Several organisations work with men and boys through gender training. Lebanon-based Abaad has created men’s centers to support men with abusive behaviours. Through psychotherapy and mental health sessions, men are supported in transitions to more gender-equitable life behaviour, which helps combat violence.
Save The Children’s experience working with police officers in Pakistan shows that self-awareness is a key step towards behaviour change. During gender-sensitisation training, men reflected on their strengths and weaknesses to better their relationship with women. Such training adds a gender perspective to communication, behaviour and anger management. It empowers them to perform duties without discrimination and prejudice.
Men can also engage others through media and campaigns. Films and serials can be catalysts for discussion on masculinity. UN Women’s Youth 50/50 Champion for Gender Equality, Saket Mani, mobilised 200,000 people in India to pledge support for HeForShe. Through volunteering, cycling rallies, musical performances, advocacy and workshops, he reached out to other men and boys and engaged them to pledge for gender equality and ending VAWG.
Everyone is responsible
Every day I read about horrific gang-rape cases in India. Just last week, an 11-year-old gang raped by 22 men for seven months was splashed all over social media. Men and boys alone are not the answer to this: to address the global pandemic of violence, men and boys and women and girls must work together in all areas and across the life cycle.
It’s time to hold each other accountable for our actions; the #MeToo movement is an excellent example. Don’t be ashamed to call out your friends who share sexist jokes on WhatsApp. The next time you see a man harassing a woman on the street or subway, be a better bystander. Encourage your girls to play with cars and wear what they like. Promote women at work if they deserve it. Invest in female entrepreneurs. Men, #sharetheload at home and model equitable behaviour within the family. Be better dads by being more engaged early on. Stand up against child marriages in your communities because they perpetuate violence.
Finally, have a zero-tolerance policy towards VAWG all the time, everywhere. Gender-based violence is cyclical. Men who witness violence in their early years are twice as likely to commit violence in the future. As Edmund Burke famously said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” — Shruti Kapoor
(Picture credit: Pexels)