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Men of Quality are not afraid of Equality

This was one of the messages that came out of the conference “Reconstructing Manhood?” which took place in Oslo 26-27 October. The conference was the first of its kind in Norway, presenting experiences from engaging men in developing countries to a Norwegian audience.

Other key messages from the conference were:

  • Violence against women is a global issue and one third of the world’s women are affected.
  • Intimate partner violence is not a “women’s issue” or a private issue.It is just as much a concern for men - and for governments, NGOs and individuals alike.
  • Men are a part of the problem, and can therefore also be a part of the solution.
  • One man can make a difference!
  • We must challenge men’s silence in the face of gender-based violence committed by other men, and this is a responsibility for men.
  • Our challenge is to show to men the concrete and immediate advantages of gender equality, also for men themselves, not only for women.
  • We must also change the structural, including understanding the impact of economic stress on women and men.
  • There is a silent, large majority of men who care. The challenge is to make them speak up.

Click here to find relevant web pages, program, list of participants, downloadable documents. etc from the conference.

Organizers of the conference were:

 FORUT – Campaign for Development and Solidarity

Reform – Resource Centre for Men

CARE Norway

The Ministry for Justice and the Police, which also funded the event.

The Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion

The first day of the conference was organized as a plenary session with more than 150 participants. On the second day the participants split into four parallel seminars with one of the international speakers as expert speaker and resource person in each seminar. These seminars gave the opportunity to interact more directly with the international speakers and to discuss their working methods more in detail.

Broad mix

In his opening speech on the 26th of October FORUT’s Secretary General, Morten Lønstad, pointed to the fact that the conference topic had attracted a broad and interesting mix of participants; NGO leaders, government representatives, researchers, students and concerned individuals. “This conference provides an opportunity for practitioners to meet scholars, for feminine activists to meet male activists and for North to meet South. Some of us have experiences as political activists, some are helping women who suffer from men’s violence, some cover gender issues for the media and some are assisting men who are in a process of change. Some are engaged in gender issues in Norway, others are involved in gender programmes in developing countries”, said Mr. Lønstad from FORUT.

New action plan in Norway

The Norwegian Minister of Justice, Knut Storberget, referred to international statistics which show that 1/3 of women globally are exposed to violence from partners during their life-time and that one out of four women experience domestic violence. This is not a women’s issue, he said, but a challenge for men and women alike. Intimate partner violence is not a private issue, no matter if it happens within the home. It is a human issue and it is a global issue. Such violence is not acceptable. There are no excuses for the perpetrators. “We need a stronger involvement by men to end gender-based violence. If we want to make the Norwegian society a safer place, all sorts of domestic violence must be eliminated. We men must take our part of the responsibility”, said Mr. Storberget. He finished his speech by announcing that the Norwegian government will launch a new action plan to combat domestic violence in 2011.

Four world leading organizations and male activists were invited to share their experiences from engaging men at the conference:

Desmond Lesejane started his presentation of Sonke Gender Justice and their program One Man Can Make a Difference by presenting the South African context. The country has an HIV/AIDS prevalence of 17 % in the 15-50 age range. In 2008 250,000 people died of AIDS. 28 % of men report having raped; 5 % in the last year. Also men suffer from harmful aspects of masculinity. Men access VCT testing and HIV treatment less than women, and high levels of alcohol consumption among men result in risk-taking sex, among other things. In their work Sonke Gender Justice approaches individual men with awareness-raising and education programs in campaigns like One Man Can, Brothers for Life and Red Card.

One Man Can

However, individual action is not enough, said Desmond Lesejane. Preventing gender-based violence and changing the notion of a real man also takes national leadership. Consequently, Sonke works on all levels of the South African society; at the national level, with NGOs, in local communities and with individual men. Participatory methods are being widely used in communication with men. Men are invited to reflect on their own experiences together with their friends and colleagues. All the time this if followed by initiatives to involve men in practical action. At all times the objective is to show men the benefits of gender equality. “One Man Can Make a Difference. Men are a part of the problem, and can therefore also be a part of the solution”, said Mr. Lesejane.

The bystander approach

Jackson Katz from the US challenged men’s silence in the face of gender-based violence committed by other men. He presented the "bystander approach” which is used in the Mentors in Violence Prevention program (MVP). This method focuses on young men not as perpetrators or potential perpetrators, but as empowered bystanders who can confront abusive peers – and support abused ones. A "bystander" is defined as a family member, friend, classmate, team-mate or a co-worker.

Mr. Katz’ message was that many people mistakenly believe that they have only two options in instances of actual or potential violence: intervene physically and possibly expose themselves to personal harm, or do nothing. As a result, they often choose to do nothing. But intervening physically or doing nothing are not the only possible choices. The MVP Model seeks to provide bystanders with numerous options, most of which carry no risk of personal injury. With more options to choose from, people are more likely to respond and not be passive and silent – and hence complicit – in violence or abuse by others. In his workshop on the second day of the conference Jackson Katz showed in practise how the MVP program involves the participants in discussions around a series of realistic scenarios depicting abusive male (and sometimes female) behaviour.

He also raised the issue of the de-gendered language which is so common in most cultures: “We most often say that she was beaten or she was raped in stead of ‘a man beat her’ or ‘a man raped her’. By using the passive voice we cover up the fact that more than nine out of ten such acts of violence are being committed by men. The privilege of men’s power is therefore that we remain invisible and unquestioned”. One strategy in challenging prevailing notions of masculinity and in involving men for a change is to make invisible things visible.

Not a licence to beat

Satish Kumar Singh represented an India perspective in the masculinity conference in Oslo. He is the Deputy Director of the Centre for Health and Social Justice, an NGO based in Delhi. CHSJ is working with masculinity programs in 18 states in India. Mr. Singh started his presentation by referring to the common belief that intimate partner violence is “family matter” and that many seem to believe that “marriage is a licence to beat wife”. However, he said, most men are not violent, but silent.

Mr Singh presented MASVAW; the Men’s Action for Stopping Violence Against Women. This campaign has been working since 2002 with the objective of “increasing awareness among men about violence against women as a larger social issue, and motivating men to shun violence, protest against violence, support survivors and provide new role models in Uttar Pradesh and Uttara Kand state of India.”. Through a film and examples he showed how MASVAW uses peer group activities to communicate with men; games, competitions, role plays etc.

“Our method is to open platforms and forums for reflections among men. We make men realize their own violent behaviour and we introduce ways to manage anger and frustration other than using violence”, said Satish Kumar Singh. Our challenge is to show to men the concrete and immediate advantages of gender equality, also for men themselves, not only for women. Changed relationships between spouses are one of the concrete aims of the MASVAW program; a “sister and brother” relationship must replace male dominance and power over women. Mr. Singh concluded that “Men of Quality are not Afraid of Equality”.

Millennium Development Goals

Gary Barker is one of the founders of the global network MenEngage. This is a forum for exchange of information and experiences among organizations trying to mobilize men for gender equality and, more specifically, to prevent gender-based violence and the spread of HIV/AIDS. He has been instrumental in producing an evaluation report of more than 50 national masculinity programs worldwide. “The conclusion is that such programs work – if they have a gender-transformative objective and are well implemented”, said Mr Barker. He presented results from the so-called IMAGES study; International Men and Gender Equality Survey. The IMAGES study gives data on male and female attitudes and behaviour in Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Croatia, India and Rwanda.

Mr. Barker paid special attention to data that links unemployment, poverty and economic stress to the prevalence of gender-based violence. The data suggest that economic stress for men is related to eg. higher rates of alcohol use, lower condom use, higher likelihood of having sex with sex workers and criminal activity. The presentation of the IMAGES study can be downloaded here.

Mr. Barker concluded his presentation with the following: If we want to change men and engage them as allies in achieving the Millennium Development Goals…

  • We must change the structural, including understanding the impact of economic stress on women and men;
  • We must find men’s self-interest in change, while also creating real sanctions for men who use violence and abuse power;
  • We must acknowledge the dual inequalities of income and gender;
  • We must move beyond a zero-sum game approach that views women’s gains as men’s losses while not losing sight of the inequality we’re starting from.

The concluding remarks of the conference were given by Norway’s Minister of Children, Gender and Social Inclusion, Audun Lysbakken. His starting point was that many men do care about gender-based violence and gender inequality. “There is a silent, large majority of men who care. The challenge is to make them speak up by giving them training in how to speak up. We must realize that we have not managed to engage men on a broader scale”.

The White Ribbon Campaign

The Minister also pointed at the need for more information on this issue to the public. Many do not realize the number of people who suffer from intimate partner violence and the long term consequences of such violence. Many stereotypes still exist, and these must be challenged through information and by peers.

He pointed to the launch of the White Ribbon campaign in Norway as one such initiative to make men stand up and speak up. As part of this the Campaign and the government are now presenting an awareness campaign together with the Norwegian Football Associations and prominent football players. Mr. Lysbakken said: “We aim at reaching men through football. In this campaign national football heroes will be invited to step forward and show that they do not tolerate any kind of violence against women”.