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Special Adviser on Gender Issues and
Advancement of Women
Seminar on “Men’s Active Participation in Combating Domestic Violence”
9-10 May 2007, Zagreb, Croatia
Colleagues and Friends,
It is a great pleasure and honour for me to address this Seminar on Men’s Active Participation in Combating Domestic Violence. I wish to commend the Government of Croatia for its continued strong commitment to gender equality as evidenced by the official opening of this Seminar. I thank the organizers, the Equality Division of the Directorate of Human Rights of the Council of Europe and the Ministry of Family, Veterans’ Affairs and Intergenerational Solidarity of Croatia for the excellent organization and warm hospitality.
The Council of Europe has a long history of work on violence against women, spanning more than two decades. I would like to specifically commend the project of the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly on “Parliaments united in combating domestic violence against women.” It is testimony to the important role of Parliaments in combating domestic violence.
A recent in-depth Study of the United Nations Secretary-General on all Forms of Violence against Women launched last October confirms that violence against women is a universal phenomenon that persists in all countries of the world. The Study, other research and testimonials from women and girls world-wide provide chilling evidence that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury and death for women worldwide.
· one in every three women in the world is beaten, raped, attacked;
· one European woman in five experiences violence by her male partner at some point in her life;
· a Finnish study showed that over half of adult women have been victims of violence or sexual threat;
· in the U.S. every nine seconds, a woman is battered by her domestic partner. One in five women will be victim of rape in her lifetime;
· 59% of Japanese women are victims of domestic violence. In Kenya, 42% of women and in Pakistan, 80% of women experience violence within the home;
· Every year in India, 5000 brides are murdered or commit suicide because their marriage dowries are considered inadequate;
· In Ireland, half of all murder victims are women killed by their male partners;
· In South Africa, a woman is raped every 80 seconds;
· One-third of women in Barbados, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Norway are sexually abused during childhood.
The human costs of violence against women include not only the visible and immediate – death, injury; the costs of medical care, lost employment and law enforcement; shattered lives and livelihoods – but also indirect repercussions for women survivors, families, communities and societies.
When discussing domestic violence, we are talking primarily about men’s violence. The focus of this Seminar on men and prevention is thus most fitting. Gender based violence has profound roots in historically unequal power relations between women and men. It is entrenched at all levels of our societies: personal, community and society. Personal relationships and community interactions emphasizing stereotypes about male dominance, weak community sanctions against violence and gender role socialization promoting gender inequality, are more often than not influenced by broader societal norms glorifying violence. Moreover, religious or cultural beliefs supporting male superiority, negative portrayal of women by the media, weak anti-violence laws and policies, institutional practices and political ideologies, to name just a few, become breeding grounds for violence against women. In addressing these factors, we must target men and boys, in particular those I would call “bystanders”. They are the ones who do nothing to stop violence even though they are aware of or even witnesses to it. This is quite a large group of men. Working with them, therefore, is critical.
I therefore submit for your consideration five ideas on how to effectively engage women and men in the prevention of domestic violence.
First and foremost, we have to work together – men and women. While acknowledging that today’s struggle against violence would be impossible without decades of tireless work and sacrifice by women survivors and their advocates, women’s groups, scholars and activists, we must also admit that men’s partnership with these anti-violence women’s groups is essential. In so doing, men hear women’s voices, their stories of enduring violence at the hands of men they loved and trusted, and the joys of non-violent and equal relations with men. This collaboration exposes men to what works and what does not. Through partnerships, men and women demonstrate concretely their shared interest in preventing violence.
Second, by virtue of the fact that they commit most violence, men are best-situated to prevent it. Therefore, they must take on the responsibility to prevent it. In many developed and developing countries, men have organized themselves in groups with a focus on prevention of violence against women. At this year’s commemoration of International Women’s Day devoted to ending impunity for violence against women and girls, two men’s organizations, the White Ribbon Campaign – [and I would like to acknowledge here Mr. Chris Green, Executive Director – UK] and 100 Black Men made a powerful case by which they demonstrated that most men do not agree with men’s violence and that many more would like to get involved but do not know how. Both organizations engage in education campaigns, hold rallies, work with violent men, facilitate workshops in schools and workplaces and work with women’s groups. Indeed, these are some of the ways that we can prevent violence. It is essential for all of us to support such men’s anti-violence groups. We also need to scale up our advocacy among those men whom I call “bystanders” to encourage and support them to challenge all forms of violence, including domestic violence and make them understand that we all stand to gain from a world free of violence.
Third, men are not born violent; they become violent as a result of socialization. Men are indoctrinated into violence as a way to behave, to meet social expectations of solving problems and conflicts through violence and assert their masculinity. Coupled with behaviour is language. Men learn very early that anyone who does not agree with them is “an enemy”. Enemies must be “destroyed”, “eliminated”, “defeated”, and the list goes on. Intrinsic in all those terms is violence. Challenging unequal gender power relations, promoting alternative approaches and norms supportive of non-violence and transformation of the concept of masculinity are essential for a successful campaign for prevention of violence. To this end, new role models for boys and men need to be relentlessly promoted in our societies through all means available, including legislation, institutions, in particular educational ones and the media.
Fourth, young men and boys hold tremendous potential to prevent violence. They can become agents of change if they learn about the effects of violence on their immediate relatives and friends, themselves, and the community as a whole. Early socialization emphasizing gender equality and non-violence will equip them with the tools and skills to resist stereotypes and pressure to engage in violence. The messages emanating out of schools, colleges, communities and societies, must motivate boys and young men to change. These messages must include serious sanctions against perpetrators. They must stress the benefits of a less violent world, not only for women, but also for themselves and the community as a whole.
Fifth, partnership needs to extend to decision and opinion makers in Governments, Parliaments, civil society and private sector in order to enlist the political, financial and moral support essential to the campaign to prevent violence against women. States have an obligation to protect women and girls from violence, to hold perpetrators accountable and to provide justice and remedies to survivors. This campaign requires strong advocacy at the highest levels stating clearly that violence against women is not tolerated, in any form, any context and in any circumstances. Clear policies, targeted programmes and budgets are needed to promote non-violence. Similarly, laws criminalizing violence and a law enforcement team that applies those laws without fear or favour are required in order to hold perpetrators accountable. The cooperation of all men is necessary in fighting and preventing violence.
Icelandīs example in convening the first all menīs national conference on gender equality in September 2005 should serve as an inspiration for all countries. I congratulate Iceland for this initiative which has become an annual event.
Men’s collective activism is vital to our struggle to prevent and stop violence against women and girls. I wish to offer full support to your initiative to involve men in preventing violence. As with other international efforts such as peace and security, development, poverty eradication, HIV/AIDS, reproductive health, to name just a few, men’s active participation is critical. Your initiative captures the spirit of the Beijing Conference and is a fitting part of the world-wide efforts to eliminate violence against women.
Each one of us - men and women - has a duty to support and sustain a political and social environment where violence against women and girls is not tolerated; where men and women, family members, neighbors, Governments, Parliaments and civil society intervene to prevent violence and stop perpetrators. Only by acting together can we create more equal relationships and more peaceful societies.