Sonke speaks at UN HQ in Geneva on International Day to End Violence Against Women

Remarks made November 23rd on panel to celebrate International Day to End Violence Against Women by Dean Peacock, Executive Director at Sonke Gender Justice and Co-Chair of the MenEngage Alliance. Panel convened by WHO, UNFPA, Permanent Mission of Canada and OHCHR in partnership with Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Sonke Gender Justice and the World YWCA.

Distinguished guests and fellow panellists. It is an honour to speak on this panel today. I do so in two capacities: as a representative of Sonke Gender Justice, a South African NGO working across all of South Africa’s nine provinces and in fifteen countries in Africa to engage men and boys in ending GBV and in advancing women’s human rights, and I am also here in my capacity as global co-chair of the MenEngage Alliance, an alliance of over 300 organisations and 35 country networks in all regions of the world.

It is a particular honour to share this platform with the Canadian Mission. At Sonke and in the MenEngage Alliance we, like many other people across the world, draw ongoing inspiration from the White Ribbon Campaign. The WRC was one of the first campaigns in which men found a collective voice to speak out against men’s violence against women. In the wake of the Montreal Massacre a small group of men came together to voice their outrage and grief about a murder committed by a man against women in an act that was a clear backlash against women’s rights. The WRC campaign called on men to endorse a simple set of principles: to never commit, condone or remain silent in the face of some men’s violence against women. They set an example to other men across the world that has contributed to a groundswell of men across the world recognising that they have a responsibility to speak out and take action to challenge men’s violence against women. Now, in almost every country in the world, whether it be Mongolia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Moldova, there are men working to support gender equality and women’s rights. This was unimaginable twenty years ago and it is something worth celebrating here today.

Today, as we celebrate the achievements of the White Ribbon Campaign and commemorate International Day to End Violence Against Women, it is important to acknowledge that the women of eastern DRC face are unable to celebrate this day or the 16 days of activism against GBV that it is a part of. Instead, they face a terrifying situation: the prospect of living under the control of M23, a rebel force whose leader is wanted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, including for the use of systematic rape and sexual slavery. It’s worth putting this in context so that all of us here can think about what this says about political leadership.

The African Union declared this decade, 2010-2020 as the African Women’s Decade. In Africa, political leaders have signed on to a range of human rights treaties and declarations of commitment, including CEDAW, Resolution 1325 and Resolution 1820. The Maputo Protocol specifies that there should be clear protections for women from sexual violence in situations of armed conflict.

However, now nearly three years into the African Women’s Decade, there’s not nearly enough to show for all the rhetoric. Women in Africa still face grave threats of sexual violence in and out of conflict settings.

While this disconnect between rhetoric and action is hardly unique to Africa, the contradiction between political commitments and lack of political action by the AU and its member states was brought into stark relief again over the last few days.

Just last week, on November 20th, residents of Goma in North Kivu, DRC, found themselves under the control of M23, a rebel group headed up by Bosco Ntaganda, a man wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, including the use of rape as a weapon of war and sexual slavery. The UN Group of Experts report on the DRC leaked in October and officially released just a few days ago is unambiguously clear that the M23 forces are funded and coordinated by the Rwandan military and also receive significant support from the Ugandan government. Both governments have significant interests in eastern DRC’s rich mineral deposits and poorly regulated mining industries.

To date, no action has been taken by the African Union to sanction Rwanda or Uganda. The AU website offers no comment at all. The South African Development Community calls for the “immediate withdrawal of the M23 from Goma” but fails to mention its backers. My government, South Africa, similarly calls for peace but says little to indicate it will use bring its substantial influence to bear in the form of pressure on Rwanda or Uganda.

Residents of Goma, and especially women there, need urgent action to guarantee their safety. Women—and some men–in the Kivu’s have faced the reality of endemic sexual violence for years now. Researchers suggest more than 200,000 women have been raped there during the conflict that has engulfed the country over the last fifteen years.

Sonke Gender Justice and Promundo, both organisations working extensively across Africa, recently adapted and conducted the International Men and Gender Equality Survey in and around Goma in September and October of 2012. The study reveals that high degrees of rape-supportive attitudes among men and suggests that rape in Goma is much more than just a weapon of war.

While rape is certainly used by armed groups to humiliate and subordinate opposing forces and the communities seen as supportive of them, the study shows that many men hold deeply alarming attitudes about women and about rape that certainly contribute to high levels of rape, irrespective of war.

Fully 37% of men surveyed reported having raped a woman and nearly a third of men believed that women sometimes want to be raped and that when a woman is raped she may enjoy it. Nearly half of all men surveyed think that if a woman does not physically resist when forced to have sex that it is not rape, and, disturbingly, given the very high levels of rape in war, nearly half of all men surveyed said that men should reject his wife if she has been raped. Fully 48% of men report ever carrying out any form of physical violence (GBV) against a female partner, while 53% of women report ever having experienced GBV (from a male partner).

The study also makes it clear that many men are also affected by sexual violence. 9% of all men surveyed reporting having experienced sexual violence during the conflict, a figure about half the rate for women. Furthermore, 16% of men reported being forced to watch rape being carried out by others.

While male political leaders have failed to respond adequately to the urgent human rights crisis that pervasive rape in conflict represents, a growing number of men across the continent are taking up the challenge and working with women’s organisations to end men’s violence. Whether the Congo Men’s Network in Goma, Abantangamuco or Umoja Now in Burundi, the Rwandan Men’s Network in Kigali, HopeM in Mozambique or Men’s Association for Gender Equality in Sierra Leone, men are increasingly joining with women’s rights activists to educate themselves, and other men about women’s rights and gender equality, and taking action to demand that their governments implement gender related laws.

David Tamba and Pascal Akimana are two such men. Both narrowly survived war in their home countries of Sierra Leone and Burundi respectively. Both were forced to flee their homes and spent years moving from refugee camp to refugee camp, David in Liberia and Guinea, Pascal in the DRC, Kenya and Tanzania. At the age of twelve, Pascal was forced to witness the rape of his sister. David was unable to prevent rebel forces from abducting and raping his pregnant wife. Each gave serious thought to joining rebel forces to exact revenge but chose not to, in part because of the depression and trauma they both struggled with as a result of the violence they had witnessed and suffered.

Whilst living in a refugee camp, David was approached by a UNHCR protection officer, Lynn Ngugi, who convinced him to participate in camp activities aimed at preventing endemic sexual violence. Now, a decade later, David is the director of the Men’s Association for Gender Equality in Sierra Leone where he coordinates activities intended to increase men’s support for Sierra Leone’s three new gender equality laws. He also coordinates Sierra Leone’s fledgling MenEngage country network.

After years of moving steadily southwards from Burundi, Pascal was invited to join a Men As Partners workshop at a clinic in Johannesburg’s inner city. He was initially resistant to the ideas of gender equality discussed there but returned for subsequent workshops because they gave him a forum to discuss his trauma. He now works for Men’s Resources International in Amherst, Massachusetts and is an emerging leader in the field of gender equality work with men and boys. He recently established Umoja Now in Bujumbura to “to build sustainable peace in Africa by uniting men and women to promote gender justice and equality, and to end sexual and gender-based violence”.

David and Pascal are both active in the MenEngage Alliance. Their stories have been featured in “A Way to Justice”, a documentary film produced by Sonke Gender Justice to chronicle efforts to involve men in promoting gender equality across Africa. David and Pascal remind us that men can play a critical role in addressing men’s violence against women and are often motivated to do so out of a sense of solidarity and commitment to social justice or by their personal connection to women affected by violence—their neighbours and fellow community members, their colleagues, mothers, sisters, partners, wives. Their lives and the lives of many other men like them bear testimony to the importance of developing initiatives and tools to support men to act on their convictions that violence against women is wrong and that they have a role to play in stopping it and in supporting gender equality and women’s leadership.

There is also a strong evidence base that shows that gender equality work with men and boys can make a difference. A growing body of research increasingly shows that well designed programmes can bring about significant changes in men’s gender related attitudes and practices.

  • A 2007 WHO review of interventions with men in the areas of sexual and reproductive health, maternal and child health, gender-based violence, fatherhood and HIV/AIDS documents that such programmes, while generally of short duration and limited research, have brought about important changes in men’s attitudes and behaviours. Of the 57 studies included in the analysis: 24.5% were assessed as effective in leading to attitude or behaviour change; 38.5% were assessed aspromising; and 36.8% were assessed as unclear. Programmes that were ‘gender-transformative’ – those that sought to transform gender roles and promote more gender-equitable relationships between men and women – were more likely to be effective than programmes that were merely ‘gender-sensitive’ or ‘gender-neutral’.
  • In Brazil, for example, Instituto Promundo’s intervention with young men promoting healthy relationships and HIV/STI prevention showed significant positive shifts in gender norms at both six months and 12 months.
  • Similarly, a study of nearly 150 Nicaraguan men who participated in workshops on masculinity and gender equity revealed significant positive attitudinal and behavioural changes according to both partner reports and self evaluations in a wide range of indicators including: use of psychological and physical violence, sexual relations, shared decision-making, paternal responsibility and domestic activities.
  • In the Stepping Stones initiative in South Africa, male participants reported having fewer partners, higher condom use, less transactional sex, less substance abuse and less perpetration of intimate partner violence.
  • Also in South Africa, Sonke Gender Justice (Sonke) has demonstrated significant positive impact. In the weeks following participation in Sonke’s One Man Can Campaign, 50% reported taking action to address acts of gender-based violence in their community, 25% of participants accessed HIV voluntary counselling and testing (VCT), and 61% reported increasing their use of condoms. More than 4 out of 5 participants also reported having subsequently talked with friends or family members about HIV and AIDS, gender and human rights.

This report identified the key features of successful interventions as follows:

  • use positive and affirmative messages;
  • encourage men to reflect on the costs of hegemonic masculinity to men and women;
  • evidence-based – use formative research, ongoing monitoring and evaluation;
  • recognize that men are not homogenous and develop interventions that reflect men’s different life experiences;
  • use an ecological approach that recognizes the range of factors shaping gender roles and relations;
  • use a range of social change strategies – community education, community mobilization, media, policy development and advocacy for implementation.

These and other studies are increasingly affirming that engaging men and boys in well-designed programs, that include men, women, girls and boys as partners as well as beneficiaries, can be effective in leading to improved outcomes and better gender equality.

Global Commitments to engaging men and boys for gender equality

The gradual growth and strengthened sophistication of gender equality work with men is reflected in a growing number of UN commitments to engage men and boys to achieve gender equality. Relevant international commitments were made at or are embodied in the International Conference on Population and Development (1994), the Programme of Action of the World Summit on Social Development (1995) and its review held in 2000, the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), the twenty-sixth special session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS (2001), the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women’s in 2004 and 2009, the Global Symposium on Engaging Men and Boys on Achieving Gender Equality in 2009, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Action Framework on Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV (2009), and the UNAIDS Operational Plan for Action Framework (2009). The language of more recent international commitments is noteworthy for its recognition of the role men and boys can play in bringing about gender equality and health equity. The 2009 CSW recognized “the capacity of men and boys in bringing about change in attitudes, relationships, and access to resources and decision making which are critical for the promotion of gender equality and the full enjoyment of all human rights by women”, and called for action to “ensure that men and boys, whose role is critical in achieving gender equality, are actively involved in policies and programmes that aim to involve the equal sharing of responsibilities…”

Importantly, these international commitments both require policy makers in signatory countries to develop policies and programmes and provide civil society activists with leverage to demand rapid implementation.

An urgent need to increase the scale, sustainability and impact of work with men and boys

Despite this growing body of evidence showing that gender interventions can change men’s attitudes and practices, and despite many international commitments, the majority of interventions with men and boys have until recently remained NGO led, small scale and short-term and have usually failed to reach significant numbers of men and boys. Government initiatives have often been ad-hoc, events driven and all too often poorly conceptualised. As a result, it is critical that efforts be made to increase the scale, impact and sustainability of gender equality work with men and need to consistently apply the “good practices” listed above.To conclude, then, it is imperative that we hold men to high standards and that we expect and support men to take action to address violence against women and boys. As representatives of international NGOs, the UN system and national governments, we must find ways to encourage more and more men to speak out and take action to ensure that they, their friends, and their political leaders act on their convictions and their obligations to advance women’s rights and achieve gender equality.