Speech by John Hendra, Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director Policy and Programme, UN Women at the Government of Canada Side Event “Engaging Men and Boys in Preventing Violence against Women and Girls,” 5 March 2013, New York.
Honourable Minister Ambrose, distinguished panelists, Ambassador, gender activists, ladies and gentlemen;
I’m also very pleased to be here this afternoon to talk about engaging men and boys in preventing and ending violence against women and girls.
I strongly believe that men and boys have a central role to play in this effort. Men have a positive and active role to play in shaping respectful, gender equitable attitudes and behaviours among other men and boys. They are potential partners in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment. But this potential is clearly not yet fully realized. To bring about change, we need to better target men of all ages and backgrounds to rethink ideas of masculinity and discriminatory gender norms.
So I am very encouraged to see such interest and investment in this critical issue of engaging men and boys in ending violence against women. It’s obviously an issue of great interest to UN Women and I want to express great appreciation to the Government of Canada for taking the initiative in organizing this event, as well as for the important initiatives it has engaged in and spearheaded along with civil society partners, such as Minister Ambrose outlined, including the well-known White Ribbon campaign, under Todd’s dynamic leadership.
Raising awareness and engaging men and boys is critical if we are to lift the shadow of the fear of violence that affects women everywhere.
It’s an absolute imperative that we do so. It’s simply unacceptable that depending on where you live, three to seven out of every 10 women will face physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of their husbands and partners. While men and boys are most often the perpetrators of such violence, it’s also true that many men do not use, and indeed abhor, violence. They have the potential to be great allies.
But awareness-raising alone, while necessary, is not sufficient. We need to actively engage men and boys, to bring their voices and views to the table, and ensure they are an integral part of our strategy to end violence against women and girls. And we need to enlist men and boys in questioning dominant ideas of masculinity that condone and perpetuate violence against women in all societies.
So what do we know about what works in engaging men and boys? I’ll focus on five areas.
First, men and boys can successfully be engaged in their role as peers. Targeting men and boys to influence their peers by speaking up, and saying that violence and abuse is simply unacceptable, can help break the silence about violence against women.
For example, in Canada, where I come from, one project which we will hear about today, “More than a Bystander” has done this successfully, by working with men and women, with a specific focus on men and boys, including football coaches and their teams, across the province of British Columbia.
Similarly, the Australian white ribbon campaign’s “Hey Mate” campaign calls on men to speak up when they see violence and abuse, and tells them “other good men have got your back”.
Second, as these examples show, positive role models can be incredibly powerful, by building a new, positive view of masculinity, where men and boys believe in, think in and act in gender equitable ways and speak out against violence against women, both publically and privately.
The Secretary-General’s network of Men Leaders is part of his UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, and profiles strong, visible male role models – like the Secretary-General himself. Male allies range from Members of Parliament bringing issues of violence to the floor of national parliaments and advocating for new or improved laws, to men re-envisioning their role in their own communities, including as caregivers sharing responsibilities typically relegated to women. In Australia, 23 “Male Champions of Change” work with the Sex Discrimination Commissioner to use their individual and collective influence and commitment to promote gender equality and women’s leadership on the national agenda, in business and beyond.
Third, there’s no doubt that early childhood experiences, and education, are the basic foundation for raising awareness and engaging men and boys proactively to end violence against women. Beginning with early education, we need to promote interventions that encourage healthy relationships, life skills, and zero tolerance for violence.
Working with young men is also critical. Research in Asia-Pacific by Partners for Prevention, a joint initiative by UN Women, UNDP, UNFPA and UNV that is generating new knowledge about masculinity and the attitudes and behaviours that underpin and perpetuate violence, found that across Asia-Pacific nearly half of those who reported perpetrating rape did so for the first time when they were under the age of 20. And in a region with one of the highest rates of rape in the world, UN Women’s Caribbean Office and its partners have developed a community-based programme for boys aged 13-16 that challenges gender stereotypes while also teaching teens how to build healthy relationships.
There are many other examples, and I encourage you to visit UN Women’s Virtual Knowledge Centre to End Violence against Women at http://www.endvawnow.org/ for promising practices from all over the world, as well as more than 100 tools for programming with men and boys of all ages.
Fourth, experience shows that engaging men as parents, and promoting a more equitable division of responsibilities within the home, has direct beneficial effects on gender equality.
Sweden’s decision to amend its parental leave policy to encourage greater take up among fathers has had a direct impact not only on the time men spend with their children, but also on women’s income. For every month a father takes leave, a mother’s earnings increase by 6.7 per cent.
Finally, and so importantly, we really need to engage men and boys not only in terms of their responsibilities – as peers, as role models, as parents, as husbands and as partners – to end violence, but also in terms of what’s in it for us as men!
More gender equitable relationships, in which decision-making and care-giving are shared, offer benefits to men as well as women, including better and closer relationships with our partners and children. The IMAGES study by Promundo and the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) conducted in six countries in 2009-2010 found that men in more gender equitable relationships reported higher levels of relationship satisfaction – as did women.
As we know, more equal societies tend to be better off, more stable and cohesive, with better opportunities and outcomes for men and women, boys and girls across a range of indicators. It’s no accident that those countries that score highest on global indexes for human development are also among those that perform best in terms of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Nor is it an accident that conflict and fragility are strongly correlated with lower levels of gender equality – and very high levels of violence against women.
Just as more traditional beliefs about masculinity are associated with greater acceptance – and perpetration – of violence – so can engaging men and boys help create a more positive and enabling environment for ending violence against women, including by promoting equal and respectful relationships and more balanced sharing of power and decision-making. What’s more, as these examples highlight, men can and do change, even in very conservative and unequal societies.
That’s why UN Women, together with all of our partners, is supporting initiatives to encourage men to stand up against violence, and engage them in caregiving and family decision-making.
Indeed, we’re very fortunate to be working with such great partners, including those of you here today, to engage men and boys to achieve a more equal world, and put an end to the scourge of violence against women and girls.
As Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson – himself a male role model – said yesterday, it’s time to channel our outrage over violence against women into action. As we conduct the CSW negotiations over the coming days, all of us must commit to truly ending violence against women. And we must continue to work together, to engage all sectors of society to create a world where women can live free of the fear of violence.
Let me end by sharing with you the words of a very famous elder and a role model of mine, and I’m sure many of you, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and I quote: “I call on men and boys everywhere to take a stand against the mistreatment of girls and women. It is by standing up for the rights of girls and women that we truly measure up as men.”
For more on some of the initiatives discussed during this Side Event, visit: