BLOG: Violence against women is a gender issue. That means everyone has a role in ending it.
Bangkok, Thailand - November 25 is White Ribbon Day. The White Ribbon Campaign is a male-led campaign to end violence against women. Men are encouraged to take a stand and say that violence, in any form, is never acceptable.
James Lang, Coordinator of Partners for Prevention, blogs about why it is important to engage men in ending violence against women.
Numerous times I have been asked by other men, “What is it like working on violence against women, I mean, as a man?” “Do you feel like an outsider doing this work?” Or sometimes, “Shouldn’t a woman be doing your job?” Implied with these questions are the assumptions that men do not have a role to play in ending violence against women, that this is the responsibility solely of women. I wholeheartedly disagree, so in response to these questions I try to explain a few basic points:
• It is primarily men’s violence that we are talking about, so men must be involved in preventing it. We do know violence is preventable, and boys and men need to be involved for the solutions to work.
• Ending violence against women requires partnerships among women and men of all walks of life. Along with women, men have important roles to play as peers, colleagues, role models, decision makers, parents, partners and friends to create the change needed to stop violence.
• Personally, I want to see a world defined by peace, empathy and equality where all people are free to choose how they live, relate to one another, and share in both public and private spheres. So as a man, this is my issue too.
The point about men being involved in the solution points to what we have learned from projects involving boys and men that have flourished in the last decade or so in Australia and across the world. The effective initiatives that involve boys and men are focused on changing systems, attitudes and or practices and are based on an understanding of men, gender and violence – and what the three have to do with each other. If we want a future in which the ‘ideal man’ is one who is oriented towards peace, who is actively engaged in creating a socially just world, then we must work now to change the factors that encourage men to discriminate against and sexualize women, that value men as protectors and providers over men who spend time caring for their family or supporting partners who work, and that encourage some men to use violence.
Much of the theory behind these initiatives draws upon what we call a gender-power perspective. In other words, understanding violence as a rooted in the unequal power relations between women and men and different groups of people. But what can we conclude by using a more evidence-based, epidemiological or public health approach to understanding men’s use of violence?
The programme I am working for, Partners for Prevention, is implementing a research project called The Change Project which aims to understand the root causes of gender-based violence and their relation to masculinities. Over 10,000 men have been surveyed in seven countries across Asia and the Pacific - Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Viet Nam – providing a more holistic picture of the social structures, underlying norms, attitudes and behaviours related to men’s use of violence in different countries.
Our research has confirmed the voices of many gender activists and theorists - that violence is a gendered issue that is tied to notions of what it means to be a man. For example, a large proportion of both women and men in the region believe that a woman must tolerate violence to keep her family together and that, to be a man, you must be tough. Similarly, the most common motivation cited by men for their perpetration of rape was a sense of sexual entitlement – a belief that they had a right to control women’s bodies and choices.
Our research has also shown that different types of violence (e.g. intimate partner physical violence, sexual violence within and outside relationships) all have different risk and protective factors associated with their use in different settings, and are perpetrated by different kinds of men at different times in their lives. Across all countries, men’s experiences of child abuse significantly increased the risk that they would perpetrate violence against women later in life. Other risk factors for men’s perpetration included holding gender inequitable attitudes, controlling behaviours, arguing frequently, and being implicated in other types of violence. Mental health issues –stress, depression, a low sense of life satisfaction, alcohol and/ or drug abuse – were also seen to be risk factors associated with men’s use of violence. And these are gender issues for men.
On the flipside, men who were more oriented towards peace, showed empathy, had healthy, non-violent childhood experiences, non-violent conflict resolution skills, and held gender-equitable attitudes. These are all attributes and experiences that can be promoted as ways to prevent violence in the long-term as well as achieve healthy relationships and communities overall. Whether we use a gender-power perspective or a public health approach, we reach the same conclusions: we need to understand ‘men and gender’ better and we need men involved in partnerships with women to transform the versions of masculinities that promote men’s use of violence and control over women.