Visualize a world where men and women were respected and dignified without any strings attached, where everyone was free to make their own decisions and optimize their potential, and a world where everyone’s rights or privileges and entitlements were entirely protected. That is certainly the world I envision to live in. What about you?
However, in a world where gender-centric discourse and other related issues, especially those related to girls and women, appear to be the reserve of girls and women, Leap Girl Africa (LGA), convened a mega conference on Saturday 04th May 2019, at the Catholic Library of Soa, to speak up against all forms of Gender-Based Violence besetting girls and women.
Conferees during the first half of the conference.
During the close to 6-hour discussion that day, the panelists enlightened conferees from diverse backgrounds on different strategies through which men could engage in eliminating violence against girls and women. The perceptions of patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and gender stereotypes were challenged, and the reasons why men were not fully involved in the preventing GBV were tackled, amongst others. At the end, some proposals were drafted on how to engage male policy-makers in the elimination of violence against women.
But what exactly is Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG)?
Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), also known as Gender-Based Violence (GBV) so far remains a hard nut to crack. It could be defined as anything hurtful, offensive, demeaning, coercive, discriminatory, depriving, inhumane, etc., unjustly directed towards girls/women, in public and or private life — simply because they are girls/women.
Why focus on women (and girls) when it comes to GBV? And why involve men in the fight against GBV?
Looking at statistics, the conference couldn’t have been timelier. GBV is a global pandemic that affects 1 in 3 women in their lifetime. Over 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. Globally, 7% of women have been sexually-assaulted by someone other than a partner (World Bank, 2018).
Though GBV cuts across all races, cultures, sexual orientations, genders, etc., most of it is orchestrated by men, and women are most often the victims. Yet, not enough men are speaking out against it. It is supposedly easier to build strong and respectful men than to rehabilitate broken ones. Thus, having each other’s back is very vital, as the term ‘women’ is an umbrella encompassing people of all paths of life.
It was also fun….
In 1994, the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) launched a maiden call to formally involve men in GBV discussions, and to equally encourage men to actively-participate in house chores and child-upbringing. Yet, since then, such a yearning call hasn’t materialized substantially, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Consequently, it was partly in recognizance of this existing fact, that the Cameroon-based Civil Society Organization (CSO), Leap Girl Africa decided to reinvigorate the ideology of bringing men on the table and occupying them in the fight against GBV, starting with men in Cameroon.
According to the convener, Pertulla Ezigha Ketcha (student at University of Yaoundé II and founder, Leap Girl Africa), the conference marked a vital milestone in the roadmap towards responding to and preventing Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) in our communities.
‘Most [often], violence is seen as a woman’s fight’, Pertulla cited. ‘[The] conference [would] change the narrative, by creating a platform for both [male and female] sexes to ally, and…help engage men in Gender Based Violence Prevention’, she reaffirmed.
Quizzed on what was new about the event, she stated categorically that…the speakers were men.
‘We want to listen to men talk about gender equality’, she asserted.
In her closing remarks, Pertulla, visibly appreciative and upbeat, reiterated her call for all men and boys to be actively-engaged in the fight against Gender Based Violence.
‘Men are to accept that they are part of the solution and that they have a role to play in abolishing GBV in our societies’, she concluded.
There is no gainsaying that a GBV-free world will profit everyone, because educating and empowering women and girls, and exposing them to existing opportunities will lead to happier and healthier families, safer and stronger communities, blossoming national economies, and balanced global development in the long run.
Thus, to end violence against women/girls, and for societies to achieve sustainable development, the prime focus of all (individuals, government and Civil Society Organizations) must be a more gender-equal society with improved gender roles for women and men. As such, effective policies must not only empower women, but also engage men, and encourage significant revitalization of men’s attitudes towards women.
The conference was organized in partnership with: Bask in Possibilities and Soar, YALI Network face2face, Commonwealth Students Union, and Youth Centre for Progress (YOCEP) ― under the theme, ‘Men and Women’s Alliance, for a Gender Based Violence-Free Community.’
In prelude to Saturday’s outing, the organizing team had a live online session on Facebook: connecting hundreds of gender activists across several African countries.
‘Before I attended the conference, I thought GBV [involved] only…women. It was only after the event that I understood that it was for both men and women’, Racheal Finila, a participant, revealed.