By Yann Borgstedt
This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post
Around the world, men are building a network of leaders fighting for women’s equality and we need more of them.
Think about the women’s movement in its early years and you see black and white images of women – suffragettes in Britain, activists in America, women around the world marching for their equal rights. For many decades, the fight for equality has been almost an all female crusade.
But times are changing. Fast forward to 2015 and you begin to see a different picture emerging. Around the world, men are taking their rightful place, albeit slowly, alongside women fighting for equality, freedom from discrimination and sexual harassment, and basic rights to everything from education to political participation.
Men are coming around to believe that the issue of equality is not just morally correct, but critically important to the healthy economic, social, and political progress of nations.
Take the problem of rape in India. The gang rape in 2012 of a medical student on a Delhi bus galvanized the country to take action against the growing problem of violence against women. Although statistics are hard to come by, India’s own National Crime Records Bureau data suggests that in 2013, there were 33,000 rapes in India and 70,000 rape attempts. Women are central to India’s economy – a huge labor force dependent on both sexes. Moreover, a perception that India is unsafe for women does not boost business or tourism. So men, particularly young men, are taking up the challenge to ensure that Indian women fully and safely participate in India’s national growth and that the country can address the sexual violence issue. Last year, Vital Voices, a non-governmental organization started by Hillary Clinton, honored three Indian brothers, Ravi, Rishi, and Nishi Kant, for their efforts to end violence against women. The Kant brothers are founders of “Shakti Vahini” which works to end human trafficking, honor killings, and sexual assaults against India’s women. They are among a growing sector of men joining the effort to stop rape in India.
India is not alone in confronting issues of increased rape and violence against women.
In Brazil, over the past five years, reports of rape have increased by 157 percent according to national figures. Between January and June last year, nearly 5,300 people, 90 percent of who were women, were raped. Brazil’s health ministry attributes the rise to an amendment in the criminal code in 2009, which expanded the legal definition of rape as a result encouraging women to also report assaults committed by relatives or people close to them. (Before the amendment in 2009, the only act that was acceptable under the definition of rape was “tested vaginal penetration,” while other crimes, including anal penetration, were considered “indecent assault.”) Increased mobilization against rape via social media could also be attributed to the rise in reported cases.
What is surprising is not just what is happening to address the problem of gender based violence in Brazil but who is leading the charge. The most well-known figure around rape prevention and response in Brazil is a man: Gary Barker. His organization, Promundo, focuses on how to engage men and boys in achieving gender equality and ending violence against women around the world. Barker’s research teams focus not only on responses to sexual violence, but prevention.
What Promundo’s research suggests is that to address gender violence you have to deal with how men experience life. In Brazil and elsewhere, men who witnessed their mothers experience violence perpetrated by men or who themselves experienced sexual violence, as well as those who hold inequitable views about what it means to be men, are more likely to commit sexual violence. In order to end this sexual violence, you need preventive education in schools and communities to change men’s attitudes, values and behavior.
Promundo advocates techniques like bystander intervention in which men question other men who use sexual harassment, and teach men how to raise children without violence in the home. They use something called “Program H ”(“H” for homens, or men, in Portuguese, and hombres in Spanish) – a methodology developed by Promundo and partners to start conversations with young men and their communities about norms related to manhood. The centerpiece of the Program H approach is same-sex group discussions, generally with male facilitators who serve as role models. The discussions focus on creating a safe space to allow young men to question traditional views about manhood, and to reflect on injustices and rigidities related to gender.
Major international organizations have taken note. The United Nations has recognized Program H as an effective strategy for engaging young men in the promotion of sexual and reproductive health in its 2008 State of World Population report. The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Bank have all named Program H a best practice in integrating gender. Program H has since been tested, implemented and adapted to local cultures in over 25 countries by partners in South and Southeast Asia, the Balkans, the United States, and sub Saharan Africa. In 2014, Promundo was awarded the first Womanity Award to prevent violence against women together with ABAAD, an organization working in Lebanon, with the aim to support the replication of Porgram H in the Near East.
The Arab World
Perhaps the most surprising place to find male champions of women is the Middle East where inequitable relationships between men and women are deeply rooted in culture and politics and where marital rape often goes unrecognized as a crime. Compounding the challenge of transforming deeply rooted patriarchal norms in the Middle East is the fact that Lebanon – and the region more broadly – is continuously affected by conflict, which helps perpetuate these traditional concepts of manhood based on dominance and violence. Additionally, the displaced and refugee populations from countries like Syria must cope with the loss of their homes, separation from family and loved ones, hostility from host populations, unresolved trauma from their homeland, and lack of basic services. When these individuals’ most basic needs are not being met, not only does violence increase, but equitable gender relations, although essential for restoring peace and social relations, also fail to be seen as a priority.
In Lebanon, Anthony Keedi runs the Masculinities program at ABAAD, a Beirut-based non- governmental organization pressing for change in the treatment of women in Lebanese society. Keedi has launched the center for men along with a media campaign aimed at raising awareness and creating safe spaces for conversation around gender equality. Through games and dramatization, he helps young girls and boys identify inequalities in the gender constructs within Arab societies – and he helps kids develop the confidence to change them with youth-driven, community campaigns and assessments using an innovative evaluation tool called the Gender-Equitable Men (GEM) Scale. Keedi is now partnering with Promundo to use Program H in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and with displaced and refugee populations.
Let’s Make It Global
The time has come to recognize men for their efforts to level the playing field around the world and their work to end gender-based violence. June is a time when Americans celebrate fathers in the United States. But let’s also honor the anonymous fathers who support girls in those countries where equality isn’t the norm, such as Malala’s father in Pakistan or the fathers in Afghanistan, Morocco, Brazil, and India, among others –men who are pressing for education for girls and often remain role models for women. We need more men in every corner of the globe fighting to change systems and structures and to make gender based violence and inequality a thing of the past – something you only see in old black and white photographs. We need a new future. The future is now.
Yann Borgstedt is the founder of the Womanity Foundation, which is dedicated to empowering women and girls.