Happy Valentine’s Day: Real Men Don’t Abuse Women

13 February 2012

If Valentine's Day is to celebrate passion and romance, let us pause for a moment to think beyond the commercialism of glib cards and gifts and reflect for a moment on a darker side of passion, love and sex; namely, sexual and gender-based violence.

Whilst essential to hold individual perpetrators to account for such abuse, things can only change if we attend to the structures and forces that give rise to such violence. Gender inequalities, and the violence that maintains them, are not simply a matter of individuals and their behaviours. Individual's attitudes and behaviour may be slightly modified with training and knowledge, but there is no evidence that social injustice such as sexual and other gender-based violence can be effectively tackled in the absence of broader social change. Yet, it may be too easy to hide behind such 'structural violence' and we all have direct investments in the institutions and relations of power which shape and provide contextual meaning to our behaviours.   

Supporting social change in the context of sexual and gender-based violence

To help support this much needed change, IDS and partners are engaged in a multi-year programme to develop and document answers to the question: What can men do to work with women in challenging the institutionalised nature of sexual and gender-based violence?

The programme, called 'mobilising men to challenge sexual and gender based violence in institutional settings' has just published a new resource,  Mobilising Men in Practice: Tools, Stories, Lessons. This new practice guide provides highly inspirational testimonies and stories of men aiming to ally themselves with women's struggles for gender justice, whilst learning to acknowledge their male privilege, and to give as well as take support in their work. The guide provides useful tools and lessons for activists and trainers – about work with men to identify and challenge the institutional roots and causes of sexual and gender-based violence in their everyday institutional settings.

Phil Otieno, a Moblising Men activist shares his story of why he became a gender activist:

"Remembering my sister’s experience, who had been pressured by my father to marry before she had completed her college education, I swore to myself that I would want to transform society to make it a better place if not for anyone else but for my child... Almost on a daily basis, I engage with men on issues of gender justice, bearing in mind that most of the injustices are done by men against women."

Mobilising Men in India, Kenya and Uganda

Within India, the Mobilising Men programme is being led by the Centre for Health and Social Justice (CHSJ), which focused on three main sectors: university campuses, where sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is known to be widespread; local government, which play a key role in the enforcement, or lack thereof, of the Domestic Violence Act; and human rights work with Dalit communities. 

In Kenya, Men for Gender Equality Now (MEGEN) is the lead partner for the Mobilising Men programme and the organisation has targeted issues of SGBV on university campus and within the transport sector, outside of Nairobi. MEGEN has been able to implement linked campaigns across these two sectors, including activists from a Student's Union and from two workers’ associations of bicycle taxi riders (the Boda Boda riders).

In Uganda, IDS is partnering with the Refugee Law Project (RLP), which has focused its activities on the issues of SGBV faced by forced migrants, both in the formal settlements operated by the Ugandan government and within communities of forced migrants living in Kampala.

Influencing policy on Gender Power and Sexuality

The pilot phase and development of the Mobilising Men in Practice guide has been supported by the United Nation's Population Fund (UNFPA) and partners are now entering a new period of collaboration to influence policy through an IDS-convened three-year programme on 'Gender Power and Sexuality’, which is supported by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida).

Find out more

Photo credit: MEGEN, 2010