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Dec102015

HUMAN RIGHTS DAY: WINNING THE WAR, NOT JUST BATTLES: ENGAGING MEN IN ENDING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN!

WINNING THE WAR, NOT JUST BATTLES: ENGAGING MEN IN ENDING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN!

This blog is part of work completed by Yvonne Jila, a Mandela Washington Fellow from Zimbabwe. It was inspired by the ongoing debate on gender equality where there is a growing emphasis on the need to include men, not only as holders of privileges or as perpetrators of violence, but also as potential and actual contributors to gender equality. This blog acknowledges the many different efforts that have been made by different individuals, women’s rights groups and governments to curb the violence.
 
I dream of a world where the rights of women are respected, a world where women have autonomy, are not battered by their husbands for serving cold food, where all women choose who and what they want to be in life and where their choices are not limited just because they are women. I dream of a world where women live in peace, not raped as weapons of war.
 
Sadly, UNWomen estimates that one in three women worldwide experience Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in their lifetimes; this happens in the home, at school, at the workplace, hidden and sometimes even in plain sight. From babies as young as three months to women over ninety, women are sexually violated by those close to them. Perhaps the question to ask now is, is it worth it to engage men in fighting against GBV? If men are the problem perpetrators of this violence, then they should also become part of the solution. “Unless men’s practices, attitudes, and relations change, efforts to promote gender equality will face an uphill struggle,” says Sandy Ruxton, a leading researcher on Gender, Men and Masculinity. It is worth noting that there is a lot of work that women’s rights activists and different stakeholders have been doing to end violence against women and this can be equated to winning battles. Maybe more emphasis on men changing behaviors will bring another dimension to women’s quest for emancipation.
 
 Joycelene Scutt remarks that, ‘‘the ultimate power to change any system of slavery lies not with the enslaved. The key remains with those who are the head of the slave camp. For women and children battered, brutalized and exploited in their own homes, men must alter their ways of life.” Therefore, one would equate slavery to the violence women are facing. Just like slavery, violence deprives women of their freedom, liberty and rights. This is exactly what women’s rights activists have been fighting against for decades.
 
In light of the above, engaging men as positive allies in Zimbabwe began twenty years ago with the establishment of Padare Men's Gender Forum. Padare's main strategy involves getting men together to talk in formal workshops or in more informal spaces in schools, pubs, sports clubs, and churches. Here, boys and men are encouraged to talk about the way they have been raised and the disadvantages of patriarchy. They examine assumptions about women, what has contributed to making men oppressive, and what often prevents meaningful relationships between men and women. Padare believes that men suffer because of "pressure to project an image that is not naturally theirs and that is not sustainable." This pressure limits both creativity and the expression of man's humanity.
 
My organization, Women Filmmakers of Zimbabwe, has also become part of this movement through the ‘‘New Man’’ initiative in the International Images Film Festival for Women (IIFF) program. The objective of this program is to showcase positive images of men to rural and urban communities so as to heighten their conscientiousness regarding how men can contribute towards a violence-free society.
 
The work of Sonke Gender Justice in South Africa also illustrates regional efforts being made to improve the lives and status of women in society. Sonke runs the “One Man Can” Campaign; and, the message of the campaign is that “as one man, you can demand justice, love passionately, stop AIDs, and end violence against women.” Launched in 2006, in conjunction with the 16 Days of Activism Against GBV (an annual campaign which runs from November 25th to December 10th), the “One Man Can” Campaign also has an action toolkit, which includes a resource directory, workshop materials and information on how to develop healthy relationships and support survivors of violence.  The toolkit also provides information and strategies on how men can support a survivor of abuse, use the law to demand justice, educate children early and often, challenge other men to take action, make schools safer for girls and boys, raise awareness in places of worship, and build a human rights culture.
 
Michael Kaufman, an internationally acclaimed activist reiterates that being a man means being human, treating women with respect, tolerance and understanding. This is illustrated by the “White Ribbon” Campaign he began in Canada in 1991, with the aim of mobilizing men to speak out against violence against women. The campaign mobilizes men around the world to wear a white ribbon, or hang a white ribbon from their houses, their vehicles, or at their workplaces each year for one or two weeks during the 16 Days of Activism Against GBV. Wearing a white ribbon is a public pledge never to commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women. The white ribbon symbolizes a call for any man who is violent to lay down his arms in the war against women and girls.
 
The above models have illustrated efforts that have been made in some parts of the world in promoting a violence-free world. It is also important to complement already existing initiatives such as those mentioned above. I believe that promoting these efforts can eventually lead to winning the war against violence against women. As long as gender is seen as synonymous with women, men will feel excluded and therefore become bystanders instead of fighting against GBV in their families and communities. Today, as we commemorate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, let us stand together (as men and women!) to end violence against women.

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