Worldwide, a huge number of men are victims of violence; in homes, during wars and on the street. Men and boys are fodder in battle, crime and corruption and are brutalised during military service , police service and in prisons.
However, an online survey shows that those who talk about violence against men, who show support for male victims or discuss the need for efforts to end this violence are quite often denounced and called enemies of women and equality and accused of misunderstanding gender-based violence.
Moreover, in the global development context, combatting violence against men has been firmly kept in the backseat compared to dealing with violence against women, to the point to which the phrase ‘gender based violence’ (GBV) is almost synonymous with that of ‘violence against women’.
The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) states on its page “Gender-based violence and violence against women are often used interchangeably as most gender-based violence is inflicted by men on women and girls.” Meanwhile, the UNFPA page on gender-based violence begins “Violence against women and girls is”, while UNOCHA’s page on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) makes no mention of male victims. This immediate reference to women is followed on many key development agencies’ websites.
In the development sector, an emphasis is put on men as perpetrators of violence. Men are portrayed as a homogenous and powerful group. It is rarely acknowledged that all forms of violence, physical, emotional, sexual and financial, against men are real. The suffering of men and boys is belittled, or even ridiculed, and quite often ignored. Resultantly, there are currently very few significant interventions dealing with violence against men.
Societies justify raising boys and men to be violent based on the assumption that men are aggressive by nature – thus constructions of masculinity value violence as a natural part of being a man. Moreover, this violence is seen as a mean of attaining power, when in actuality many men find themselves powerless and voiceless. For example, in the situation of child soldiers in West Africa, much more attention was paid to the boys’ actions against women and not on the situation of kidnap, brainwashing and abuse that the boys themselves endured.
Though the situation of child soldiers and male victims of SGBV has at least been acknowledged at a high level within the UN – in 2013, men and boys were named as victims of sexual violence in a UN Security Council Resolution – domestic violence against men barely receives a mention. This lack of attention continues through national, local and grassroots organisations where countless organisations focus on violence against women and almost none on men.
Ending violence against men should be as much a priority as ending violence against women. We cannot expect a man or a boy whose dreams, ideals and life have been shattered by rape, brutality, coerced military service or incarceration, to treat the women and men in his life any better than he has been treated. Furthermore, we must see the individual human, male or female, victim of violence as worthy of care and not to tend towards on the basis of gender. Human suffering is neither measurable nor comparable – we cannot assume that men feel pain less than women, nor that they can take care of themselves.
This is an extremely unpopular argument. Statistics and colloquial evidences show that women suffer violence in greater numbers than men. Women at household, community, national and global level wield less power than men and many societies still use harmful traditional practices that are physically and emotionally detrimental to women. Thus the needs of women have been prioritised in terms of resources and attention and, considering that women do suffer violence in greater numbers than men, this focus is justified.
Nonetheless, a recent research has shown that men and boys experience violence at a much higher rate then previously anticipated; for instance among a group of DRC refugees in Congo nearly 40 per cent of men reported having experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, two out of five British victims of domestic abuse are male and the majority of deaths in war are of men and boys.
As a result, men have been marginalised to a point that male victims of violence receive negligible support, resources or even recognition both in the global south and industrialised nations. For example, though SGBV against men in conflict situations was discussed during the height of the Congo conflict, very little has emerged in terms of policy or high-level action by key development and humanitarian actors. Additionally, the kidnap and execution of boys and men by Boko Haram and ISIS has only fleeting mention in the international news despite our knowledge of the experiences of kidnapped boy soldiers especially in places such as Liberia and Sierra Leone.
It is key to remember that working to end violence against men in no way diminishes the fight against violence on women. The human rights and development community have to see men as more than a factor in improving the lives of women and expand their definitions and interventions to provide men who experience violence the same care, support and resources as are advocated for women.
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