Working with Men to End Gender-based Violence

EuroPROFEM - The European Men Profeminist Network 


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87en_vio ... Violence


An Interchange for Global Action

A Proposal Accepted by the Rockefeller Foundation for a Bellagio Center Conference, October 8-12, 2001

by: Ruth Finney Hayward, Senior Adviser, Ending Violence Against Women and Girls, Gender, Participation and Partnerships Section, UNICEF

Michael Kaufman, International White Ribbon Campaign
James Lang, Research Co-ordinator, INSTRAW
Geoff Prewitt, Civil Society Adviser, UNDP

I. Introduction

The pandemic of gender-based violence has received growing attention since the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna. At the 4th World Conference on Women, in Beijing in 1995, and at the Beijing+5 follow-up conference at the United Nations in June 2000, violence against women was one of the key areas of concern. For equality, development and peace - the themes of the international women's conference - elimination of such violence is a prerequisite. Development practitioners and policy makers are among those who are giving more attention to the scourge of gender based violence as an obstacle on the way towards realization of a wide range of development goals, - from the elimination of poverty to the fulfilment of human rights. At the grass roots level, one sees a growing number of diverse projects and innovative initiatives that focus on the roles and responsibilities of men in ending violence, in addition to the widespread efforts to empower women. "Gender" is increasingly being treated as a concept that applies equally to the roles of women and men as these are culturally prescribed. The framing of "gender," then, is not only a women's issue. It is one for both women and men to consider as it is about the construction of their roles and relationships, with power usually unequal between them. With the emergence of varied and at times endogenous initiatives and policies to do with men's as well as women's responsibility to re-examine gender roles and relations and to end gender-based violence, there is an excellent opportunity now to assess what is happening around the world, and strengthen results. From the grassroots and policy levels, individuals who have inspired this movement, with men and women as partners against gender-based violence, have much to learn from each other by engaging in an active cross-regional exchange, drawing out implications for both policy and action.

Gender hierarchies and gender inequalities, wherever they are found, both reflect and perpetuate gender-based violence. Gender-based violence manifests itself primarily as men’s violence against women and girls, and in a wide variety of forms. This aspect of gender-based violence is now on the international agenda. At the same time there is now extensive research that indicates that gender-based violence is also the most accurate descriptor for violence among men: fighting among boys, violence in sport, violence against men who are not thought to be conforming to the norms and expectations for 'masculinity', and even as a co-determinant of war. It is becoming clear, then, that gender-based violence restricts women - and children’s development - by curtailing their freedoms and restricting their full spectrum of rights. In addition, constricting gender roles can deprive both men and women of their rights to realise their full potential. It can even be said that the expectation that men be aggressive and violent is in itself a kind of gender-based violence which affects men and boys as well as women and girls. Accordingly, the recommended actions to prevent gender-based violence include challenging gender role stereotypes, as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (The Women's Convention - but known as CEDAW) makes very clear (articles 5a and 5b). Thus, men are being called on, and recognized, as necessary partners against gender-based violence which demeans and diminishes them as it does women and children.

II. Objectives of the Meeting

The proposed meeting would bring together men and women from all regions of the world who are in the forefront of work with men in ending gender-based violence. A few researchers with theoretical interests in the construction of gender and patriarchy would also be invited. Most participants would be from the grassroots level in their countries; however, others would offer examples of what is being done in the public policy realm. Their collective experiences would be key for an assessment of what really works to change the attitudes and behaviours that lie behind gender-based violence. The focus would be on men as partners against violence, working for its prevention, rather than on perpetrators(See Bright and Ryle, 2000) themselves. The objectives are to:

1. Document cases of innovative initiatives focused on working with men as partners to prevent and end gender-based violence, their successful and/or replicable characteristics, the main obstacles that were overcome, and their relevance for policy development. (See case study guideline, annex 1)

2. Initiate sharing, learning and partnership building among the participant practitioners, some of whom may be working in relative isolation, and encourage continued innovation and research in this field through multi-stakeholder dialogue, as well as a global knowledge network.

3. Identify some key issues and explore related views about what makes for effective programmes with men against gender-based violence and for good partnerships at all levels of society.

4. Recommend priorities for follow-up actions, policy development and programming in all regions, for possible support by various United Nations agencies, government and private sources. Men's as well as women's work against gender-based violence will be addressed.

III. Background

The achievement of gender equality, and thus sustainable development, requires the informed participation of both men and women. Through the various processes of socialisation, men and women all too often have been steered toward, and have learned to reinforce, inequitable gender relations. Men are privileged in gendered hierarchies and many feel entitled to this privilege. Gender equality has become something which men may dismiss as a women's issue if it is not framed as a fundamental requirement for development, rights and peace for all.

In general, men are at the top of the gender order. Due to other forms of inequality, however, not all groups of men have access to power in the same fashion. Gender inequalities can be inter-linked with other forms of inequality such as those based upon race, ethnicity, class and geographical location. With the dramatic changes brought about by the processes of globalization – in labour, production, consumption, and caring sectors – both men and women are taking on new responsibilities that do not conform to older prescriptions for their gender roles. In some cases, gender-based violence can be attributed to the stresses of these changing roles. At the same time, the fact that traditional definitions of gender roles are being challenged can lead to more equality and partnership.

There has been increasing recognition of the need for involvement of men in the work towards gender equality. Conceptually, the shift in emphasis from Women in Development (WID) to Gender and Development (GAD) invites a focus on relationships among women and men, different groups of women and groups of men - and to equity - within these relations. It also gives emphasis to the extent to which gender roles and relations can vary over time and space, with hope for change for more equality.

The GAD approach signals three departures from WID. First, the focus shifts from women to gender and the unequal power relations between women and men. Second, all social, political, and economic structures and development are re examined from the perspective of gender differentials. Third, it is recognized that achieving gender equality requires transformative change. (United Nations 1999, p. ix)

And men, being the ones with most of the power in most societies, clearly have a role to play. One way to begin discussions concerning the role of men, their responsibility, and their potential in work with women for transformative change is through the exploration of the meanings and uses of masculinity.(See for example, Kaufman 1993.)

If we understand masculinity and femininity as fluid and socialised, we can begin to understand the ways that structural pressures, cultural messages and/or parenting and education practices, have contributed to men’s socialisation into violence. We can identify a culture around violence that is linked to the use of power in establishing control over, for example, production, labour and life choices. Thus, a more historical interpretation of how violence became institutionalised could help demystify the myths around male violence (Greig, Kimmel and Lang 2000, p13, and see Hayward, 2000.)

Men's and women's relationship to violence is usually more complex than simply male perpetrators and female victims. This is not to deny the reality of women's suffering at the hands of men and that women are at far greater risk of being the victims of acts of violence by men than men are from women. However, analysis and intervention become more complicated when gender-based interpersonal violence is placed within structures, cultures and histories of violence that both men and women have produced and reproduced. In this light, it is useful to consider not only the violence of men and misogyny but the violence that lies at the heart of homophobia, racism and other forms of oppression as the are embedded in social constructions of masculinity and femininity. In this sense, a development response to gender-based violence should not only consider working with individual men and women but also, for example, addressing issues of human rights, discrimination and socialization. ( See for example, Hayward, 2000)

The credit belongs primarily to women for bringing forward the issue of violence against women as a human rights abuse, and for having this accepted by the world community. Women's ministries, Women in Development and Gender and Development units in international organizations, and women's non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have brought about many positive changes, particularly in laws and services to protect women from gender-based violence, as well as in policy discussions. In light of the progress, and the fact that men are the primary perpetrators, one might ask, "Why, then, seek to involve men against violence to women and girls?" Indeed, some women who have fought hard to be heard, to have resources for their cause, may not want to share with men their space and limited resources for work against gender-based violence. Nonetheless, some reasons to encourage the necessary work with men against gender-based violence are:

1. Responsibility: Men and boys are primarily responsible for gender-based violence and thus are indispensable in the struggle to end it. Men’s responsibility, however, is often overlooked even in the language we use to describe violence. Some argue for the use of the phrase, "Men's violence against women and girls," rather than the passive "gender-based violence" or “violence against women and girls” (Katz and Jhally, 2000; also Katz and Earp, 1999). The latter phrases leave the source of the violence a vague matter and do not immediately call for more reflection and sense of responsibility on the part of men and boys. On the other hand, “men’s violence” brings the subject back into clear view. Additionally, not all men and boys are perpetrators of violence. Many men, like some women, remain silent bystanders, tacitly compliant to the gender-based violence around them. By acknowledging that some men are aggressors, and by placing violence into a proper cultural and historical context - men, both aggressors and non-aggressors - can be targeted as agents of change as opposed to simply figures of blame.

2. Men’s potential and influence: Unequal power relationships between women and men, as defined by culture, are recognized as a main cause of gender-based violence (Coomarawaswamy 1994). As noted above, men world-wide are generally privileged in the gender order, and have greater access to political and economic power. Thus, women alone cannot be expected to change cultural norms and attitudes that are abusive towards them, particularly where they have less influence and leverage. In addition, successes of recent initiatives highlight the potential of men speaking to other men about gender-based violence – whether in peer groups, the media, political forum or informal settings. In short, the potential and influence of men in combating violence remains a relatively untapped complement to the on-going efforts of women.

3. Rights: Securing the broad spectrum of human rights of men and women is a cornerstone of development. There should not be any discrimination in the protection and fulfilment of human rights. Men and boys, just as much as women and girls, have the right to lives free of violence and to develop their own potential as caring and secure human beings. The deaths of so many men from violence, primarily from other men, as well as suicide, tell us that it is in the self-interest of men as well as women to question expectations for males to be "aggressive" or prone to violence as a sign of manliness. Variations from culture to culture in murder rates of men by men (Damon 1999) are among the indicators that biology does not dictate one narrow expression of masculinity. Perceived and coerced expectations placed upon men in narrowly defined models of masculinity restrict the rights of women and men. Finding and promoting examples of men who want to stop gender-based violence can encourage even more men to understand violence as an infringement upon their own rights while helping to protect those of women and girls.

4. Unifying Women and Men around an Expansive Meaning of Gender: As mentioned above, gender roles and relationships refer to cultural prescriptions for men and women, boys and girls. In practice, however, there is still the tendency to look primarily at women's roles and positions, not men's, in gender analysis and related work. Gender gaps have tended to be interpreted as “where women and girls are left behind”, rather than where women and girls or men and boys are left behind. In addition, gender-based violence tends to be thought of as “violence towards women and girls” without enough attention to the historical/cultural context that produces such violence, and which needs re-invention if it is to end. A focus on men’s roles in ending gender-based violence is one entry point that leads to a greater understanding of gender and its implications for development practice. The realizations that 1) "gendered violence" is not simply biologically determined but culturally prescribed and connected to other forms of discrimination, and 2) that it can be directed towards men and boys as well as women and girls, lead towards a more expansive and useful treatment of gender in development work with emphasis on partnerships between women and men.

5. The cycle of violence and outcomes for development targets: Violence in the family has a series of negative impacts on children as well as on women and men. These impacts are connected to a number of targets for development work, particularly in health and education. For example, pregnancy is a risk factor for beating, particularly for younger women who may be unmarried or those with unwanted pregnancies. Increased risk of infant or maternal mortality, or both, has been associated with such beating. And children of women who are beaten are often beaten themselves, or suffer from trauma brought on by witnessing such violence. Results as varied as eating and sleep disturbances, depression, dropping out of school, increased risk of drugs, crime and suicide are among those documented, as is increased risk of violence in the next generation. These risks are not adequately discussed in the public arena as part of a public health concern with a focus on prevention. (See Hayward, 2000).

IV. Building on Progress to Date

Work with men as partners against gender-based violence is on-going in many countries in a variety of forms. Some approaches include men more or less by chance, while others are more direct and explicit about the importance of men's involvement. Men may be appealed to in society at large or through key professions where they play dominant roles, such as in law enforcement and the legal field. The family is also used as an entry point; men are addressed as fathers, husbands, brothers and sons. Sometimes men themselves are the organizers of movements and groups against violence towards women and girls. Some are protest movements, while others focus on prevention.

The United Nations Men’s Group for Gender Equality is one example of an initiative that has attempted to document and disseminate findings from these diverse projects around the world (see Preliminary findings from this group, as well as other research, points out that there are a number of approaches to working with men as partners. Work to date also reveals that there is an obvious need to connect these disparate initiatives both conceptually and physically in order to encourage learning and sharing, overcome isolation and strengthening impact on policy decisions.

Approaches include:


1. Questioning narrow definitions of gender roles and relations, including limited definitions of "masculinity." Many examples exist in this area including theoretical and applied work. Formal and informal courses and groups abound with numerous publications, materials and web sites. The focus tends to be gender without explicit attention to men and masculinity. There are, however, some examples of men's groups that discuss masculinity and gender. There are also some publications that focus primarily on men's gender roles, and how masculinity is, or could be, defined. (For example, Pro-feminist Men's Groups Violence against women and girls, and the way in which this flows from culturally defined and stereotypic gender roles and relationships, may or may not be an explicit concern.

2. Finding and featuring good examples of men against violence, as models for others. This approach is based on the assumption that some men naturally challenge the acceptability of violence against women and girls. It calls for more visibility, space and resources for such men, whether individuals or in groups, to learn about each other's efforts, reinforce them, and lead change in social norms accordingly (see, for example, Hayward 2000 and 1997).

3. Raising professional standards. Professionals in the legal and health systems have key roles to play in prevention of and response to acts of violence against women and girls. To date there has been a great deal of advocacy with or training of men in influential positions, particularly in the legal system, so that they will be more aware of gender violence, and supportive of actions against it while discharging their professional responsibilities. For example, in the former Czech Republic, The White Circle of Security is said to include "Rescuers," -men in the judiciary, legal profession, and police - who help protect women and girls from violence, by making sure that perpetrators are brought to account. And leaders in some professions, such as the judiciary, have had international meetings to review what they could do to raise the standards of their professions in this regard (see UNDAW, 1999, for example.) In medicine, a forthcoming international conference on violence and health, sponsored by The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) and a number of other associations and agencies, will stimulate physicians and other health providers to improve how they deal with cases of domestic violence, and act to prevent it. Co-operation between legal and health professionals in reporting cases is also a priority.

4. Calling on and organizing men in society at large to protest against violence to women and take initiatives for more equal gender roles and relationships. White Ribbon Campaign is the best known example, - now the largest movement in the world of men against violence to women and girls. A group of men in Canada started it after the slaughter of 14 women in a technical school there (White Ribbon Campaign, 1991). The founders of the movement thought it was vital to speak out against what happened, the kind of ideas behind it (that women should not depart from "traditional" roles, and should be punished if they did), and to call on other men to make it clear that they do not support violence against women and girls. Actions with youth to promote egalitarian gender roles and relations are a key part of the White Ribbon Campaign. So is support for initiatives by men in various parts of the world against gender violence. For example, in Namibia in February, 2000, some 250 men organized by an NGO, the Legal Assistance Centre, came together in a national meeting on men’s roles against violence to women and girls. Training of facilitators was provided by the White Ribbon Campaign.

5. Focusing on men's roles in the family, as partners, in reproductive health, and in parenting. These entry points encourage the prevention of exploitation and violence in family life and interpersonal relations. Any work with youth in preparation for family life, to feature equality and avoid violence, would be an example. Educational materials for men on the unacceptability of domestic violence, including sexual abuse, incest and rape in the family, is another. Related to reproductive health, encouraging men to get timely assistance for their pregnant wives can help eliminate maternal mortality, as can information on the effects of battering in pregnancy. Obviously, working with men to take more responsibility to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS makes sense, although ideas about "masculinity" in relation to active sexuality can sometimes limit results. UNAIDS in its current campaign emphasizes the importance of working with and through men to help stop the HIV/AIDS pandemic (see Rivers and Aggleton, 1999 ). This means that men should be encouraged to change their behaviour if they are unwilling to consider the preferences of women to have sexual relations with them or not and to use contraceptives or not. It also means that men, not only women, should be responsible in their sexual relationships, to behave in ways that limit the spread of HIV/AIDS. As for men's roles in parenting, some programmes have brought out the importance for children of a father’s active participation in childcare, without violence, and with equal attention to both girls and boys. More direct messages can be developed about the harm and illegality of sexual abuse, incest and rape in the family.

V. Structure of the Meeting

Among the more interesting but lesser known initiatives of men against violence to women and girls are those at grass root level, particularly in developing countries, that emerge from the insights and courage of innovative individuals and groups. The proposed meeting at Bellagio would plan to feature such initiatives, some still to be identified, from all regions of the world, and stimulate exchange and planning among them. Examples from the arts and in work with media will also be considered. Support for interpretation in Spanish, French and English would be sought, and in Arabic if necessary. Participants would each provide a 10-15 page account of their work including lessons-learned (please see Annex I). They would also identify up to five questions that they would like to discuss at the meeting to get the benefit of others' experience and to help clarify their own thinking and plans. They would also be encouraged to develop proposals for future work, for initial discussion at the meeting, and for further planning and development.

The meeting would lead from presentations to structured discussions to informal discussions. Ample time for reflection will be scheduled to culminate in concrete proposals for stronger networks, partnership building and programmes from grassroots to global levels. By including some researchers with at least theoretical interests in the construction of gender, masculinities and patriarchy, theoretical work will also be enriched.

Preliminarily products will include the meeting report, a network among participants and those whom they recommend, and written proposals for consideration by various donors. The primary output of the meeting will be a publication that consolidates the findings of case study examples and begins to outline a series of policy recommendations. The strengthened networks, including through the United Nations Men's Group for Gender Equality, will also be important and useful results.

United Nations agencies and private organisations would be encouraged to support some of the more promising ideas for action to prevent gender-based violence through more attention and support to men's roles. It should be understood, however, that the meeting would not focus on proposal development or financing. Rather, it would provide an opportunity for exchange, learning, and creative explorations that could lead to innovations within existing programmes and resources just as well to new proposals or partners.

Some examples of the types of groups and individuals being considered are:

· Latin America and the Caribbean - [Examples deleted]

· Asia – [Examples deleted]

· Africa - [Examples deleted]

· North America and Europe - [Examples deleted].

While many of the groups may be represented by male activists, women who work against gender-based violence will also be represented to ensure that their views are heard, particularly in regard to partnerships, or not, with men. [Examples deleted]

A few government representatives and decision-makers who have taken up this issue will also participate, [Examples omitted] but will remain in the minority.

As noted, participants will be span thematic, organizational, and regional affiliation, providing their work is focused on the involvement of men in ending gender-based violence. It is envisaged that participants will have different specialities or, other-wise stated, some individuals may have expertise in advocacy and campaigning while others in theory and policy while others in networking and practice. It is recognized, however, that these categories are not mutually exclusive and many leading practitioners lend themselves to different realms of activity. Lastly, in order to ensure future support of working with men in ending gender-based violence, the participation of youth will be encouraged.

VI. Conclusion

It is foreseen that the Bellagio conference will be an initial dialogue with lasting and reverberating outcomes. Over the course of the past five years, there has been a groundswell of belief that men can, and should be viewed as, and serve as, a vital constituent to end gender-based violence. In fact, Eva Moberg, noted Swedish playwright and author has proposed a world conference on men and masculinity*, to balance the world conferences on women. However, in spite of growing support for more attention to men's roles and responsibilities in ending violence, little has so far been initiated at a global level with a visible profile in order to reach wider constituencies for progressive changes in attitude, behaviour, and, subsequent action at government and other levels to reduce gender-based violence. Further, there is a dearth of shared experiences and exchanges of dialogue between the North and South. In spite of modest successes premised on the recognition of the role of men in ending gender-based violence, a great deal more is required. From the proposed meeting, it is anticipated that further consultations and planning would follow, bringing together a wide-range of stakeholders from various walks of life.

Thereby, any deliberations on this topic need to be considered as a contribution to an iterative process, a process that needs to evolve in order to touch more concretely upon areas of gender inequality and power asymmetries. There will be an interplay between what is being learned from practice and theory, with implications for policy. The importance ending gender-based violence for the fulfillment of human rights and the acceleration of development has not yet been recognized enough. Bellegio will provide a requisite step toward a larger foundation of unifying women and men around the promotion of gender equality in all of its facets, and promote progress towards a world committed to the rights for all its citizens, without the pandemic of violence based on gender.



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