MenEngage Written Statement for the 60th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women

MenEngage written statement for the 60th session of the Commission on the Status of Women

Date: October 15, 2015

(This text has been slightly amended after submission, to better reflect the nuances we were unable to catch due to time pressure and limited words permitted.)

Stichting Rutgers WPF, in consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, together with the MenEngage Alliance, welcome the priority theme of the 60th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women on “Women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development” and the review theme on “The elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls”.

The reality today is that predominantly women all over the world continue to suffer from gender-based violence. This is a blatant violation of women’s human rights and should have long belonged to the past. It is therefore an important achievement that gender equality and women’s empowerment stand at the core of the new Agenda 2030 for sustainable development, with a stand-alone goal and crosscutting the whole agenda, and that the elimination of violence against women has been recognized explicitly in target 5.2.

The term gender-based violence refers mostly to violence by men against women, but also to a broader range of violence, including violence against men, boys, sexual minorities or those with gender-nonconforming identities. The term gender-based violence recognizes the gendered nature of men’s violence against women and emphasizes the need for gender-transformative approaches, including those that seek to transform masculinities by working with men and boys. A growing base of evidence shows that gender-transformative approaches effectively engaging men for gender equality can have significant benefits for women, children, men themselves and society as a whole.

Rigid gender norms and harmful perceptions of what it means to be a man or a woman often encourage men’s use of violence against women, granting them for instance the power to dictate the terms of sex and relationships, as well as control over resources. As a result, women are still too often (forced) in a submissive position, lacking sexual, political and economic power, development opportunities and suffering the effects of violence on their health and wellbeing. Achieving gender equality and ending gender-based violence entails a shift in underlying destructive values and norms.

Gender-transformative programmes – that transform gender roles and promote more gender-equitable relationships between men and women – have found to be effective in eliminating violence against women. Gender relations are shaped to be more equitable, largely through approaches that “free women and men from the impact of destructive gender and sexual norms”.  A 2007 World Health Organization review of interventions with men in the areas of sexual and reproductive health, maternal and child health, gender-based violence, fatherhood and HIV/AIDS identifies that such programmes have brought about important changes in men’s attitudes and behaviours.

Multiple studies have suggested that boys who experience sexual violence in childhood are themselves more likely to perpetrate sexual violence later in life, as are boys who experience other forms of violence. In addition, a significant proportion of men who use sexual violence do so for the first time as adolescents. It is therefore key to reach boys from an early age.

(Economically) empowering women is essential to eliminate violence against women. Research shows that when programmes only empower women, they can actually lead to harm or backlash by men. Several studies affirm positive changes in couple conflicts as a result of efforts to engage men to support women’s economic empowerment. Few efforts, however, have been made to engage men as allies in women’s economic and social empowerment, or to explore and promote co-operation between couples.

The MenEngage Alliance sees the roles of men and boys as indispensable to achieve full gender equality, including for the prevention and elimination of violence against women in particular. This importance is also recognized in paragraph 20 of the Declaration of the “Agenda 2030” and other commitments.

Existing commitments: Through the agreed conclusions of the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, member states acknowledged the fundamental role that men and boys play to prevent violence against women. Moreover, section IV/C of the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action, and Resolution 2004/11 of the 48th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women focus on the importance of engaging men and boys. Many United Nations agencies have and continue to do so.

Building on all these commitments, the MenEngage Alliance urges governments, United Nations agencies, civil society, and private sector to move forward in joint efforts that contribute to gender just societies, free of violence against women, including by initiatives that target transforming harmful social norms driving gender-based violence and ensure that these changes are firmly rooted in supportive legal and policy frameworks.

Recommendations

The MenEngage Alliance has the following recommendations to include in a gender-transformative framework towards ending all forms of gender-based violence and achieving full gender equality and sustainable development:

  1. Scale-up evidence-based gender-transformative interventions while working in strategic partnerships with key public sectors (i.e. health, education, social welfare, justice) and civil society (women’s rights groups, women economic empowerment organisations, etc.) in order to prevent violence against women. While engaging boys and men to prevent and end violence against women, programmes should also ensure: (1) women’s safety; (2) that gender- transformative programmes are developed and implemented in collaboration and consultation with women’s rights groups; and (3) that programmes are accountable to women’s organisations.
  1. Scale-up programmes and policies to reduce and redistribute unpaid care-work while encouraging men’s greater contribution to caregiving, and improving parental (maternity and paternity) leave globally and other state supports for the care of children. Engage men as fathers and caregivers. In addition, there is a need for ongoing public awareness campaigns and education aimed to transform perceptions of gender roles among men. Similarly, publicly supported fatherhood preparation courses/campaigns focusing on the roles of men in the lives of children can address fathers’ reported feelings of being unprepared for caregiving, and help men understand the benefits from greater participation in family life.
  1. Integrate attention to engaging men as supportive partners and allies in the promotion of sexual and reproductive health and rights, particularly in prenatal and antenatal maternal health, in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, promotion of contraceptive use, safe abortion, implementation of youth-friendly services, and in the roll-out of HIV and STI prevention programmes.
  1. Improve the attention to men’s health within national policies and guidelines, as well as UN and international agreements. Efforts to better address men’s health and health-seeking behaviour should include interventions to transformation of gender norms that equate risk-taking with manhood and illness with weakness. Health systems must play an active role in promoting improved health-seeking behaviour by men. This transformation can have broader benefits for the lives of women, children and communities at large, provided that this is part of integrated efforts to improve the health and wellbeing of societies with also the specific attention to women and girls that is needed.
  1. Ensure implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 4.7, which states that all learners need to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality. This includes challenging harmful stereotypes about men and women, by adapting school curricula to promote healthy notions of masculinity and femininity in order to advance gender equality. Education programmes should incorporate basic principles of a gender-equitable teaching and learning experience. All teacher-training curricula should contain gender training and an emphasis on the importance of the engagement of parents, including fathers, in school governing bodies and through community outreach.
  1. Implement, as part of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets 3.7 and 4.7, comprehensive sexuality education, with specific reference to gender and engagement of boys and young men. Comprehensive sexuality education increases awareness about safe sex, sexuality, healthy relationships and human rights with boys and adolescent men, and educates them about the needs and rights of others. This education should also provide complete information on the range of modern contraceptive methods available, and also provides a positive on sex, sexuality, sexual diversity, and skills building for negotiating sexual behaviour.
  1. Ensure positive roles for men in changing attitudes towards male and female survivors of gender-based violence in interventions in conflict and post-conflict settings. Perpetrators need to be held accountable, and efforts should be put in transforming their societies by changing gender norms and the behavior of men based on non-violence, care and equality. Given the high exposure to multiple forms of violence during conflict, MenEngage also calls for a largescale roll-out of psycho-social support that enables men, women, boys and girls to overcome their traumas.