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Why work with men and boys to prevent violence against women and girls?

Violence against women and girls is rooted in widely-accepted gender norms about men’s authority and use of violence to exert control over women. As half the world’s population, effective interventions must engage men in order to address the underlying discriminatory social norms that legitimize male power, control and use of violence (Dunkle and Jewkes 2007).

  • Men and boys who adhere to more rigid views about gender roles and masculinity (such as believing that men need sex more than women do or that men should dominate women, including sexually) are more likely to report having used violence against a partner among other negative outcomes (Courtenay 1998, Pulerwitz and Barker 2008). While studies available and their findings at times vary in different settings, some researchers have found that ideas of male privilege and control have been identified among the top factors predicting the perpetration of violence against women (Jewkes 2002).
  • The social expectations of what men and boys (and women and girls) should and should not do place both women and men at risk of negative outcomes, including violence, sexually transmitted infections and HIV (WHO 2007), as well as grave consequences for women’s sexual and reproductive health in particular (e.g. unwanted and forced pregnancies), among many others.

The primary perpetrators of violence against women and girls are men. As such, prevention efforts must engage them (Flood 2008). Many men in society, if provided with information and sensitization about the issue, represent untapped but potentially influential allies in the struggle to end violence against women, within their families, communities and decision-making circles.

  • Men tend to have less knowledge and awareness of the magnitude of violence against women and girls. For example, in Spain, research showed that only 1.2 per cent of men were aware that violence against women and girls was a serious problem (Lorente, Global Symposium 2009).

Men continue to hold the majority of powerful and influential positions in law, politics, finance, the justice and security sectors, business and the media. They determine policy and legislative priorities, as well as public budgets. In many countries, the frontline institutions charged with responding to violence against women, are male-dominated (e.g. the police, health and legal professions, the judiciary, etc.).

Men are increasingly getting involved and have positive roles to play in addressing violence against women and girls. Men are publicly challenging the beliefs, values and social norms that condone gender inequality and violence; and are encouraging alternative ideas of manhood among their peers and in society that favour non-violence and justice between the sexes (Flood 2008). The MenEngage alliance, for example, comprises over 400 organizations from around the world that work with men and boys to promote gender equality and end violence against women and girls.

The emerging evidence-base shows that prevention approaches that engage men and boys work! Findings available are showing that appropriate interventions can change men’s attitudes towards women, equality and the use of violence.