At the end of the day, we are in this fight together
“Men are from Mars and women are from Venus” goes the phrase coined by American writer John Gray, popularizing the idea that men and women are two very distinct species.
In reality, they are not and both of them have to share this same Earth. So, wouldn’t it be wiser to live in a way that upholds the rights and self-worth of both parties? Unfortunately, as ridiculous as it may be, we are, in fact, going in the opposite direction.
Bangladesh may have shown some progress in gender equality in the last few years according to certain rankings, but the current scenario of violence against women in the country relays a different message.
A survey conducted by Odhikar suggests that, in 2018, from January to May, 318 rape cases were reported and, among those, 22 were murdered. In addition, there were 75 dowry cases, amongst which 28 were killed.
According to Ain o Shalish Kendra, in 2018, from January to March, 107 women were abused at their homes, including 89 being killed and 27 women being sexually harassed in a public place. In addition to these reports exist the countless personal experiences of women and girls which speak to how prevalent these acts of violence are.
However, as I look closely, I wonder: Aren’t we forgetting the men who perpetrate these violence? Because, when we say “violence against women” and not “violence against women by men,” we exclude the other party, making it difficult to address the issue to its fullest extent.
Amongst the few studies conducted on this matter, icddr,b and UNFPA show that about 65% to 68% of Bangladeshi men admitted to emotionally, physically, or sexually abusing their partners. About 10% of men from urban areas and 14% from rural areas reported perpetrating sexual violence against any woman, partner or non-partner.
So, when we are trying to prevent violence against women, we may want to also focus on changing the behavioural pattern and culture that shape men and boys to behave this way.
What we need to do is to engage men as partners in the fight to stop violence against women.
According to 16-year-old Rahim (name changed), who received training under BRAC’s “Men as Partner” initiative: “It is not right to beat or torture a woman under any circumstances. Men perpetrate violence when they are frustrated or feel threatened. It’s not the women’s fault. So it should be men that come forward to stop violence against women.”
Alongside many other national and international development agencies and NGOs, BRAC is also working with men and boys to raise their awareness and engage them as active participants to combat violence against women and girls. The impact of these initiatives on the adolescent boys have been astounding.
Adolescent boys are continuously being exposed to new thoughts and ideas about gender roles and violence which contrast with the traditional notions they are taught in their society. Due to this exposure, they are constantly re-evaluating their perceptions of masculinity.
Remarkable changes are being observed. They have developed a better understanding of violence against women and its damaging consequences. These boys have positioned themselves strongly against violence in every form, from beatings and dowry to eve-teasing and rape.
Learning about gender inequality, discriminating gender norms, and the consequences of violence against women at a young age made it easier for them to internalize the notion of gender sensitivity and practice it in real life.
College student Fahim (name changed) from Gazipur said: “Harassing a girl is very humiliating for her. I saw many of my female classmates drop out from school for facing eve-teasing or harassment. I personally intervened in a few cases to stop harassment. I discuss the negative consequences of harassing girls in my friend circle to make them more aware of this issue.”
Encountering these real-life positive changes made me think that it’s time we put more emphasis on engaging men as allies and build this alliance as an important approach to fighting this gruelling battle to stop violence against women.
It is imperative that we re-conceptualize the traditional notions of masculinity which put men in power to control women by means of violence. In most cultures, the concept of masculinity suggests that there are patterns of dominant masculine behaviour which are considered hegemonic. However, this hegemony is always subject to change.
Adolescence is one of the most important stages of a boy’s life, it is when they develop their understanding of masculinity and associate themselves with the patterns which serve them best. Therefore, if we can make them resist oppressive masculine traits and embrace non-oppressive and gender sensitive traits, then the perpetration of violence could be reduced significantly.
Another approach proven by global research shows that men are more comfortable talking about, and are receptive of messages on, violence against women when approached by other men and within an exclusively male group. Men feel more involved and responsible in this non-confrontational setting where they don’t need to defend themselves.
Moreover, global research supports that when boys are exposed to issues of gender inequality, violence against women, and their consequences, they feel more obligated to take action against such injustices.
Let’s not forget that violence against women also affects men and the society they live in. Most of them are well aware of it but hesitate to come forward as active agents of resistance due to the lack of an encouraging environment. Therefore, to live in an equitable and violence-free society, we need to increase awareness amongst all men and provide them with the environment which allows existing as partners to women in this struggle.
Nahida Akter is a Development Researcher at the BRAC Research and Evaluation Division.