Lecture Focuses on Engaging Men in the Promotion of Gender Equality and the Elimination of Gender-Based Violence

The Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination co-sponsored a lecture and discussion, "Men, Peace and Security: Engaging Men and Boys to Promote Gender Equality and Eliminate Gender-Based Violence," on Tuesday, July 9, 2013, at 1:00 p.m. at the United Nations, North Lawn Building, Room 6. The featured speaker was Gary Barker, International Director of Promundo. The event is part of a series of lectures and panels on the UN's Women, Peace, and Security Agenda, organized by LISD's Program on Women in the Global Community, the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein to the United Nations, and the PeaceWomen Project of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

The topic of Women, Peace, and Security has become recognized as a key issue in global discussions today. It is rare to question men’s role in these discussions, yet creating partnerships with men is critical to establishing gender equality and ending gender based violence. Recognizing the importance of these partnerships, this part of the WPS series featured the work of Promundo, a Brazilian-based NGO with offices in Rwanda and Washington, DC, which works to engage men and boys in gender equality and violence prevention. Their work has included coordinating research on men and masculinities in several post-conflict settings, including Rwanda, DRC, Burundi, and the Balkans. In this lecture, Promundo International Director Gary Barker presented findings from this research as well as experiences from Promundo’s work to engage men as change agents in the context of post-conflict settings.

Barker’s presentation focused on the effects of conflicts on masculinities and the factors behind gender-based violence. In the latter part of this presentation, he provided an overview of how Promundo tackles these problems and supports men as allies in the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda. A growing body of research sheds light on gender practices and attitudes. Problems identified by this research include the general phenomenon of the “manhood bottleneck” which is rooted in economic and employment issues.

Barker identified stable employment as a gateway to marriage and adult manhood, and when young men in particular face a lack of work, they experience stress and depression. According to Barker, and data from the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES), this stress and depression is a source of general frustration that drives participation in armed groups. Similarly, conflict exacerbates the loss of livelihoods which is associated with a general loss of masculine identity. Barker argues that men experience this more strongly than women, who generally have networks of solidarity to talk about their problems.

This economic stress is however only one factor that leads to gender-based violence. Gender-based violence has several other factors related to masculinity and male behavior. If a boy sees his father perpetrate gender-based violence, he will be more likely to do the same (on the contrary, boys who observe loving and caring parental relationships are twice as likely to emulate that behavior in adulthood).

Gender attitudes among men are also strongly linked with education. Younger men and those with secondary education generally take up values of gender equality much faster. Displacement, alcohol and drug use, and having been directly affected by conflict are other factors leading to gender-based violence.

Regarding high violence, post-conflict settings, Barker presented a series of recommendations including the building of positive, local cultural practices, identifying the “voices of resistance” in society (men and women who already show a willingness to embrace gender equality), helping men and boys find new identities together with women and girls, and supporting livelihoods for women and men. Engaging men in gender equality requires seeking solutions beyond the men themselves. Structural issues at the root of poverty and conflict persist and general infrastructure related to livelihoods, health and education is lacking.

Based on these research findings, Promundo works with men and boys to change masculinities and engage men as change agents in more than 15 countries. The different programs include group education and community campaigns to address some of the biggest drivers of gender inequality by engaging men in gender equality and violence prevention, as allies in women’s economic empowerment, and as caregivers.