Engaging men to combat gender-based violence
In 2016-17, men marched alongside women in walks for justice and fundamental rights. Canada’s feminist Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and the government launched a long-awaited inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and promised future international assistance will advance women’s rights. Around the world, many men are committing, in word and deed, to ending violence against women.
In Canada, every six days, a woman is killed by her intimate partner. This happens in a country with strong legal protections for women, a network of shelters, and public education on abusive behavior. The threat is even more acute in countries where Crossroads International works. A 2015 UNICEF report revealed that every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence. In Togo and Ghana, for example, gender based violence is pervasive. A study by the Togolese Gender and Women’s Issues Ministry reveals 63% of girls aged 9 to 19 have experienced violence. In Ghana, one third of women experience physical violence.
In many countries in the Global South, including Ghana and Togo, there are added complexities. While there are legal protections for women, traditional law and cultural practices are dominant. Women are economically dependent on men. There is no shelter system and few services for victims of abuse; access to justice for victims of abuse is rare. In this context and lacking a welfare framework, women who have experienced violence often have few alternatives and most often return to the abusive situation.
To support local organizations confronted by these issues, Crossroads International sought out Canadian volunteer expertise in domestic violence. John Howard Society of Toronto offers a court mandated program working with men who have been abusers. Crossroads and the John Howard Society of Toronto are now joining forces to support local women’s rights organizations in Ghana and Togo. The John Howard Society of Toronto’s Domestic Violence Program has proven successful in working with men convicted of abuse to help them understand their behaviour, to be accountable, and accept responsibility. The program offers techniques to help men understand and manage their anger and improve communication and ultimately change their behaviour and end abuse.
“It is intuitive to provide services to women who are victims of abuse, but to end the cycle of violence we have to change belief systems among men, who are sometimes themselves victims of childhood abuse,” explains Whitney Wilson, a Crossroads International volunteer in Togo in 2015 and John Howard Society of Toronto’s, Team Leader for the Domestic Violence program.
“To end the cycle of violence we have to change belief systems among men, who are sometimes themselves victims of childhood abuse”. Whitney Wilson John Howard Society of Toronto’s volunteer, Team Leader for the Domestic Violence program.
While Crossroads International’s Access to Justice program has made real gains working with its African partners to help women understand their rights in abusive situations, the need to recognize local realities and develop creative approaches that increase safety for women is paramount.
Over the last two years, volunteers from John Howard Society in Toronto shared these new ways of working with male abusers with Crossroads local partners, Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF) in Ghana and Groupe de réflexion et d’action, Femme, Démocratie et Développement (GF2D) in Togo. They worked together to adapt the programs to fit the local contexts of Ghana and Togo and create change in the local cultural practices and ultimately, make these men become allies in increasing the safety and security for women.
“By working closely with these terrific organizations in Ghana and Togo, we aim to change men’s views about domestic violence and teach them to communicate to their partners in a way that does not include violence. Education has to be effective, comprehensive, and allow sufficient time to allow individuals to understand and change their belief systems. From my perspective as a facilitator in Canada, we have also learned much about understanding and adapting to diverse cultural backgrounds. This is why I believe these international partnerships can make such great progress,” shares Wilson.
John Howard Society staff have volunteered for three Crossroads mandates to Africa over the past few years. They have shared advice, expertise, and resources from the program with local social workers, police officers, and government officials in Ghana and Togo as well as hosting partners from WilDAF and GF2D.