Category Archives: intimate partner violence

A modest demand for male engagement

High angle view of a businessman standing amidst businesspeople

Looking on from the outside, the world of “gender studies” or related fields in gender-focused research, gender equality policy and programming, and the panoply of ethical questions regarding gender equity appear to take an almost ritualistic form: women talking to women about women.

Yes, there’s much to talk about, and such discourse is certainly not to be dismissed as superficial or trite – although that’s how our culture often casts women’s discourse. Our culture, and cultures around the world, predominantly reflect the values, priorities, and foibles of a “man’s world” framing. For those of us who hunger for an authentic place in which to be a person with full agency and opportunity, respect and resilience, it can be crushingly hard if we happen to be female or gender non-conforming. No surprise then that so many of us reach out for the healing, fortifying solidarity of women.

And men?

Where is men’s place in the gender discourse? They are seldom physically in such conversations, and probably many feel dissuaded or intimidated from participation given that such gatherings are so overwhelmingly “not male”.  Those men who consciously take on a formal role as a “gender advisor,” or some job-description variant thereof, are few – although generally much fêted by women.

For those of us who work on international human rights advocacy and international development, the dimension of “gender” has been kicked about for more than 40 years in a formal sense. As feminist thinking has evolved, and continues to do so, we’ve sought more effective ways to empower women to find our own pathways to lives of greater dignity, freedom, and choice. Throughout the Global South where traditional gendered social and economic roles are stubbornly resistant to change, and even in the more developed “progressive” societies of the Global North, the quest to break free from the glass ceilings, from objectification and commodification, and to push back firmly against misogyny and pervasively sexualized stereotypes continues with little fanfare. It’s what women and girls (and, more and more, those who are gender non-conforming) do. It’s “the way things are” for slightly more than half of humanity.

Let the women gather and talk…where’s the harm in it?

And the men? What’s their stake in this discourse, and in the pent-up demand for change that it represents? To what extent are conversations among men focused on equity, on universal human rights and dignity, on civil and political rights, specifically in the context of also embracing that half of humanity who are women, girls, and those who are gender non-conforming? Continue reading A modest demand for male engagement

Who cares?


Finland Hall

When was the last time you got excited about architecture? For me, just being in the Finland Hall at the Embassy of Finland in Washington D.C. this morning was, as always, a delight. But as lovely as the space is, and as hospitable as the Finnish Embassy was in hosting this morning’s event, the real take-away for me was the unquestionable importance of the topic: intimate partner violence.

This morning’s event was all about the release of a new report Whose Justice, Whose Alternative? by the International Center for Research on Women, together with two other organizations (Center for Domestic Violence Prevention from Uganda, and Beyond Borders from Washington, DC). This report has the sub-title “Locating Women’s Voice and Agency in Alternative Dispute Resolution Responses to Intimate Partner Violence”, and it opens with the statement:

Intimate partner violence against women is a complex, enormously prevalent crime with devastating effects on women’s safety, health, and well being. With one out of three women worldwide experiencing this violence, its magnitude presents complex challenges to justice systems when survivors of violence seek to formally prosecute perpetrators…

As is often the case in Washington, the event featured a truly outstanding panel of three experts and an excellent moderator, who together did an exemplary job of bringing the many realities of the above statement to light – as challenging as such information is to hear. We were told how women around the world who have been victimized by intimate partner violence and who seek justice through formal rule-of-law mechanisms (civil or criminal) or through alternative dispute mechanisms (reconciliation, mediation, arbitration, customary law, etc.) routinely encounter difficulties that are legion, as patriarchal norms conspire to obstruct, constrain, shame, or coerce women away from their quests for justice and fairness. Panelists explained in considerable detail the various modalities and processes available, and how they each fare under local norms and cultural pressures. While some progress was noted, overall the picture that emerges is that in much of the world women’s agency and voice continue to be muted, and their efforts at achieving justice or even preventing such violence are often confounded or made impossible.

To my surprise, one concept was absent throughout the discussion (and only warrants a single mention in the document): human dignity. The panelists only just touched upon the notion that many existing social attitudes and values must change so that men and women will be treated with equal respect and dignity , despite what I would argue to be the essential need to foster this concept as a universal value and societal building block among all men and all women. Isn’t the recognition of universal human dignity a prerequisite to preventing intimate partner violence and other forms of gender based violence?

But that isn’t what this blog is about. Continue reading Who cares?