When dealing with the pervasive force of Gender-Based Violence (GBV), there is a tendency to focus on its effects or the existing legal mechanisms to confront it. In developing countries, the existence of bodies of legislations on the matter tend to be an important first step, but insufficient.
Based on the estimates by UN Women one in three women still experience physical or sexual violence. This speaks loudly about the rampant growth of this social phenomenon that reaches pandemic levels. It is hard to think about any other issue as important as GBV affecting and destroying the life of half of the population around the world. Even more scary, the other half of the population, men, being the perpetrators of such violence.
However, GBV does not occur in a vacuum. It is the result of a system of asymmetric power relations between men and women, supported and reinforced by harmful gender roles, norms and expectations. The privileges that the dominant social system bestow on men allow them to inflict violence on women. Beyond the punitive measures seeking to deter the use of violence, it is the social validation and reinforcement what impedes the eradication of these toxic attitudes and behaviors towards women. In spite of the advancements achieved to eliminate GBV, it is undeniable that the scale and level of this problem has reached epidemic dimensions.
This is the case of India, a vast and fascinating country that serves as home for 17% of the world population. Based on the 2010 IMAGES survey, 68% of men responding think that a “women should tolerate violence in order to keep the family together” and 65% agreed that “there are times when a women deserves to be beaten”. These chilling numbers are a clear indicator of the way in which the absence of justices clears the way for allowing these attitudes and behaviors to take roots.
So, what can be done?
One of the most innovative strategies on this front is the purposeful engagement of men and boys to eradicate GBV. This mean, working with men to change their attitudes and behaviors. This is the case of the Gender Equality Movement in Schools (GEMS) program, implemented by the International Center of Research on Women (ICRW). This program aims to offer girls and boys between the ages of 12 and 14 information and training about current gender roles and norms to foster a healthy reflection. The results of this approach are notorious. Currently, this program is being implemented in 25,000 schools across the country.
In spite of this success, this is by no means an easy task. In Indian culture, traditional gender roles and norms are strongly rooted. The IMAGES survey found that only 16% of men reported to play an equal or greater role in household duties. Girls and boys have to challenge their own views but more significantly, they have to confront their parents about it. This resistant becomes a strong barrier to achieve desired change. When one of the students enrolled in the GEMS’ program said at home that “men and women are equal and should do equal share of work at home”, his mother told him that “after marriage, he will be his wife’s slave”.
To tackle this situation, men also play an important role in challenging harmful norms and gender roles. In male dominated communities such as Gurjars and Rajputs, the Centre for Health and Social Justice (CHSJ) worked in 15 communities to engage men in promoting ideas of equality, including education for women, renouncing the use of GVB and openly talking about taboo topics such as sex, masculinities and health. In some instances, the changes are in a small scale but they are meaningful. This is the case of the situation in a small village in the district of Maharashtra where men push for weddings without dowry and the inclusion of women in joint ownership of land. This is a small yet remarkable step forward.
The elimination of all forms of violence based on gender is a challenging yet necessary issue to address without delay. In order for women to fully exercise and enjoy their rights, men and boys have an essential role to play. India offers some interesting ideas of how to make this happen.