Tackling traditional male role vital to curb violence against women (Daily news)

Published 11/25/2014 | Updated 11/25/2014

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. And it comes at a time when men are responsible for a clear majority of that violence that continues unabated despite various efforts by the government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to curb it.

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Photo: Weighing babies at clinic. Participaton of men in ensuring that their families are safe and healthy goes a long way in reducing violence against women and children.

On the other hand, outdated traditional views and norms also fuel the social anomaly in such a way that people who do not live up to an ideal of masculinity are also victims of violence.

In global terms, the traditional male role can be described not only as a threat to women and children and other men, but also as one of the major hurdle standing in the way of development and universal human rights for all.

According to the Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey (TDHS, 2010), violence against women is a common practice in the country with 39 per cent of women have ever experienced physical violence since the age of 15 years and 20 per cent have experienced sexual violence.

Spousal violence is also reported to be high with 44 per cent of ever married women reported to have experienced physical and sexual violence committed by their spouses.

On the other hand, a big proportion of women seem not to know their rights as 54 per cent of women interviewed believed that wife beating is justified for any of specific reasons compared to 38 per cent of men interviewed.

Also, 40 per cent of married women reported not to participate in decision making regarding their own health care (TDHS, 2010) Men as decision-makers and holders of power do not take women’s needs into account sufficiently and unfortunately often lack awareness that women have human rights.

It is not unusual for women to be seen as property which men dispose over as they see fit. Besides the fact that this is an appalling infringement of the rights of half of the population, it undermines an equal society in which both women and men contribute towards economic and socially sustainable development.

Gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are essential to women being able to live in freedom from violence and to decide over their own lives and bodies.

To get there, we need social change in which the prevailing gender system and norm of masculinity are challenged. And men need to be part of this.

Numerous times, a number of central bodies such as WHO, the World Bank, UN Women and UNFPA have shown how work for gender equality that includes men has led to less violence towards girls and women and contributed towards improved health and other benefits for girls and women and for boys and men.

Flexibility on how work in families and in society is distributed can be completely crucial in poor areas where the incomes of both women and men are needed.

They also assert that from a rights perspective and from a development perspective too, it is vital that women are able to choose whether to have children, when to have children and how many children to have and that women are able to participate in politics and social development.

Education and contraception are also important. Access to contraception has been shown to have a vital impact on girls’ and women’s education and lifetime incomes.

Girls and women who are able to finish school and enter the job market can also contribute towards economic development at different levels and are better placed to control their own lives.

To sum up, we need rights, a more gender equal world that also includes work with men and men who work with gender equality.

We also need contraception and sexuality education that incorporates a gender and power perspective, which has been found to be a gateway for changing many other factors, particularly reducing violence against girls and women. SRHR and gender equality are a cornerstone of development.

In the light of this, it is necessary to step up work with men and men’s work for gender equality. Men, just like women, are responsible for increased gender equality and they are particularly responsible for reducing gender-based violence (GBV).

Men need to become actors in work to combat violence and we need to work to give men tools at an individual and at a structural level to equip them to work against violence and for gender equality.

This work must incorporate a critical examination of existing gender systems (what women and men are expected to be and do) and especially of norms surrounding masculinity.

This must be based on a rights perspective, not least women’s rights and sexual and reproductive rights and have gender equality as its goal. It is important to emphasise that work with boys and men must never take place at the expense of work with girls and women and that women must be part of this work. So, can it be done? Yes it can.

Both Men for Gender Equality and The Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU) have spent several years working on these issues in different projects in Sweden and the wider world.

In Tanzania, RFSU is implementing Tanzanian Men as Equal Partners in Rukwa where it is working with RODI and HAPA in Singida. Through this project, RFSU has worked within and out of school clubs, conducted focus group discussions on GBV and sexuality issues, peer education by men, training of adult peer educators, weekly training sessions targeting men.

The organisation has met boys and men as individuals with questions of their own, as partners and as change agents. The results have been seen in less violence against women, lower teenage pregnancy rates, improved health and perceived benefits for women and men alike.

Societies have embraced the projects as their own and are driving this work further. Naturally, they have encountered resistance too, but to a far lesser extent than might have expected.

It is more in meeting rooms higher up the corridors of power that scepticism and doubt are found and it is therefore time for decisionmakers and ordinary men alike to take responsibility for bringing about change.

Because the traditional male role is one of our greatest obstacles to development, we must make boys and men part of the solution and not solely see men and boys as part of the problem.

Everyone benefits from a gender equal world and failing to even try to attain it, does none of us any favours. There are many men we can rely on who want change too!

Cuthbert Maendaenda is Tanzania Men as Equal Partners Project Manager.

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