Summary of the main discussions 

2nd regional seminar on Men’s Active Participation in Combating Domestic Violence, Zagreb, 9-10 May 2007 


Background to the seminar 

During the Third Summit of the Council of Europe in May 2005, the Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe reaffirmed their commitment to eradicating violence against women, including domestic violence. In adopting an Action Plan envisaging the launch of a Campaign to Combat Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence, and the institution of a Task Force on the same topic, they defined future activities by the Council of Europe in this field.

The Task Force, consisting of a group of eight international experts in the field of preventing and combating violence against women, developed the Blueprint for the Campaign. This document serves as a roadmap for the implementation of the Campaign and was approved by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. It contains a definition of violence against women, as well as aims, objectives, messages and activities to implement the Campaign.

Following the approval of the Campaign Blueprint by the Committee of Ministers, the Campaign was launched at a high-level conference on 27 November 2006 in Madrid. The Campaign incorporates three closely linked dimensions: governmental, parliamentary and local/regional. It is carried out by the Council of Europe as well as its member states, in partnership with international intergovernmental organisations and NGOs involved in the protection of women against violence.

The Campaign will end with a closing conference to be held in June 2008. On this occasion, the Council of Europe Task Force to Combat Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence, will present its conclusions and assessment of measures and actions taken at national level to combat violence against women, including domestic violence as well as its recommendations to the Council of Europe for future action in this field.

The intergovernmental Campaign activities carried out by the Council of Europe include five regional seminars - in co-operation with the requesting member state - devoted to one of the Campaign objectives as laid out in the Campaign Blueprint.

The Seminar on Men’s Active Participation in Combating Domestic Violence was the second such seminar. It was held on 9-10 May 2007 in Zagreb, Croatia.

Around 70 government and NGO representatives from Austria, Croatia, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom as well as representatives from the United Nations gathered in Zagreb to share information on and discuss the active roles of men in combating domestic violence.

Keynote speeches and presentations on national experiences identified the various roles of men, not only as perpetrators of violence, but also their role as active agents of change in both preventing domestic violence and protecting its victims.

The active role of men in changing attitudes to combat violence against women 

Violence against women is rooted in the patriarchal culture and unequal power relations between women and men. It is supported by discriminatory traditions and attitudes as well as gender stereotypes of male dominance. Since violence against women as gender-based violence concerns both men and women as private individuals but also in their professional lives men have an important role to play to prevent violence and change attitudes towards it.

The key is to learn that violence against women is, as any violent act against a person, unacceptable and a violation of women’s physical, psychological and/or sexual freedom and integrity. Male perpetrators therefore need to be made responsible for their actions, not only by criminal sanctions but also by engaging in counselling in order to promote behavioural change and avoid recidivism.

The participants agreed that there is much men can and should do to combat violence against women. By virtue of the fact that men form the vast majority of perpetrators of domestic violence, they are also best-situated to combat it. They can speak out against violence and encourage other men to do the same. Men can play an active role simply by acting as a role model for non-violent behaviour. Men’s roles as fathers, caretakers and guardians are crucial. Men can act as “agents of change” and promote positive roles which men can take on in order to challenge prevailing gender stereotypes and discriminatory cultural norms.

An example of how men can organise and work towards eradicating such gender stereotypes is the White Ribbon Campaign. As a global campaign of men working on a voluntary basis to end men's violence against women, it mobilises men to speak out against gender-based violence. Wearing a white ribbon is a personal pledge never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women. Activists of the White Ribbon Campaign organise awareness-raising events in schools, workplaces and communities and engage in dialogue with young people on gender based violence. They also support local women’s groups and engage young people to take a stand against violence against women.

Educational measures addressing boys and men to prevent violence against women 

Resorting to violence is more easily avoided if the inter-generational and culturally adopted pattern of violent behaviour is broken at an early stage of life. In some member states, gender equality education and trainings for non-violent behaviour have been initiated to promote the culture of peace and non-violence in society. In the Netherlands, special programmes have been set up for young people to increase their awareness of violent and abusive behaviour in close relationships. These programmes, carried out in different community settings (schools, sports and youth clubs), enable young people to identify whether they live in an abusive relationship and how to respect other person’s mental and physical integrity in a relationship. Results of these programmes show that once young people learn what abusive behaviour consists of, they are more likely to identify violence in their past and current relationships and in their close environment.

Specialised training for professionals in contact with victims of domestic violence  

Basic training for all professionals who may come across cases of domestic violence in their line of work is essential. Specialised training is needed within those professional groups which provide legal, medical or other type of assistance and help for victims of violence and whose proactive action can prevent further violence. To achieve good results in specialised training, the professional background of the service provider in question (the police, the social services, the prosecutors etc.) should be taken into consideration when developing training methods and modules. To this end, such training should always incorporate the professional approach of the respective field. Professional training is not only about sensitising professionals to violence against women, but should also go a step beyond: It should also equip professionals with adequate tools to manage domestic violence cases, to easily identify such cases and to assist women in overcoming victimisation.

United Nations experience in addressing men to prevent and combat violence against women 

Men’s role in achieving gender equality and combating violence against women has received significant attention since the 1990’s. The Cairo Programme of Action (1994) and the Programme of Action of the World Summit on Social Development (1995) as well as its review (2000) addressed the role of men with regard to sharing parenthood and family work responsibilities. The Beijing Platform of Action (1995) took a clear stand on the principle of shared power and responsibility and argued that women’s concerns could only be addressed “in partnership with men”.

The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in 2004 focused on “The role of men and boys in achieving gender equality” as one of its priority topics. The Commission adopted agreed conclusions which called on Governments, entities of the United Nations system and other stakeholders to, inter alia: support men and boys to take an active part in the prevention and elimination of gender-based violence and encourage the active involvement of men and boys in eliminating gender stereotypes.

The United Nations’ recent work on violence against women include the Secretary-General’s in-depth study on all forms of violence against women and the comprehensive resolution of the General Assembly on the intensification of efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women. This body of work and expression of political will provides strong momentum for enhanced action to combat violence against women at all levels and by all stakeholders. The Secretary General’s in-depth study reviews the causes and consequences of violence against women, including its costs. It discusses the gaps and challenges in the availability of data, including in methodologies for assessing the prevalence of different forms of violence. It highlights the particular responsibilities of states to address and prevent violence against women, and gives examples of promising practices for tackling it.

Intervention programmes: models implemented in different member states 

During recent years, various member states of the Council of Europe have sought to prevent further violence and increase the safety of women victims of violence by introducing intervention programmes for male perpetrators. Men enter intervention programmes either voluntarily or because they are mandated to participate by order of the court or both. Intervention programmes vary in type and methodology. They usually consist of individual counselling and/or group sessions which aim at learning to take responsibility for one’s own behaviour, identifying violent patterns of behaviour and learning social skills and self-control to avoid resorting to violence. Some of the programmes, such as the Austrian model for male perpetrators, have adopted access criteria and requirements for participation for the programme.

Despite growing interest towards intervention programmes during the last ten years, there is currently not enough empirical data available on such programmes and the known results of such programmes are contradictory. There is a great need for disseminating models of good practice, reflecting the type of programme and methodology used.

The participants raised concern over the expectations of intervention programmes as they are sometimes considered as a rather quick remedy to prevent violence and to change men’s violent behaviour. However, experience shows that concentrating efforts on the perpetrator does not automatically result in improved safety of the victim. Potential pitfalls can be identified when examining the success of the programmes. Drop-out rates of the programmes are usually high. Furthermore, in many cases, perpetrators show lack of motivation to change their behaviour. Men run a risk of recidivating even during the programme.

Most practitioners underline that any intervention programme should be structured to ensure the safety of the victim and any children involved. Whilst participants of the programme have a right to privacy, women should be guaranteed access to information about the programme protocols, men’s attendance, about his progress and the prospects of change. Ideally, the intervention programmes should be developed and implemented in co-ordination with services for women victims, preferably as part of a co-ordinated multi-agency initiative. Any developments which might jeopardise the victim’s safety should be shared with authorities and institutions, such as with the police, public prosecutor and courts.

Most women victims welcome the perpetrator programmes as they often want their partners cured and not penalised. Intervention programmes can also facilitate safe separation: men who have been given an ultimatum from their partners to end the relationship are most likely to become especially dangerous and homicidal.

As violence against women is criminalised in quite a few member states, intervention programmes can form part of the criminal sentence. However, with a view to the current situation in Europe where prevalence rates of violence against women are high and conviction rates are low, the number of men sentenced to intervention programmes by the court order remains minimal.

Perpetrators of violence usually suffer from various health problems including depression, alcohol problems and poor eating habits. The experience in the United Kingdom shows that men gain improved health from the intervention programmes as they learn to control their emotions and to take better care of themselves, which ultimately reduces their dependence on their partners.

Intervention programmes: evaluation and future challenges 

An important part of intervention programmes or of any other measure developed to protect victims and prevent violence, is the evaluation of their effectiveness. The key to successful evaluation of intervention programmes carried out in different member states based on varying methodology is to first see what is comparable.

In order to find out “what works best” and to propose quality standards, it is necessary to draw up an overview of existing intervention programmes. Therefore, basic information on the programmes, such as types of perpetrators (voluntary or court-mandated), methodology of work, content of work, partner contact and co-operation with victim support and other important factors, is needed.

To draw conclusions on the effectiveness of such programmes/interventions, it is very important to differentiate whether the programmes aim primarily to improve the safety of the victims or whether they mainly help men in avoiding violent behaviour towards their partners without any reference to the increased safety of the victim.

In their discussion of appropriate evaluation of intervention programmes, participants underlined that there is growing need for establishing a pan-European network of practitioners of intervention programmes in order to share experiences and exchange expert information in this field. It was suggested that the Council of Europe provide such a forum to bring together professionals in this field.