Men To Be Engaged As Allies In The Fight Against GBV

Gender-based violence (GBV) remains one of the most prevalent and persistent issues facing women and girls not only in Zimbabwe but worldwide.

Globally, about 20 percent of women have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18, while over 7 percent of women and girls older than 15 have experienced non partner sexual violence.

This violence has immediate and long-lasting impacts on the health and welfare of women and children, with ripple effects in the broader community and country.

Gender-based violence is a significant barrier to the achievement of every development outcome because the equality of men and women is the foundation for a “peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world” . Tag  A Life International (TALI), a young girls and women organization, explicitly calls for the elimination of  all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres and a world free of GBV.

So what really is GBV and what causes it? It is defined  as any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and that is based on socially ascribed (i.e., gender) differences between females and males. It includes acts that inflict physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion, and other deprivations of liberty. These harmful acts can occur in public and in private .

In Zimbabwe and many 3rd world countries, patriarchal and  sexist views legitimize violence to ensure the dominance and superiority of men.  Cultural factors such as  gender stereotypes,  prejudice, normative expectations of femininity and masculinity, the socialization of gender, an understanding of the family setup  as private and under male authority, and a general acceptance of violence as part of the public sphere (e.g. street sexual harassment of women by touts and hwindi’s) has largely contributed to the perpetration of women in our societies.

The lack of economic resources generally makes women in  particular vulnerable to violence. It creates patterns of violence and poverty that become self-perpetuating, making it extremely difficult for the victims to liberate themselves. When unemployment and poverty affects men, this can also cause them to assert their masculinity through violent means.

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which are currently in full swing until the 10th of December, offer an important opportunity to step back and consider what we can do all year long to put an end to gender-based violence. Below are key lines of action that can mitigate this;

  1. Challenge gender norms

There are other gender norms that aren’t as violent or harmful, but still contribute to GBV. Many of these seem inoffensive at face value, such as the stereotype that women tend to the home while men go to work; or the notion that certain activities are “for boys” or “for girls.” However, all of these norms and stereotypes support a larger system of inequality between the genders that, at its worst, can turn violent. Much like a pandemic, we have to bring all cases , severe and mild  under control in order to halt the spread.

  1. Engage men as allies and partners

Women need to be supported and empowered, however any solution to GBV that doesn’t engage men and boys is only going to work so well before it is undermined. There is need for  both men and women to transform their attitudes and behaviours by questioning what it means to be a man or a woman, understanding how traditional beliefs may not work practically in contemporary society, and ultimately working together to end GBV.

  1. Educate,

Education at every level is one of the key solutions to gender-based violence. GBV is a learned behaviour. That means it can be unlearned. Every other item on this list is, in essence, a form of education. Women need to know their rights, how to report violence, and how to reject harmful gender norms. Men need to know how patriarchal structures create these harmful gender norms, and how their behaviour may be contributing to an unhealthy dynamic. Communities need to know what GBV looks like and how to react when they see it. Facilitators need to know the root causes of gendered violence at a national, regional and community level.

  1. Believe and support survivors

 GBV  survivors are often not believed when they speak up. This can create additional stress and abuse for those who take that  first brave step  needed to break the cycle of GBV. It also discourages other people suffering gendered violence from speaking out. This not only harms those experiencing violence, but also entire communities. Gender-based violence thrives in silence!

Beyond believing survivors, we also need to ensure that they have the support they need after reporting their abuse. Even if a woman is believed, she can also be stigmatised for being attacked. No one who suffers from GBV should suffer further through societal exclusion. This is especially true for survivors of rape and sexual assault. At minimum, survivors of abuse should have access to quality healthcare (including psychosocial support), legal services, economic assistance, and shelters or safe spaces for themselves and their children.

Nyari Mashayamombe

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