In the Africa4Her YALIChat “What Role Do Men Play in Standing Against Gender-Based Violence?”, chat hosts Dominic Boima, a women’s empowerment adviser at Trócaire in Sierra Leone, and James Byarugaba, director of programs and business development at Youth Alive Uganda, explored the role of community dialogue, strong male role models, and a collective focus on small, but meaningful, change in addressing and ending gender-based violence (GBV).
‘GBV is Not a Women’s Issue’
“Educating women about their rights is not enough,” James told the YALIChat participants. “Ending GBV has to start with men. GBV is not a women’s issue.”
To do this, James advised young men to engage their peers where they are.
“If you are a student, start your initiative at school,” he said. “If you go to church, gather fellow men there and start reflecting on community norms and their implications.”
James elaborated on the pivotal role men play as heads of households and of government.
“Men lead our clans, our cultural centers, our religious institutions,” he said. “And they need to take a leading role in undoing the norms that promote inequality and GBV.”
It’s important to remember, James stressed, that any man can be a model of ethical behavior in his community. By understanding the rights of women and girls, these men can become, as James put it, “living examples, men who promote gender equality in their homes, who do not tolerate insensitive speech, and who support the women around them.”
‘No Man is Born Violent’
Raising strong, ethical men starts, for James, with planning educational programs and community discussions. In this, our facilitation guide for leading GBV dialogues can be particularly helpful.
“No man is born violent,” James said. “Violence is learned, and if it can be learned, it can be unlearned.”
Dominic echoed this, and called on young leaders to offer alternatives to GBV in community discussions.
“These sessions should present alternatives to violence,” Dominic said. “Community dialogues can explore, for instance, the benefits of mediation and counseling over violence.”
Dominic stressed, too, the importance of setting concrete objectives for these conversations.
“There should always be a clear outline of what men are supposed to do and to take into consideration to counter GBV.”
Clarifying the issue helps male participants, as Dominic explained, to open up in these conversations and elaborate on the recommendations discussed. Showing videos on the nuances of GBV, too, can help participants recognize and challenge abusive behavior in their communities.
Young leaders might encounter deeply rooted, misogynistic beliefs in these sessions, Dominic warned, but creating an open, safe environment to share ideas and to dispel misconceptions can be transformative.
“In my work to combat GBV in Sierra Leone,” Dominic said, “many men arrived at our training sessions with sexist notions — believing, for instance, that a woman’s place is in the kitchen — but they left with a different mindset.”
‘Men Listen to Their Fellow Man’
James underlined the importance of enlisting strong, male role models, men who embrace equality, to further one’s advocacy work.
“Men listen to their fellow man,” James explained. “When men learn about the costs of GBV from men they respect, it piques their interest. Suddenly they are getting involved in the conversation.”
And when young leaders feel discouraged, they should focus on small, meaningful steps they can take to address GBV in their communities.
“It’s not about how big your fight is,” James said. “It’s about one person doing something to end abuse.”
“Even if you only change the attitude of one man, you have done something great. After all, that man could become a role model and then your small action has made a big difference.”
Interested in James’ and Dominic’s work? Learn how you can support the rights of women and girls on our Africa4Her page.