Engaging men and boys, community and religious leaders in the fight against Gender-Based Violence in some communities of the North West Region

Abstract

Violence against women and girls continue to be on the rise with the onset of the socio-political crisis in the two English speaking regions of Cameroon. Negative masculinity is one of the attitudes that generate traditions of terror and encourage the use of violence against women and girls as enshrined in patriarchy. Brutal expressions of masculinity remain widespread. Though men and boys remain the main perpetrators of GBV, they can also play a fundamental role in fostering gender parity. That is why COMINSUD as the implementing partner for the UNFPA funded project through CERF titled “Achieving transformative results on social norms and practices that perpetuate gender-based violence and gender inequalities through the provision of quality multi-sectoral GBV response services and empowerment of Women-Led Organization in the Far North, North West and South West Regions” carried out capacity building workshops and dialogue sessions during the month of June in five subdivisions (Bamenda II, Belo, Njinikom, Batibo and Widikum) of the Northwest regions aimed at building the capacity of men and boys to enable them fully get involved in the fight against GBV.

Why work with men and boys, community and religious leaders (Summary)

  • Working with men, boys and community elders can help to dramatically enhance the effectiveness of our message on ending Gender-Based Violence
  •  Men can substantially impart their traditions and beliefs onto younger generations. Traditional leaders have the authority needed to decrease the acceptance of gender based violence, and their voices are particularly important when it comes to reaching out to boys and men
  •  Working with spiritual leaders has proven paramount in opening a new space for dialogue, in teaching boys’ different lessons about manhood: boys become men by seeing and supporting women as human beings.
  • Our choice to work with men and boys is informed by the fact that masculine perceptions show traditional stereotyped mindsets, which shape the identity and behavior of men and young boys, thereby perpetuating gender inequalities rather than breaking patriarchal norms.
Participants at the men and boys including community and religious leaders in workshop in Widikum.

In my view

Masculine construction which is the main driving force behind women and girls’ disempowerment and vulnerability requires manhood to be equated with the ability to exert power over others, especially through the use of force. Masculinity, as it is espoused, gives man the power to control the lives of those around him, especially women and young girls. For us at COMINSUD, the solution to the insidious gender-based violence in the North West is working with men and boys, religious and community leaders as key partners against the vice at the local levels. We developed and shared new and effective strategies for engaging men and boys as principal partners in the holistic respect of the rights of girls and women. We encouraged men and boys to break out of the portrayal of girl’s enjoyment of their rights as a women’s struggle only, where almost the only role available to men and boys is that of the perpetrator. Through the capacity building and dialogue sessions, we encouraged men and boys to embrace their role as advocates against girl’s and women’s vulnerability. Our work is anchored on transforming possible abusers into steadfast partners. At COMINSUD, we firmly believe that the way forward is to engage men and boys as well as the community as a whole to fight this social ill that is being perpetrated against women. This is because social transformation does not happen without community engagement. Community engagement is a necessary part of working to prevent and respond to all forms of gender-based violence. Gender norms (especially gendered beliefs and practices) at the community level are among the root causes of Gender-Based Violence.

The Coordinator of COMINSUD Mr Fon Nsoh, speaking in one of the workshops held in Bamenda, working with the community and religious leaders to end Gender-Based Violence is a good initiative because Religious and community leaders are influential people in the society so people can actually listen to them and act on what they say. One way through which this can be done is by affirmative action. As for the men and boys they can adopt peer to peer method when addressing issues of GBV and women’s rights.

However, to some participants especially in Belo and Batibo, enforcing women’s rights and equality of sexes will make women be disrespectful at home which in turn can lead to homes being broken thereby causing more harm than good. This idea was dismissed on the ground that when women are treated with respect and dignity, they turn to be more respectful and lead happy lives despite the challenges of life.

To other participants especially in Widikum, concentrating on women and young girls and their rights and leaving out the men who at times also suffer from the GBV was seen to be discriminatory. It was, however, explained that emphasis is laid on women and girls because statistics show that they are the ones who suffer the most from this societal ill.

In all, participants appreciated COMINSUD for organizing such and enriching and educative workshop. Topics discussed during the workshop touched on issues that are really of great concern to the society. One participant could already imagine the positive changes in the homes of participants after the knowledge they have acquired in this workshop. Another participant in Njinikom confessed that he had been a perpetrator of GBV without knowing. He promised to go back to his community determined to fight GBV by sensitizing the community about its ills and negative consequences using the knowledge he has acquired from the workshop, encourage his peers to leave behind practices that expose women and young girls to GBV and to connect survivors to specialized services using the referral pathway distributed during these sessions.

Author: Loloh Mirabel Ngum