PRB Discuss Online: Engaging Men in the Fight to End Violence Against Women
(December 2009) One in three women will experience an act of violence in their lifetime, whether it is domestic and interpersonal violence; sexual violence; violence in the name of “culture” or tradition; or systemic violence, as in the use of rape as an instrument of war. For decades, women’s rights advocates have been in the forefront in the fight against this violence, primarily by working to support survivors of violence, develop policy, criminal, and justice responses, and in a broader struggle for gender equality. Relatively recently, efforts have focused on engaging men as part of the solution. As the disproportionate perpetrators of this violence, and as benefactors of a patriarchal society, men and masculinities must be understood in terms of the cause and as part of the solution.
During a PRB Discuss Online, Todd Minerson, the executive director of the White Ribbon Campaign, which works with men and boys to end men’s violence against women, answered participants’ questions about some of the challenges, successes, strategies, and techniques for engaging men in the elimination of men’s violence against women.
Dec. 16, 2009 2 PM EST
Transcript of Questions and Answers
Laurette Cucuzza: Is the White Ribbon campaign primarily directed at Canada and the US? It might be confusing to export it internationally, given the White ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood is well established in many countries.
Todd Minerson: The White Ribbon Campaign (WRC) began in 1991, 18 years ago, in Canada. By 1992-93 we were contacted by men in the US, Australia, and Scandinavia about adopting the symbol, and the pledge, which is to never commit, to never condone, and to never remain silent about violence against women. Today we are active in over 60 countries around the world, on every continent. Over 1 million men participated in WRC activities in 2009. It is a bit of a challenge that the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood selected the same symbol and has generated terrific awareness, but we have decided that there is too much history and recognition in our own identity to change at this time.
Laurie Krieger: Why have you used the concept of culture in quotes?
Todd Minerson: Great question. In our experience working with men and boys on ending gender based violence, we have encountered difficult and complex intersections with the notion of “culture”. First, it is a huge concept encompassing arts, history, tradition, faith, language, cuisine, geography, class, education, politics, etc. I am certain I am missing many other elements, but to capture them all we use “culture” in quotes. Because the concept, and all of these elements are so intrinsic to personal and community identity, they are often viewed as sacrosanct, untouchable, homogeneous, and unchanging. This is where it can become challenging in the work we do engaging men. All around the world, we repeatedly encounter several misappropriations of the concept of culture in our work with men on gender equality issues. It is often suggested, in the name of “culture”, inequitable, harmful, and violent aspects of men’s power and privilege cannot be challenged. “This is the way it has always been, it is part of our culture.” is something we hear a lot. For our work this raises two critical questions. “Culture” is not static, it changes, evolves, and adapts. What has always been need not always be. Also, culture is not homogeneous, “the way it has always been” may reflect the dominant forces in a particular group, but often does not reflect the experience of those in the margins. I will share a quick example. We were working with a group of inter-generational men in India, discussing the practice of eve-teasing, where young men sit in a communal place and basically make sexualized comments about the women who walk past. The elder men in the group said, this is harmless, it is just part of our “culture”. The young men however, had the benefit of an earlier conversation with the young women who had been on the receiving end of the eve-teasing, and heard first had the hurt, and harm women felt by it. These young men then challenged the elders by saying we need to change this, and it isn’t part of our “culture”.
Rhoune Ochako: What is being done to ensure men are empowered to provide for their families. We know that some violence could be due to frustrations men go through when they are unable to provide for the family while African customs expect men to be the head of the family. How can the man be the head without the ability to provide basic needs?
Todd Minerson: Economic forces have a very large impact on men in relation to the use of violence. The pressure to “provide and protect” is a significant part most constructions of masculinity around the world. When poverty, globalization, drought, crop failure, conflict, crime, corruption etc. hinder a man’s ability to provide for his family, it can increase the frustration and anger about their self-esteem or success as a man. Some men may turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, or also violence as a means of coping or dealing with this challenge. Those become ways to escape, or ways to retain some semblance of control over their situation. It is important to note that not all men turn to these things, but we can see many examples clearly enough. So this becomes a learning opportunity around gender equality, and also a reminder that structural forces play an important role in finding solutions to men’s violence against women. We have an exercise that is designed to show men how their overall family prosperity could be increased if women realize pay equity, and how it is compromised when women make less on average than men. How the pressure to provide is alleviated when women are given the opportunity to participate and contribute on equal terms. This work also requires comprehensive solutions, if a family is starving, or has no clean water, or is dying from preventable disease, or living in a war zone – engaging men in gender equality is a very difficult task.
joshua: what could be the best or viable techniques to involve men in gender based violence prevention and PMTCT programs? you know men dont like to engauge in these programmes they are always in Bars and else where doing other things which benefit them alone.i will be greatful if i receive discussed techniques thanks in advance
Todd Minerson: This is a very big question which would be very hard to answer comprehensively here. This takes a week long training in some instances to fully cover. The techniques are evolving, and are being drawn from cross-sectoral work being done with men and boys on gender equality issues. Experiences in violence prevention, HIV/AIDS prevention, maternal and child health, sexuality, and many more have all contributed to the shared knowledge in this work. Some of the critical elements in these techniques would be the following:
– The use of gender transformative programming. In our understanding of the term, programming that both challenges inequitable and harmful gender norms and also promotes gender equality.
– Addressing and involving men in program development.
– Using a strength based approach – that is to say as opposed to using guilt, fear, or shame techniques – highlight what men might be doing well and provide them with positive examples of how to be.
– Ensuring that while being consistent with these ideals, programming is also relevant and sensitive to unique, local, grassroots realities.
– Striving for a life cycle, and ecological approach. meaning looking for specific programs and interventions at various stages of boys and mens lives, and throughout society – from personal interventions and programmes to policy and big picture advocacy.
Stephen: 1. Is there a difference between male enagement, involement, participation? ad if so what is? 2. Are there practical frameworks for evaluating male involvement programs
Todd Minerson: I think engagement is a broad term being used in many sectors now to describe the different range of relations to programmes and campaigns focused on men. There are several practical frameworks for evaluating these kinds of programmes. One tool that has been developed is called the GEM (Gender Equitable Men) Scale, which can be adapted for use in different cultures around the world. This tool looks at a range of attitudes and behaviours on gender equality, measures them, and can be re-administered post intervention to assess levels of change. On a larger scale, the World Health Organization, and an NGO from Brazil called Instituto Promundo conducted a review of 57 programmes involving men that had enough evaluation data to understand what works and what doesn’t. This has become a vital tool in the development and sharing of effective techniques in this work.
Subhas Yadawad: Men and women, irrespective of their sex should fight against violence. Do you think that violence is being done to only female folk? No doubt, the women are more vulnerable to violence than the men. Any how violence should be stopped. But how it should be [stopped] is the question? Fighting is also another form of violence. [Could] violence …. be contained by violence?
Todd Minerson: We work from the premise that all violence is harmful, and all victims of violence deserve a level of compassionate care that addresses this harm. This notion goes beyond gender or age, who perpetrates, or who is the victim. Our work at WRC is concerned more specifically with the pandemic extent of violence that men perpetrate against women. The majority of domestic or interpersonal violence is committed by men against women. Men are disproportionately perpetrators of sexual assaults, rapes, serial killings, mass murders, rape as a weapon of war, so-called honour killings, acid burnings etc. Our primary concern is the prevention of this specific range of violence men commit against women. However, to neglect other forms of men’s violence, and perhaps more importantly men’s own experiences of violence ignores a) one of the primary causes of men’s violence, b)one of the most harmful aspects of masculinities, and c) one of the most powerful entry points for talking with men about gender based violence. One of the important indicators of whether or not men will use violence in a relationship is whether they have experienced or witnessed violence in their lives. Men are actually more likely to be victims of other men’s violence than women, when you factor in crime, war, fighting, ethnic/religious/national violence. Lastly, getting men to talk about their own experience of violence, or powerlessness can be an important tool for getting men to empathize with women’s experience of violence.
Ntoimo Favour C.: Women in Africa are perhaps the worst victims of gender violence, because of misguided patriachy. While men are victims of a culture of patriachy they inherited. Does your campaign cover Africa where many women suffer domestic violence in silence[?] Gender violence has robbed so many women of fulfilled life and in many cases cost their lives.
Todd Minerson: Great question and for me it raises two very important points. First,the issue of silence, both women suffering in silence, and men remaining silent on the issue. Breaking those silences is critical to realizing transformative change on the issue of men’s violence against women. Second is a technique we use to demonstrate to men that patriarchy has its own costs for us as well. While I would not go so far as to suggest men are victims, we largely still benefit in relation to women, there are definitely costs we often are reluctant to address as men. Physically, we are likely to live shorter lives, be over-represented in stress related illness, addictions, some mental health homelessness etc. As mentioned earlier, we are also more likely to be a victim of other men’s violence as well. Socially, we are more likely to resort to crime, are filling up prions, still comprise most combatants in war and conflict, and do the most dangerous labour. Emotionally and psychologically we are conditioned to not express or demonstrate a large portion of valuable human emotions like caring and compassion, empathy, vulnerability – these things are “unmanly”. This can also lead us to be more emotionally distant from our partners and our children. Lastly – we are also cast in violent and harmful ideas of masculinity – whether we like it or not. I know if a woman is walking towards me on a dark and isolated street, she is likely to cross the road to the other side. I don’t blame here, but personally I do not want to be cast in that version of masculinity. Pointing out these costs can be a great tool for getting men to think differently about issues around gender equality.
Lanre Ikuteyijo: The issue of violence against women is not a novel idea but don’t you think there are some factors driving this abuse but which has escaped the attention of scholars. One of these is the fact that the mass media in my part of Africa has not been fair to women in that in most films, old women are usually portrayed as witches, wicked and stinking. Don’t you think young ones particularly boys are being socialized to perceive old women in bad light?
Todd Minerson: Popular media is a major contributor to the stereotypes and harmful constructions of gender for for both men and women, young and old. One of the techniques we use is to try to teach critical media literacy to young people. To ask them if the images they see in popular media actually reflect their lives around them, and if not why? For young men and boys things like aggression, violence, not displaying emotions tend to be normalized. In addition to you comment around elder women’s portrayals, we know that young women are often sexualized, or used to sell products in popular media. Research has shown that these images can contribute to ideas around sexual violence.
Dr. Anima Sharma: Minerson, You have raised a very pertinent question for the discussion. In my opinion, involving men in the fight to end violence against women would certainly bring desired results. But, several studies have shown that even in the male dominating societies the ultimate decision in regards of medical treatment and other issues lies in the hands of the mother-in-law, in case the issue relates to the daughter-in-law. In the rural setting where the kinship ties play an important role, son rarely interferes with whatever his mother says. Hence, donot you think that we should involve men this campign with the objective of behaviour change of them too?
Todd Minerson: Unfortunately my area of expertise is not in accessing medical treatment, however I do know that colleagues of our such as Engender Health, or the International Planned Parenthood Federation are looking at work to involve men in in maternal and child health, with encouraging results.
Sarah Kenagy: What are the specific needs of parents to promote gender-sensitive or gender-transformative development of their own children and model norms of behavior that prevent violence and respond to gender injustices? How do social norms and family expectations related to responsibility for domestic chores and economic earning influence family-related violence?
Todd Minerson: Excellent question. The promotion of gender equity in the household has the potential to be the most important arena for this work. We know several factors that encourage us in this direction. 1) When asked how they would be interested in working to promote gender equality, one way tends to dominate, and that is talking to the young people in their lives about it. We also know that most men want to do well by their children, and making the connections to the promotion of gender equality taps into that desire. 2) We also know that young people are looking to men in their families for positive examples of how to behave and relate in gender equitable ways. As much as witnessing violence in the home can have detrimental affects, witnessing gender equality behaviours can have very positive effects. When we ask young men with good understandings of gender equality and healthy relationships, they can almost universally point to examples of gender equitable men in their lives. In terms of what men can do – challenging those social norms is an important piece, but so is engaging in dialogue, and using opportunities and experiences as access points for conversations on gender. Even things as seemingly small as sharing in the domestic work has a dual effect. It shows the children that men and women share this work equally, and it challenges the social norm that this is women’s work only.WRC has developed a campaign themed on this aspect of the research called “It Starts With You.” http://www.itstartswithyou.ca
Sarah Kenagy: What measures are being used to promote violence-free school settings, and what are men’s, women’s, girls’, and boys’ roles in promoting this? Are communities involved? What about safety for children walking to and from schools? What accountability measures are being used to reinforce them?
Todd Minerson: Schools are another important place for this work to take place. In countries around the world unique strategies have been developed to help bring these issues into the classrooms. A great deal of work has also been done on the training of teachers and educators. There also needs to be linkages made to issues like bullying, as well as addressing some of the structural forces that impact school based violence, such as poverty, racism, homophobia etc. Involving all stakeholders in the education system from the policy level to the classroom to the community helps create accountability measures that are relevant locally, and stand up to measurement. WRC has done a great deal of work in the classroom, please contact us if you would like more specific information on this work.
Editor: The Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (AFPPD), based in Bangkok, has worked with UNFPA and other partners and established a Standing Committee of Male Parliamentarianson Prevention of Violence against Women and Girls, consisting of ten male MPs from the Asia-Pacific. We would like to know what concrete actions male MPs can take to most effectively address gender-based violence, its causes and consequences. What are some of the existing good practices in engaging male policymakers to prevent violence against women?
Todd Minerson: Getting men involved at the highest policy levels is important. One of the key messages for parliamentarians is the necessity to make the links between the promotion of gender equality and the reduction of violence against women. Parliamentarians need to understand this connection in order to keep gender equality policy on all political agendas. In addition, MP’s can be a a great messenger, both in terms of men who other men listen to and are influenced by, and also as allies to women’s groups who are not accustomed to hearing this support from male MP’s at this level. Finally, MP’s can push for national strategies to address violence against women, including both prevention and support for women and families leaving violent situations. Too few of these national strategies have adequate resources attached to them, appropriate terms of commitment, and the dual focus on prevention and support. For good practices I would look to policy in some of the Scandinavian countries, Spain, and more recently Australia. There is also a project underway called the Men And Policy Project which is exploring these exact issues.
ibrahim sebiyam: what is the UN stand on Soldiers who abuse women by sexually assaulting them?
Todd Minerson: I know there has been some work by the UN on this tragic issue, however I cannot speak for the UN stand.
Meskerem Bekele, Ethiopia: It was before one month that I participated workshop which was focused “Promoting Marital Health and reducing Risk of Domestic Violence”It was presented by Dr.S.D Shantininath and the workshop specially focused how to prevent violence. Preventing violence like HIV is what an amazing and wonderful idea! “Engaging Men in the fight to end violence against women “also a better idea. In the statistics “one in three women will experience an act of violence in their life time” and when we see the kind of violence those you explained can we say violence is natural? Or can I say that all women are experience violence? And if it is natural is there any precondition which initiate men to women intentionally or unintentionally? Could you share me one or two testimonies of your experience according to men engagement?
Todd Minerson: I think the question you are getting to is something along the lines of – if violence against women is so predominant, could it be considered to be a natural condition? I would challenge idea that both historically, and through observing places where we have seen a dramatic reduction in the amount of violence against women. There is significant documentation of many cultures over history with little or no violence against women. Not surprisingly, most of those examples were gender equitable societies, where labour, production and governance were shared between men and women. In places like Scandinavia, where some of the highest measurable levels of gender equality exist, violence against women has also decreased dramatically. It is no coincidence that these things are linked. Men’s violence against women is a factor of men’s power and privilege, of patriarchy.
Judith Maua: Thanks Todd for this very important and timely discussion. I am happy that men are coming on board to challenge “bad habit” that hurts women and young people. I am wondering if men actually agree that there is rape in marriage and how can this be stopped? What strategies are men putting in place to help their men colleagues to stop violence against women? How can men in some African communities be made to understand that what they could be doing when they hit their women is not a gesture of “love” but violence? Hope to learn alot from this discussion.
Todd Minerson: The issue of rape in marriage, or sexual consent within marriage is a very difficult one in different parts of the world. There are many places where this is a non-issue, and others where it is a major barrier. One of the reasons it becomes a major barrier revolves around the question and impact of “culture” as a defense of harmful or violent behavior against women. There are several ways it can be stopped, one is to approach it from a human rights standpoint. The right to consent to sexual relations regardless of marriage is a universal human right. Another way is to work with men in understanding the harm non-consensual sex and rape can cause to women. This will be a major challenge in the work moving forward.
Karin Ringheim: Todd, at the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence event that PRB cosponsored, there was discussion about the need to engage with women’s rights activists and to vet all policy positions with them. What has been the experience of the White Ribbon campaign in working with women’s groups, particularly as your group is focused on engaging men to fight violence? Are women’s rights activists concerned about the flow of resources and attention to groups focused on men (even if women are the ultimate beneficiaries?
Todd Minerson: Excellent question. WRC has several policies and strategies to ensure our accountability to women’s organizations.
1) We have a strict layered policy that we will never apply for funding that competes directly with support and intervention programmes for women.
2) We have women on our Board of Directors, and have had women on our staff team.
3) Whenever possible we partner with women’s organizations in new programme development.
5) We advocate systemically for a “larger pie” including new and dedicated funds for primary prevention work with men and boys, in ADDITION to existing funds for support and intervention. The scarcity of resources generally has meant many groups fear a reduction in what is available, our job is to be accountable allies in al of this work, and be sensitive to these issues.
Joanna Hoffman: How does WRA address honor killings?
Todd Minerson: Honour killings are one of the worst examples of men’s violence against women, and are inexcusable. While not a major focus here in our work in Canada (although it does happen), our colleagues around the have developed more specific education and awareness campaigns to work to address this issue. These responses need to be local, culturally and historically relevant to have effect.
Laurie Krieger: Todd, sorry to harp on the word “culture,” but am wondering if some anthropological concepts could help here. I find that “meaning,” in relation to understanding culture and why practices continue is very helpful. Meaning varies (as does culture) by who you are. The great example you gave from India is an example of people supposedly sharing the same culture, but whether you are a woman or man determines how you interpret an action. And of course while men benefit from patriarchy, they also suffer from it, too. Another question based on a Laurette’s: how did you decide on a white ribbon?
Todd Minerson: I agree with that interpretation of “meaning” Ms. Kreiger, perhaps that is part of what I am trying to get at be saying “culture” is not homogeneous. The White Ribbon symbol was selected in 1991 in a very North American context – white representing peace and the ribbon being a visible symbol just gaining currency at that time. (It is sometimes hard to remember a time before there was a ribbon fro every cause imaginable)Of course we now recognize that white has different meanings in many cultures, grief, mourning etc. Another interesting thing that has happened is that local communities have adapted the white ribbon symbol to better reflect their own cultures. For example in Brazil – it is not a ribbon, but a prayer bracelet tied around one’s wrist. In Jordan it is a pink and blue bar, side by side symbolizing equality.
Sarah Kenagy: What interventions have been tried and tested to promote support for survivors of violence and reduction of stigma outside of the service sector (i.e. outside traditional health, justice, psychosocial, legal, education, security sectors)?
Todd Minerson: I apologize – but we work mostly in primary prevention with men and boys as opposed to work with survivors of violence. I don’t feel I have the expertise to address this question.
Sarah Kenagy: How are we targeting the specific developmental needs and gender socialization of boys age 8 – 14? What does a systematic intervention look like that takes socialization for both boys and girls in this age cohort into consideration, and then focus on how to interact and communicate with each other as equals?
Todd Minerson: This is a critical age for working with young men and boys. It has been recognized by several funders as a vital period in the development of attitudes and behaviours around gender. For young men and boys this is a period you can begin work on self-assessment of masculinity, you can start to talk about healthy relationship, you can introduce critical media awareness – there are so many opportunities in this age range. It is a very formative period. As you point out – it is also a great time to focus on the interaction between young men and women.We run a program in partnership with the YWCA here in Ontario called Common Ground. It is a chance to bring young women and men together to explore these issues. The first half of the day is separated by gender, working on all of the issues I mention above. The second half of the day is structured as a discourse between boys and girls.It is in this second half of the day where we tend to see some of the magic happen. Girls having a chance to hear form boys on the challenges and pressures to be a man. Boys hearing from girls just how damaging their inequitable behaviours can be, and how things like popular culture cna have such a negative impact on young women.When we follow up with these young people, they consistently point to these conversations as transformative moments.
Sarah Kenagy: Todd, RE: girls and boys socilization. great info. do you have any tools that you could share from Common Ground?
Todd Minerson: If anyone is looking for further information on any of our programmes – please visit our website. www.whiteribbon.com. Or send us an email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you all for participating in the online discussion. For further information on the White Ribbon Campaign and this topic, see
•16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, Nov. 25 to Dec. 10, 2009
•Interagency Gender Working Group, Femicide: What Is It and Why Isn’t Anyone Talking About It?
•PRB podcast, “The Fight Against ‘Honor Killings’: Interview With Investigative Journalist Rana Husseini”
•The White Ribbon Campaign Men working to end men’s violence against women (www.whiteribbon.ca), or send an e-mail to email@example.com.