Engaging men in violence prevention: gender equity in practice

As many of us know, the way to eliminate violence against women is to achieve gender equality. We also know that in order to end violence against women, all of us—women and men—need to work together. What is often less clear is precisely why engaging and involving men in prevention activities is so important to achieving this outcome.

There has been a definite and positive shift in thinking about men’s involvement—the focus is now less on men as perpetrator and more as partners in primary prevention. However, there continues to be confusion and uncertainty about what this looks like in practice. But is this any surprise? If we all agree that gender-based violence affects women disproportionately, and is a result of the unequal power relationships between women and men, simply involving men in a cause so entwined with their privileged gender role, without challenging this role, is going to have its difficulties. Don’t forget the goal is gender equality. But for that to happen, it’s not possible to split the prevention pie in two equal shares. We need to involve men in violence prevention in ways that address the inequality in gender relations and lift away the invisible cloak of gender privilege.

Perhaps it is these concepts of equality (or formal equality in ‘human rights speak’) and equity (or substantive equality) are the real cause of confusion. As we strive towards achieving equal treatment of women and men and equal access to resources and services for all, we also need to recognise that achieving equality involves fairness and justice in the distribution of resources between men and women (equity). More women-specific and culturally-specific programs and policies are required, precisely because there are inequalities that need fixing. Our efforts to prevent violence follows this feminist line of thinking: men need to work with women as partners to advance the work already being carried out by women. In order to do this, they will need to actively contribute to changing and challenging gender expectations themselves.

So, as a first step, let’s always ask ourselves: will men’s involvement here help to transform the structures and processes supporting the violence we are challenging? If the answer is ‘no’ or, even worse, if their involvement will reinforce men’s privilege and interests, then we need to go back to the drawing board. But if the answer is ‘yes’ we can proceed to asking how we can make that happen. Perhaps that’s another issue for another WRAP.