More and more organizations around the world emphasize and support the role of men and boys as partners against gender violence and for equal rights. In addition to benefits for women and girls from this approach, there are benefits for men and boys, - and for families, communities and development itself. More exchange of lessons learned by organizations working with men and boys against gender violence could strengthen the work of those involved, and stimulate the creation of even more such organizations. They have a vital role to play in eliminating discrimination and violence against women and girls, as well as freeing men and boys from the limits and risks of stereotypic definitions for their own gender roles.
This is so because the primary cause of gender-based violence is the unequal relationship between men and women based on stereotypes of the male as privileged and powerful, the female as inferior and submissive. Such stereotypes have been taught the world over to boys and girls from early childhood. All too many men, prompted by their sense of what is “masculine,” use violence and intimidation to keep women and girls “in their place” – a submissive one. They also seek to reaffirm their masculinity in many ways among their male peers. To end gender violence, then, it is necessary to challenge the very narrow stereotypes of masculinity and femininity wherever they are found and the related norms. In short, it will be necessary to socialize children for equality, ending discrimination by gender from the earliest age onwards, if gender based violence is to end and human rights are to be fulfilled. Parents, teachers, community leaders, policy makers, the media – all have a role to play.
Empowerment of girls and women is obviously an important part of the formula. But it is both unjust and impractical to expect those who are discriminated against to end the discrimination by themselves. Working with men and boys to question the idea and practice of “automatic” male power and privilege, along with “female inferiority,” based on gender definitions, is essential, but it is a newer idea. It will require a revolution in attitudes and behaviors as well as in the nature of institutions.
Ruth Hayward, Sr. Advisor