Racing to end gender-based violence: When men and boys get involved

June 6, 2022

Men and boys facing reality of GBV and how they can contribute to gender equality

For most of his 38 years, Evaristo Muyayama saw domestic violence as “a normal part of life” in a patriarchal society where deeply entrenched traditional concepts of gender demand women not to challenge their husbands.  

“I used to beat up my wife so badly in the presence of our children but after a series of gender-based violence awareness training, my behaviour and attitude towards her changed following the introduction of the Zambia National Men’s Network on Gender and Development in our village. Peace has returned home,” Evaristo said.

Now Evaristo steps in when domestic disputes erupt in his rural community in Chongwe District and is part of a nationwide drive to enlist men as advocates for women’s rights.  Through the Men’s Network, he and other men raise awareness aimed at shifting traditional patriarchal attitudes towards women and girls.

“My involvement in the Men’s Network has taught me that there are many ways of solving domestic disputes without having to resort to violence. I now preach anti-violence message, he said.

Rising Wave of Violence

Zambia is one country with the highest prevalence rate of 90 percent gender-based violence (GBV) among five countries in the-Southern African region, according to a recent study by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Despite significant successes in combating GBV in Zambia, cases are still high with 2020 third quarter recording 4,620 cases while third quarter 2021 recorded over 4,000 cases.

Gender activists here say highly entrenched patriarchal tendencies at community level perpetuate GBV due to the power imbalances between men and women and boys and girls. At personal level, there are high levels of tolerance of GBV by the survivors leading to a reluctance to report such incidents.

Although some types of GBV are being classified as felonies in the Penal Code and carrying a high mandatory sentence, there is still high incidences of GBV such as defilement, Intimate Partner Violence, rape, property grabbing and assault.

“Despite progress made in providing comprehensive post-GBV services, the service delivery gap remains as many some people remain under-served, especially in hard-to-reach areas due to a multiplicity of factors including the direct and indirect costs of accessing services. Inequalities between men and women in terms of access to assets, resources and opportunities contribute to disempowerment of women and children and this makes them susceptible to abuse and violence,” one gender activist said.

Aiming to tackle these issues, a programme sponsored by the Government and the UN in Zambia, led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has been working with communities to raise awareness and engage men and boys in gender issues to promote positive masculinity.

With financial support from the Governments of Ireland and Sweden, the GRZ-UN Joint Programme on Gender-Based Violence Phase II encourages men to be loving, caring fathers and partners who are supportive of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Gender Champions

Back in Chongwe District, Evaristo Muyayama said his group is trying to make men part of the solution, by identifying “gender champions” and convincing those men to speak out in community fora and on community radio against violence and to promote gender equality.

Supported by UNDP, local communities in the district have trained men and women on community engagement, gender and human rights issues and methods for working with men to combat GBV. Those receiving the training then transfer their skills and knowledge to village groups – each with up to 50 members.

Once trained, advocates disseminate success stories and work with traditional leaders to end violence against women through yard meetings and other community gatherings. They also advocate with religious leaders to spread anti-violence messages during weekly prayer services.

Armed with awareness materials, bicycles and mobile phones, community members create forums for men and women to discuss issues that contribute to GBV such as alcoholism, gambling, domestic violence and polygamy. The approach uses personal stories of change to help men in the community work towards non-violent and more equal relationships with women and girls.

“My husband has stopped beating and abusing me,” said Luyando, Everisto’s wife, whose husband’s transformation has emboldened her to refer friends to the same service.

Peter Tembo, 36, a maize farmer who used to be physically and verbally violent to his wife has become the person that neighbours and authorities rely on to mediate domestic disputes in his community.

“We’ve started at home, by training our own boys,” he laughed. “We want them to grow up with the mindset that boys and girls have equal rights.”

All Hands On Deck

Working with national institutions, the Zambia National Men’s Network for Gender and Development has established 12 boys’ and 24 men’s networks around the country to provide information and education to raise awareness on the role of both men and boys in preventing GBV and positive masculinity.

“These networks are expected to put men and boys as drivers of social change and challenge harmful masculine stereotypes which perpetuate domestic violence in communities,” said Shupe Makashinyi, UNDP Gender Programme Coordinator.

The networks meet often and talk about local reports of domestic violence and how to strengthen support services for survivors. They also engage with known perpetrators about the negative effects of GBV. In some cases, they apprehend perpetrators and turn them over to the police.

“It’s a good idea to involve us [men] in fighting violence in our homes because we have the power to change our own attitudes by talking to and counselling each other,” says a gender champion, vowing to encourage more rural men to become campaigners for women’s rights to end traditional harmful practices such as child marriage and invest in the well-being of girls and women in their communities.

The men’s network has also incorporated social institutions such as schools, media organisations and churches to make the fight against GBV widespread and practical. According to their declaration, drawn in September 2021, “We note that without concerted efforts to address Gender Based Violence and other forms of gender injustices, the lives of women and girls in the country remain a risk. We commit ourselves to fight all forms of Sexual and Gender Based Violence in order to close the gender gaps in our communities.”

“Communities need to be aware of the importance of providing support and protection to women and girls so that they can live free from violence. UNDP, and indeed the UN System in Zambia will continue to support the country to end gender-based violence which remains central to the government’s development agenda,” says Lionel Laurens, UNDP Resident Representative in Zambia.

With the help of the United Nations, the government has rolled out the Victims Support Unit in all police stations across the country as part of a broader government policy to curb the rising wave of violence against women and girls thanks to funding from the Governments of Ireland and Sweden.

In each police station consisting of a reception, interview and counselling room, rest area and an office where victims can report cases of physical and sexual abuse to police officers who have been trained to specially handle such cases.

Strengtheing Coordination and Response Services

Under the GRZ-UN Joint GBV Phase II Programme, the approach to attain successful results includes Prevention and Response strategies, use of efficient institutions and systems such as One Stop Centres, Anti-GBV Shelters, Anti-GBV Fast Track Courts and village-led and community development one stop centres for survivors. Another key strategy is to strengthen the coordination of prevention and response mechanism on GBV.  The enhancement of male engagement as agents of change against GBV cannot be overemphasized to curb GBV.

With support from UNDP, Zambian advocacy groups such as Legal Aid Clinic has pushed to get as much legal and emotional support to women as possible, knowing this knowledge could help protect them.