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Should humanitarians work with men and boys to challenge harmful gender norms to help prevent GBV?


Laura Martineau-Searle, GBV AoR Helpdesk Manager, introduces the latest Evidence Digest authored by Tamah Murfet and Jeanne Ward on Working with Men and Boys to Promote Gender Equality and Prevent Gender-based Violence

Everyday women and girls from all over the world live with the threat of multiple forms of violence. These forms of violence include rape, intimate partner violence, female genital mutilation, early child and forced marriage, and trafficking for the purposes of forced labour and sexual exploitation. Violence against women and girls is one of the most pervasive, yet poorly addressed, human rights violations in the world today.

In times of crisis, the risk of exposure to specific types of violence may increase for women and girls.  Emergencies--whether resulting from natural disasters or armed conflicts--often trigger acute poverty, displacement, separation from family and friends, the collapse of public services, and the breakdown of law and order. These factors combine with pre-existing gender inequalities to heighten the vulnerability of women and girls.

In recent years, there has been a proliferation of initiatives around the world which aim to recruit men and boys as advocates for gender equality and allies in efforts to end violence against women and girls. Examples of approaches to these ‘male engagement’ initiatives include supporting men and boys to critically reflect on harmful gender norms, roles and responsibilities; and to utilize male role models who champion gender equality and condemn violence against women and girls. The majority of such initiatives have been rolled out in non-emergency settings, but there is growing interest from donors and humanitarian actors to integrate male-engagement approaches into GBV prevention work in emergencies.

Given the limited funding available for GBV prevention and response programming in humanitarian settings, investments in activities targeted specifically to men and boys to address violence against women and girls requires serious reflection—and understanding of good practices and lessons learned in these male engagement approaches. The latest GBV AoR Evidence Digest on Working with Men and Boys to Prevent and Respond to Violence Against Women and Girls in Emergencies explores some of the critical issues at play, with the aim of raising awareness and promoting uptake of the latest research, evidence and learning among GBV researchers, policymakers, practitioners and activists in the humanitarian sector.

Perhaps the first (and arguably most important) question donors and humanitarian actors should ask themselves before investing in working with men and boys as part of their GBV prevention programming is whether such interventions are actually effective. The Evidence Digest highlights that successful interventions have common factors, such as involving both men and women as part of a whole-of-community approach; utilizing approaches that are accountable to women; and creating opportunities for women’s participation and leadership in programme design and delivery.

The importance of balancing work with men to challenge harmful gender norms, with the need to support and empower women is consistent with recommendations from the Coalition of Feminists for Social Change (COFEM), which comprises experienced GBVIE researchers, practitioners, and activists. COFEM recommend that 1) GBV prevention programming which includes male-engagement components should involve both men and women in its design, implementation and targeting, as part of a whole-of-community approach; 2) be explicitly gender-transformative, that it to say challenge patriarchy, promote gender equality and women’s empowerment; and 3) be accountable to the priorities of GBV survivors and women-led organisations and movements.

For a more detailed exploration of the latest research and learning on working with men and boys to prevent violence against women and girls in emergencies, please do read the latest GBV AoR Evidence Digest.

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