In August 2013, I joined the staff of the MenEngage Alliance, a global network of NGOs and UN agencies working to engage men and boys in gender equality. Given the global realities of gender inequality and sexual violence, I am more convinced than ever of the role that men must play in promoting women’s rights and bringing an end to the epidemic of violence perpetrated primarily by men around the world.
The instinctive response of ‘solving’ problems with violence starts at an early age. Boys are taught that the only way to express their emotions is through anger and physical aggression. We stunt their emotional growth and as a result, they are ill equipped to deal with conflict whether between friends or with romantic partners. The power imbalance that facilitates sexual violence starts in the home. When young men see their fathers in a position of control, they mirror that behavior and internalize the dynamic that men should have the final say over women. This is reinforced by conversations we have with our friends that talk about women as objects and conquests. At MenEngage we are working to address the root causes of sexual assault through innovative campaigns at the country level and more broadly globally.
The reason we are part of the MenCare campaign, a healthy fatherhood campaign, is that it changes the dynamics in households which changes the lives of women, influences the future of children and helps the men grow into more respectful people who support gender equality in their home and society. According to the World Health Organization, on average, 30% of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their partner. What better place to start to combat sexual violence than in the household? In the short term we can reduce the number of women suffering violence at the hands of their partner. In the long term, we can ensure that boys grow up in the type of households that encourage healthy behavior so that they will never learn perpetrator behavior.
This work takes place on many levels and differs by region. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Congo Men’s Network (COMEN) has piloted workshops and focus group discussions. These workshops focused on sensitizing men about positive fatherhood within their households; sensitizing men and boys in the project sites to stand against all kind of sexual and gender based violence; reviewing people’s understanding about gender equality; and sharing personal experiences. In Chile, they are taking a mass dissemination approach. They recently published an innovative “Active Fatherhood” guide and poster with information for new fathers and male caregivers and are circulating 200,000 copies through public health centers.
If we can change households, we can change the world. As young feminists, we have every reason to be hopeful for the future. Together, people of all gender identities, can work to create a safer and more just world that respects women and heals men.
*Marc Peters is a member of a new generation of male feminists who are speaking out for gender equality and the importance of engaging men in ending violence against women. He currently works at MenEngage Alliance serving as the Global Communications and Campaigns Manager for their worldwide network and as their main youth engagement official. Prior to joining MenEngage, he co-founded MasculinityU to encourage young men to rethink popular conceptions of masculinity. He has written about gender for PolicyMic, The Shriver Report and BK Nation, where he also serves on the editorial board.