Men as agents of change in ending violence against women and girls in Liberia
“This is a good way to mark the start of the 16 Days,” said Mahmoud Koroma, Programme Associate at UN Women, a co-organizer of the event. “As UN staff members, it is important to reflect on the role that men can play to prevent violence against women and girls. We need to understand that gender based violence is not only a women’s issue, but we are all responsible if we don’t speak out” he continues.
A Ted talk video “Violence against women is a men’s issue” by Jackson Katz was played at the beginning of the event to stimulate discussion and raise awareness on what people (men and women) can do to break the cycle of violence.
In the video, Katz explains the concept of “bystander approach”, which calls for everyone’s accountability on violence against women and girls, beyond the rigid demarcation of “perpetrators” and “victims.” This approach seeks to question our actions as individuals outside the violence cycle, who are aware of the perpetration of violence. It calls for men in particular, and specifically those in influential positions, to act as role models and take actions to make it socially unacceptable for their family, friends and colleagues to perpetuate violence by any means, through slurs, insensitive statements or any actions that tend to inflict physical or psychological pain on women or demean them in any way. The gist of the video was that everyone can make a difference and contribute to the shift from a culture in which manhood is identified with being tough and aggressive, to a culture in which the caring and respectful nature of men can be fully expressed.
“Can it be limiting for a man to be expected to behave in a certain manner?” asked Emmet Campbell, one co-facilitator of one of the sessions. Participants gave different answers. Some said that men can play different roles other than the traditional ones and interchange tasks with women without their value being diminished; others highlighted the role of women in re-instating gender stereotypes; while another stressed that there was social pressure on men to perform in a certain way, or be censured for not aligning themselves with this preconceived pattern. Answers by participants implicitly linked gender stereotypes to gender based violence.
“The blame has always been on women: they are considered somehow responsible for being victims of violence because of their dress code or behavior. It is now time that the attention focuses on men, and on the reasons why they commit such violence”, said Sheelagh Kathy Mangones, UN Women Representative in Liberia.
The forum provided a rare opportunity for UN staff to discuss an issue that everyone in Liberia confronts with at some point. Gender based violence is rampant in Liberia. Statistics from the Ministry of Gender and Development shows that a total of 2,493 sexual and gender-based violence crimes were reported across Liberia in 2012, a majority of which (58 per cent) related to rape. In the first six months of 2013, four referral hospitals in Monrovia treated 814 rape cases, 95 per cent of which were children.
Participants actively participated in the discussion and were vocal about the issues faced by communities in which they live, as well as sharing personal experiences related to gender based violence.
“We need more men with the guts, with the courage, with the strength, and the moral integrity to break our complicit silence and challenge each other and stand with women, not against them,” urged Jackson Katz. It is indeed in the interest of both men and women to build a violent free society. Men are also affected by violence, suffering from indelible and traumatic scars, sometimes as direct victims and other times as witnesses of violence perpetrated against their mothers and sisters.
During the event, UN staff members were provided an opportunity to make pledges on fighting gender based violence in their personal lives. “Talk to other men to act against any violence towards women”; “Treat women with due respect”; “Do more to appreciate men who are positive examples, both in my home and in my community; “Stop sexist jokes and gender stereotyped comments”; “Give my daughter the chance to be all she can be”; “Be a good example in my community, friends and family members’. These are a few examples of how some staff committed to personally make a difference in their families and communities.
The event concluded with a group photograph of the participants posing in front of the banner for the 16 Days of Activism portraying the President of Liberia’s signed commitment to end violence against women and girls. The banner proclaims “This is the President’s commitment. What is yours?”
By E.Gromme, Programme Officer, UN Women, Liberia.