By Felogene Anumo, Advocacy Intern, FEMNET
On April 26, 2012 in Nairobi, Kenya, The African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) launched “The Men to Men Strategy Toolkit on Working with Men to Combat Gender Based Violence”. The toolkit aims to strengthen programmes that seek to engage with men to combat gender based violence (GBV). The Strategy Toolkit shares information, tools, activities, and skills building ideas and methods to support organizations and individuals to better understand the needs of working with men to address GBV in collaboration with women’s rights organizations inAfrica.
The launch, attended by well over 200 people, was part of the monthly Gender Forum convened by the Heinrich Boll Stiftung (HBS) inKenya. During the gender forum, a team of panelists explored the root causes of GBV by placing it in the context of deconstructing masculinity and femininity. The discussants highlighted why it is critical that men and boys embrace the tasks of promoting gender equality and ending violence against women; and perhaps just as importantly, how the entire society can work more effectively to ensure that men and boys do embrace this challenge.
FEMNET’s involvement in the Men to Men Project started with a Men to Men Consultation held in December 2001. After piloting inKenyaandMalawi, today the Men to Men Programme is one of the leading regional initiatives that has demystified the role of men in combating gender based violence. This awareness has led to an increase in programs and activities that focus on men’s roles in violence prevention inAfricaand globally.
In the past, gender based violence has been used interchangeably with Violence Against Women despite the fact that GBV is perpetrated against both men and women. This is because most instances of GBV are perpetrated against women. At the launch, Kennedy Odhiambo Otina, Regional Program Associate of the Men to Men Programme at FEMNET addressed this as an issue of negative masculinity being the root cause of violence. According to theOxforddictionary, masculinity is defined as possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men. Negative masculinity can lead to dominance and aggression which ultimately leads to violence. “However, since masculinity is defined within the confines of a society, it is possible to redefine masculinity to be positive and responsive to human rights,” Kennedy said.
Myths and Misconceptions surrounding Gender Roles in the Society
Prof. Nyokabi Kamau, a Gender Consultant, attributed the changing trends of GBV to the misconceptions surrounding the understanding of gender. “When we talk of gender we refer to the social construction of female and male identity learned through social processes” she explained. She emphasized that since gender is learned behavior, it can also be unlearned. “Gender is constructed and therefore can be deconstructed.” Social processes that influence definitions of male and female identity include family, peers, religious institutions and, among the most influential, media.
Also addressed at the forum, was the importance of demystifying gender equity and empowerment and how this influences the changing roles of men and women in the modern society. Most modern societies are patriarchal in nature. As Beverline Ongaro, an Advocate with High Court put it, “Men who are likely to commit violence are men who over-identify with traditional masculine values and roles.” Cultural and societal expectations of men influence how men are taught to think and act in relation to women. However, we need to rethink this in the changing modern society. Empowering women does not mean disempowering men.
Oscar Odhiambo, a participant, agreed that there is need to empower men to understand gender equality and how it affects the society, to enable an environment where it is possible to raise stable families. Another participant felt that while there is absolutely no justification for violence, it is the role of both men and women to curb this vice and not solely a woman’s issue. When it comes to discussing gender issues, one of the participants felt that such discussions need to be conducted more objectively by doing away with terms such as ‘weaker sex’, ‘the disadvantaged’ for example.
With the escalating cases and changing trends of GBV on the continent, it is clear that the vice is a problem of the entire society and not solely of women or men. Men’s role in preventing violence against women is very critical. Our society must accept that violence against women will not end until men become part of the solution. Men can take up an active role in the prevention of violence against women by examining their own potential for violence and not condoning or perpetuating violence, by taking a visible stand against the violence caused by other men, and by addressing the root causes of violence such as unequal power relations.
It is our hope that FEMNET’s experience in working with men documented in the Men to Men Strategy Toolkit, will contribute to a better understanding of the role men can play in combating GBV.
Download a copy: Men to Men Strategy Toolkit
For further information, please contact: Ken Otieno firstname.lastname@example.org