Is a real engagement of men possible in order to transform gender relations and eradicate violence against women? The patriarchal constructions of manhood have been based in how a society expects men to behave and to prove they are “real men”. These attitudes are reinforced by notions of masculinity constantly emphasizing the idea of men as sexual predators.
In recent times more and more men have become engaged in activities to generate awareness about the vulnerability of women and girls in different societies and the need to address this issue. This has been happening along the implementation of different programmes around the world. More than ten years ago, precisely in 2003, the UN Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) convened several experts who identified the following areas where the engagement of men is crucial:
- Areas of sexual and reproductive health, including HIV, its prevention, treatment, care and support;
- Fatherhood, including programmes to support or encourage them to participate more actively in the care and support of their children;
- Gender-based violence, including both prevention campaigns and activities that seek to prevent men’s use of violence against women as well as programmes with men who have previously used physical violence against women (sometimes known as batterer intervention programmes);
- Areas of maternal, newborn and child health: programmes engaging men in reducing maternal morbidity and mortality and to improve birth outcomes and child health and well-being;
- Gender socialization: programmes that work across these four issues (or at least most of them) and critically discuss the socialization of boys and men or the social construction of gender relations.
In July 2010 the UN reform agenda, brought together resources and mandates for greater impact. It merged and built four previously distinct parts of the UN system, which focused exclusively on gender equality and women’s empowerment. These are: Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) . The reform Agenda started to look for new initiatives which included the idea of engaging men. HE FOR SHE is a solidarity movement which incorporates more men in the design of activities in order to prevent and eradicate gender violence. Their site incorporates an interactive map so every country can track the number of men currently involved. For example, in Sri Lanka the map shows 447 men involved.
We have also seen the creation of programmes like the one organized with Instituto Promundo and the support from the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women. A multi-country project was conducted to engage men and boys in preventing violence against women and promote gender equality. Project activities in four countries varied but all included educational workshops with men on gender equity and training programs with partner staff on evidence-based methodologies for the prevention of violence against women.
The project sought to test and evaluate an array of interventions to engage young and adult men in GBV prevention, which involved a community-based intervention in India, a sports-based intervention in Brazil, a health-sector-based intervention in Chile and a work-place-based intervention in Rwanda.
Interestingly, the project was able to incorporate topics that men wanted to discuss, like the use of condoms in the case of Chile, which they considered of importance.
Infomission is another programme which advocates for gender neutrality with a different approach, an initiative run by young Indians who raise awareness on political and civil rights through education. For example, Infomission explains that “The provisions for criminalization of rape in the Indian Penal Code, for the most part, refer to women and children as the aggrieved and men as the perpetrators of such crimes. The laws go up to the extent of explicitly mentioning the terms “vagina” and “anus or urethra of a child” and “penetration of these by a man” as a punishable offence. Another example of such an act is the Domestic Violence Act, which holds women as being the victimized class and men as the victimizers, where ‘person’ is defined as ‘women’… It is the duty of the State that all its citizens are put on the same pedestal and are dealt with, in a similar manner for violating the principles of law. It is, equally, the duty of the state to see that every person who undergoes similar torment or grievance is redressed in a similar manner, irrespective of their sex”.
Promising facts from South Asia
A Law student from the University of Bangalore in India, Ananthu Suresh, tells Words in the Bucket that more and more of his friends are getting involved in public demonstrations mainly fighting for the rights of rape victims in India. He feels that an increasing number of male students are being committed to transforming gender roles in his country looking for gender equality with discussions in class, writing essays, conducting academic research in order to discuss the impact of the current legal system. In Sri Lanka we have also seen an increase in the number of male students involved in supporting campaigns on eradicating violence against women, distributing pamphlets and pasting posters with messages to eradicate violence against women. For example, the Foundation for Innovative Social Development (FISD), a local non-governmental organization in Sri Lanka dedicated to improve the living standards in different communities along the country, has been working in this area as part of the campaign BE THE CHANGE engaging Sri Lankan men in different communities along the country.
The engagement of men is happening on many levels and in different groups through the distribution of posters challenging men’s roles and the organization of sport activities and the use of theater shows. Behavior changes are needed and social transformation can only be achieved through a relevant engagement of men.