Changing Notions of Masculinity, Preventing Violence Against Women

Swapna Majumdar - CNS
In Bangladesh, a man forced into marriage vents his frustration by beating his wife when she disobeys him. In Cambodia, a husband justifies slapping his wife on the grounds that she must have done something she shouldn’t. In Indonesia, some men believe that if a wife doesn’t look after her husband’s needs, she deserves to be punished.

Violence against women is neither culture nor region specific. It cuts across community and class and makes no distinction.  Findings of a recent UN study on men and violence in Asia and the Pacific underlined that while patterns of violence against women differed, it was pervasive in all the six countries studied.

The study entitled ‘Why Do Some Men Use Violence Against Women and How Can We Prevent It? Quantitative Findings from the UN Multi-country Study on Men and Violence in Asia and the Pacific’ was released in Bangkok on September 10, 2013. A collaborative effort involving academia, research institutes, civil soci¬ety, UN agencies and governments, the study provides the largest multi-country data on men’s perpetration of violence against women.

 So why do some men use violence against women?

“It is well documented that violence against women is a manifestation of unequal gender relations and masculinity governed by patriarchal beliefs and institutions. But we wanted to understand from men why they abuse women. This is why this study took us four years,” said Emma Fulu, one of the authors, in an interview with Citizen News Service in Bangkok.

Fulu is a research specialist for Partners for Prevention, a regional joint programme of the UN Development Programme, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), UN Women and United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme in Asia and the Pacific that conducted the study from 2010 to 2013. Ten thousand men, aged 18-49 years, living in rural and urban areas of six countries (Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea,) were interviewed about their use and experiences of violence, gendered attitudes and practices, childhood, sexuality, family life and health. Nearly 50% of them admitted to have resorted to physical and/or sexual violence against a female partner.

Three thousand women were also included in the study to better understand men’s use of different forms of violence against women (specifically, intimate partner violence and non-partner rape); assess men’s own experience of violence as well as their perpetration of violence against other men and how it relates to the perpetration of violence against women; identify factors associated with men’s perpetration of different forms of violence against women; and promote evidence-based policies and programmes to prevent violence against women.

The study, which did not explore all forms of violence against women but focused on intimate partner violence and non-partner rape, compared men’s reports with women’s reports of their experiences of intimate partner violence as a form of validation.

One of the most important finding was that while men’s use of violence against intimate female partners was pervasive across the Asia–Pacific region, its prevalence varied from 30% to 57%. “We found that that controlling behaviour, frequent quarrelling with partner and gender inequality were the underlying drivers of violence against women,” said Fulu.

However, patterns of intimate partner violence perpetration varied across sites, found the study. For example, in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, almost all the reported partner violence occurred within marriage, and physical violence was more common than sexual violence, but in Cambodia and in Indonesia, sexual violence was more common than physical violence. Partner rape was also found to be more pervasive than rape of a non-partner in all sites studied except in Bougainville in Papua New Guinea.

One of the reasons for this could be the difference in the experiences of abuse faced by men during their childhood. “Men’s use of violence is associated with complex interplay of factors. Childhood abuse was found to be linked to violence as well their notions of masculinity,” pointed out Fulu. In addition to physical violence, the study found that men also resorted to economic and emotional abuse. This ranged between 16% in Bangladesh (urban) to 41% in Sri Lanka and 83% in Papua New Guinea (Bougainville).

But this violence can be prevented if men and women are equally valued recommends the study. It also suggests that governments ensure violence against women (whatever its form) is never acceptable. In 1994, the International Conference on Population and Development had outlined women’s central place within the development agenda which included reproductive and sexual health rights. But, even today, almost two decades later, gender equality still remains elusive in many countries in Asia and the Pacific. In a country like India where violence begins even before a girl is born through sex-selective abortions, data emerging from the UN study could be useful to push for government policies and programmes that empower women by ending discrimination they face in all aspects of their lives. Lives of women can be saved when countries value men and women equally, address reproductive and sexual health needs and prevent violence against women.

Swapna Majumdar, Citizen News Service - CNS
September 2013