Published on World Bank Voices

Why men for women: Engaging men and boys in addressing sexual and gender-based violence in conflict

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Sexual and gender-based violence is an all-too common and devastating challenge emerging in the context of conflict and instability. A global study of 50 countries revealed significant increases in incidence of gender-based violence following major wars.  In Somalia, for example, more than 10,000 cases of various forms of gender-based violence have been assisted by humanitarian partners since 2011.  In Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) the 2012-13 Demographic and Health Survey indicates that more than half of women have ever experienced physical violence since the age of 15, while nearly 30 percent of women have ever experienced sexual violence. These figures, however, likely belie the extent of the challenge as most survivors are unlikely to seek formal support or care due to fear of stigmatization, rejection or re-victimization.

While the context of conflict and the climate of impunity that prevails create an enabling space for violations, perpetration of gender-based violence is ultimately tied to pervasive norms and dynamics that exist prior to conflict that sanction and reinforce men’s dominance over women and girls (or in some instances, marginalized or socially weaker men). 

Numerous studies demonstrate that even after conflict ends, violence often continues in the home, as men who have experienced high levels of trauma and displacement during conflict are often likely to use violence against women and children. Dislocated from normative roles as providers and protectors, men’s experiences of conflict, trauma and deprivation contribute to feelings of disempowerment and loss of respect and authority.

Feelings of frustration, loss in self-esteem, depression, and disaffection can all manifest in negative coping behaviors, including aggression and partner conflict—whether physical, sexual, psychological or emotional violence—as men attempt to reassert themselves and their authority in the home.

In order to address the drivers of gender-based violence, therefore, prevention and mitigation initiatives must tackle these entrenched dynamics and in particular should engage men and boys as critical partners in facilitating pathways for positive social change.  This emphasis recognizes the multiple roles men play not just as perpetrators, but also as husbands and family members, as witnesses, as service providers, as community leaders and decision makers, and in some cases, as survivors themselves. 

Importantly, attention to men’s experiences in conflict should not obviate the need to address the enormous challenges confronting female survivors of violence, nor is it meant to distract attention or resources away from gender-based violence response and empowerment programming targeting women and girls.  But in order to better protect women and girls in these fragile spaces, we need to improve our understanding on how to work more effectively with men and boys to transform harmful dynamics that perpetuate, rationalize and justify violence.

Responding to this need, the World Bank supported several innovative initiatives working with men to address conflict-related gender-based violence in the Africa region. Through the LOGiCA trust fund, we partnered with Promundo—a leading organization working globally with men and boys to advance more equitable gender norms and positive models of masculinity—to test operational approaches on effective engagement of men and boys in gender-based violence programming in Goma and Luvungi in DRC, and in Burundi.

In partnership with Care Burundi, Women-for-Women International, Heal Africa and the Institute for Higher Education in Mental Health, Promundo developed and piloted group therapeutic and psycho-educational tools drawing from global best practices. Group therapy meetings were held weekly for 10-15 weeks with training modules intended to improve social bonds, promote shared decision-making and respect, promote positive, non-violent models of conflict resolution and coping mechanisms, and heal individual trauma.  While the program predominantly targeted male participants, group sessions sometimes included female partners as well.

Findings from associated evaluations were overwhelmingly positive, demonstrating improvements across a range of behaviors including reductions in stress and violence in the home, reductions in alcohol abuse and drinking, improved ability to manage frustration and aggression, increased sharing of income between men and women, and improved couple relations. Creating a safe space for men to engage also enabled formation of social relationships between participants, and many groups elected to continue the weekly meetings even after formal conclusion of the program.  

Given the success of the pilot interventions, Promundo has since xpanded this work into a new initiative, entitled Living Peace: Men Beyond War, which currently is being implemented in DRC. Evidence emerging from this work also has important implications for post-conflict recovery programming in other fields, including demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants, migration and forced displacement and interventions targeting youth at risk of engaging in violence.

While questions remain about sustainability of behavior change in the longer run, as well as effectiveness when brought to scale, this work presents an important contribution to our understanding of how to effectively engage men in preventing and mitigating against violence in communities and critically, within the home.  

Authors

Verena Phipps

Social Development Specialist

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