The panel discussing how men and boys can be encouraged to work for gender equality at a Development Talks seminar at Sida.
Gender equality makes also men happier, healthier and stronger!
In a world of inequality, aid programmes must concentrate their efforts especially on women, something that does not come without resistance. Women’s increasing independence can sometimes be regarded as a threat by men in their surroundings and therefore increase the risk of gender based violence and sexual harassment. This is a gloomy fact for the equality projects around the world and has led researchers within foreign aid to focus more of their research on questions such as: Why do men feel threatened and how can we make them supportive instead of resistant towards a gender-equal development?
It is clear that the subject is an engaging one. The seminar “Work with Men and Boys for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment” held on the 16th of September attracted 150 participants from different parts of the development arena in Sweden.
Tim Shand from Sonke Gender Justice Network in South Africa stated that wars and conflicts are important reasons to why men are becoming more violent against their women and children. A survey performed amongst poor families in conflict-stricken areas of Malawi and DR Congo points out that men as well as women believe that being the family provider and sexually active is central to the male role. However, when a region is facing war and conflict, residents have to flee and men lose their ability to provide for their families. Finding some kind of job is often easier for women; thus the men lose their role as family provider. The loss of self-confidence and the feeling of shame drive men to become violent towards their family and women in their surroundings. Some 50 per cent of the survey’s participants claim that they have been exposed to violence from their partners and many women have also been sexually assaulted.
The children are also heavily affected by men’s violence. Almost 40 per cent of the inquired children had seen their mothers being assaulted and many, even amongst the boys, claimed they had been forced to perform sexual acts by someone in their surroundings, for example a teacher, a priest or a neighbor..
"The image of masculinity is formed during childhood. Boys that are being forced to watch their mothers being assaulted and raped are more likely to become perpetrators themselves," Tim Shand summarized.
Imtiaz Pavel, associated with the Mirror Institute and engaged in the UN partnership Partners for Prevention, referred to a similar survey being conducted in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
Approximately half of the inquired men admitted they had assaulted their partner sexually and about 20 per cent said that they had raped their partner or another woman. Most of the time the culprit is a young male and many make their sexual debut by committing rape in their early teens. The majority of these men claim they have never been punished for their crime.
A deeper analysis of the material revealed that the rapists had also been exposed to physical as well as mental abuse in their childhood and they had often seen their mothers being beaten. Numerous offenders bore signs of depression and alcohol abuse was widespread. The data shows that poverty and lack of education also played its part.
In societies that upholds male sexuality and male precedence, powerless men use violence against women to grasp a sense of power, says Imtiaz Pavel.
– "Violence against women is based on gender inequality and the social norms that control the relationship between men and women are the most important factor. The other vital factor is whether or not the male has been exposed to violence as a juvenile."
Imtiaz Pavel ends with a positive message: Violence against women is preventable, but to do so we need to take heavy measures. Amongst other things, Pavel emphasizes the need for judicial legislation against all forms of violence against women and projects to prevent assaults against children. He also expresses the necessity of support for a broad discussion about gender equality, a softer role of masculinity and a more equal sexuality.
What’s important is how we are as people, not as men or women
Jerker Edström, researcher at the Institute for Development Studies in Sussex, England, emphasized the impingement of male norms and patriarchal structures on all of us, even benevolent western aid workers who assert their willingness to prevent violence against women.
"From our perspective we often focus on the need to make males in poverty-stricken parts of Asia and Africa change their way of thinking. We must address the problem in a more sophisticated manner. A patriarchal society does not favour all men as much and some men suffer from this. However, the structural male predominance permeates our societies on all levels. We must realize that we ourselves are a part of the power structures we claim to fight."
His advice to the audience was to identify, and openly oppose, the male norms that control the way we think and act.
"You don’t need to call yourself a feminist to work with equality issues. However, the way I see it, you definitely need to have a clear understanding of the normative frameworks and clearly oppose these patriarchal structures!"
How will the new social norms for men and women appear in a less patriarchal society, one of the listeners wondered.
This we don’t know, and we don’t have to ponder about it either, alleged Jesper Edström.
"New gender roles are about to be formed, for example by gay couples having children. They are parents who manage to both take care of the household and work. It is much better if we think about how we want to be as people, and not as men or women."
Gary Baker, chief of the organisation Promundo in Brazil and one of the founders of the organisation MenEngage, had a positive message for all men who are wondering why they should refrain from their current privileges.
"Men in gender-equal environments are happier, stronger and live longer – and so do their wives!"
His research has for instance mapped out what characterizes men with a positive attitude on gender equality and who don’t accept violence against women. Some key factors are that these men have not been exposed to violence in their childhood, they have taken care of younger siblings and have knowledge about gender equality. Furthermore these men are often younger, have at least a high school education, work fewer hours than average and have a wife who is also formally working.
Gary Baker proposed structural projects within at least four different areas to prevent violence against women and improve gender equality. First of all, support for the welfare sector is needed, for example by having men attend the antenatal clinic together with their woman when they are expecting a baby. Moreover men need to be engaged in aid projects directed towards women, schools need to implement gender equality programmes to change the norms and lastly the work for peace and security need to include an explicit gender perspective.
Projects to reduce poverty are also vital, he states.
"Economic stress due to unemployment is an important explanation to violence against women as well as to extremism. If we ignore this fact we are blind!"
The ongoing work to change the role of masculinity is still in its cradle and the question is how to develop and broaden this theme. This issue is central for the researcher Dean Peacock, one of the founders of MenEngage and Sonke Gender Justice Network and advisor for UN-chief Ban Ki-Moon in questions regarding men’s violence against women. Along with other things, he suggested assistance for local and national media campaigns and local authorities’ external communication. The development and implementation of good strategies and policies for gender equality, locally and nationally as well as globally, was also deemed a vital necessity.
Sida has been a very persevering and important support in the efforts to develop the male role, Dean Peacock accentuated.
"Without Sida’s support we wouldn’t be where we are today! Progress is taking place; thousands of men were recently out on the streets protesting in Delhi, India against a brutal rape. That would have been unthinkable just 20 years ago."
Discussions and debate: Where do we go from here?
The next part of the seminar was group discussions about how to strengthen the work with men and boys within areas such as health, education and women’s independence. Lastly the Development Talks was concluded with a panel debate. Represented in the panel were Björg Skotnes, responsible for equality issues on the Norwegian aid agency Norad, Tarja Reponen, ambassador of equality at the Finnish foreign ministry, Carina Olsson (S), member of parliament, Elisabeth Björnsdotter Rahm (M), member of parliament and Georg Andrén, Director of Programme Cooperation. Hence, all participants were people who make decisions, give advice and distribute allocations to different projects regarding gender equality. The theme of the debate was how we can move forward with the issues raised during the day.
There seemed to be a wide agreement within the panel and the proposals were fairly consistent. What appeared to be the general consensus was that the time of trial-and-error is over and the moment has come for real, wide-ranging, efforts to develop the traditional masculine role into a more equal and progressive one. Demands for an increased parenting role for fathers were being raised and education about gender equality within the school system was named as an important starting point. A broader analysis of the economy, one that does not differentiate the reproductive economy within the household from the salary-based productive economy, is also needed. Both parts are equally important but the reproductive economy is not measurable in numbers and is therefore not integrated in the general analysis. Lastly the panel suggested that men and boys should be highlighted in the new development goals, Post 2015, with strategic indicators of the same sort as for women that are being highlighted in relation to specific goals.
"There has been a resistance towards including men in the work for gender equality and that is something we have to change. Without the participation of men, we won’t be able the get any further," summarized Björg Skotnes.