Why engage men in the fight to end violence against women and girls?
There is evidence that working with men to promote gender equality in health can yield positive results
The World Health Assembly, at its meeting in Geneva in 1996, adopted a resolution declaring violence a leading worldwide public health problem. Across the many different types of violence delineated by WHO, including self-directed, interpersonal and collective violence, between men and against women, men are overwhelmingly found in the role of the perpetrators. Male violence is a learned behaviour and men are socialized in much of the world to be violent. Men’s use of violence is in itself usually part of an affirmation of male norms and masculinities, in addition to being part of a power structure in which men with more power (e.g. older boys and men, men in dominant social classes) subjugate younger boys and men with violence.
Violence and its acceptance, is central to the operation and maintenance of relations of inequality. Nowhere is this clearer than in the unequal relations of power between men and women. Male violence is used to produce and reproduce the subordination of women, and patriarchal norms and practices create the conditions that condone and even encourage men’s violence against women. Tackling men’s violence is an essential component of any effort that seeks to create greater gender equality.
It is therefore evident why we need to reach out to, and work with men and boys in policies and programmes to end violence against women and girls. While it is necessary to continue working in women-specific programmes to end violence, what are some of the disadvantages of focusing only on women? They include:
- There is a "silent" majority of men who are against violence especially violence against women. Working with men as partners will help to identify these allies in the fight against this problem
- There is an ever increasing number of men who are explicitly and working hard to end violence against women and promote gender equality
- The behaviours and values of men and boys affect the health and well-being of others (girls, boys, women and other men) in their lives
- Leaving men and boys out of efforts to end violence separates them from the solutions to violence, reaffirms gender norms around male violence and leaves the burden of addressing violence squarely on women's shoulders
- Addressing and challenging male violence with multiple partners - including men who use violence and those that oppose it - can help to better delineate the root causes of male violence
- Working with men on this problem is an important strategy to address the effects of violence on families. It has an important positive effect on families and children’s health through their role as fathers, partners and heads of household
Research with men and boys in various settings worldwide has shown how unequal gender norms influence how men interact with their intimate partners and in many other arenas, including preventing the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, using contraceptives, physical violence (both against women and other men), domestic chores, parenting and men’s health-seeking behaviour. There is evidence that working with men to promote gender equality in health can yield positive results.
Specific changes in behaviour that have been confirmed in evaluated programmes with men and boys on violence and gender socialization included, decreased self-reported use of physical, sexual and psychological violence in intimate relationship. Some of these examples are described in the WHO review of evidence of what works in engaging men and boys in changing gender based inequity in health.