By Jeni Klugman and Maria Correia
WASHINGTON—“My mother works hard… I love her very much,” one schoolboy wrote during an event organized by the nonprofit Bindi Project, which aims to tackle widespread violence against women in India. “I love my sister too. Her dream is to become a doctor; I truly wish that it comes true.”
“When we talk about daughters, we are way behind,” wrote another. “People do not consider girls to be equal to boys.”
Founded in 2011and based in Ahmedabad, the Bindi Project solicited the letters to focus Indian boys on the value of girls and women in their lives. On Nov. 25, this International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, they remind us that social norms that tolerate or even encourage violence can change—and that working with men and boys to change them is vital.
Gender-based violence is a global epidemic and a leading cause of death and serious injury among women aged 19-44. The World Health Organization (WHO) this year released an unprecedented survey of global data on its prevalence: It found more than one-third of women worldwide will experience physical violence by a male partner over the course of their lives.
In South Asia alone, the figures are sobering. In India, 22 women die every day in dowry-related murders. In Sri Lanka, 60 percent of women report having suffered physical abuse. In Pakistan, more than 450 women and girls die every year in so-called “honor killings.” In Bangladesh, nearly 58 percent of women living in the provinces report sexual or physical violence, or both.
A recent UN study of 10,000 men in Asia and the Pacific found on average that half of those interviewed reported using physical and/or sexual violence against a female partner, ranging from 26 percent to 80 percent across nine sites in six countries. Nearly one-quarter reported raping a woman or girl.
Costs associated with violence against women and girls are enormous, with broad implications for development efforts to eradicate poverty and boost shared prosperity. Conservative estimates of lost productivity resulting from domestic violence range from 1.2 of GDP in Brazil and Tanzania, to 2 percent of GDP in Chile—about what most governments spend on primary education. And that doesn’t include individual suffering and second-generation consequences.
The WHO report recommends measures such as care for victims, education, and empowerment: These are vital but not new. Women’s groups have advocated and implemented such programs for decades, even as violence against women has persisted and in some instances increased, in rich and poor countries alike, across age groups, classes, cultures, and races.
What drives violence against women?
A World Bank review of the International Men & Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) found that the single strongest factor associated with men’s use of violence against a female partner is having witnessed their own father or another man use violence against their mothers.
Boys who experience violence at young ages, by parents or peers, are also more likely to perpetrate violence, as are men under economic stress. In a survey of 1,552 men in India, one-third said they were ashamed to face their families because they were jobless or earned little. Jobless men who reported feeling stress or shame were 50 percent more likely to use violence against a partner and twice as likely to have used sexual violence compared with those who did not.
In short, violence against women is closely linked to rigid norms that define what it is to be a man.
Worldwide, the dominant model of manhood against which men are measured depicts them as financially independent, husbands and fathers, primary breadwinners, achievers in the eyes of peers—in control and exerting authority. But for many poor men in particular, a huge gap exists between these societal expectations and what they can realistically achieve. Facing chronic poverty, inequality, exclusion, and unemployment, they can use violence as a way to reaffirm themselves as men.
Time to change tack
All of this suggests that as a global development community, we must turn our attention to the behavior and motivations of men, both those who use violence against female partners and the larger number who do not—and bring them more fully into efforts and initiatives aimed at stopping it.
· First, we must address rigid notions of masculinity. This begins with how we raise our sons. We must engage men and boys as positive role models in schools, politics, businesses, and communities as agents for gender equality and encourage those who challenge biased norms. Australia’s Male Champions of Change—which engages male leaders in business and government in pressing for gender equality —is an encouraging model. And we must innovate. In Brazil, for example, the World Bank Group supported a campaign in which actors, athletes, and other celebrities promoted the message “real men don’t beat women”—which was widely disseminated through traditional and social media.
· Second, we need to integrate men fully into programming. Targeting men in health, microfinance, and other programs has yielded positive change. In Cote d’Ivoire, for example, the World Bank Group has funded a Village Savings & Loan Association. Half the beneficiaries, male and female, also took part in a gender dialogue group, which reported both a decrease in domestic violence and an increase in women’s empowerment and financial autonomy. In India, the Men in Maternity health initiative targeting low-income urban couples prompted men to accompany their wives to clinics, improved their knowledge of family planning, and increased spousal communication. And in Sri Lanka, the WE, United for Equality campaign informs men and women of their rights and aims to engage men as allies. Early reports indicate young men in particularly are recognizing the value of more equitable decision-making and access to resources.
· Third, we must gain a better understanding of what drives violence against women—and what works to prevent it. That means investing in knowledge and data, such as IMAGES, and using those data in designing programs to mitigate, prevent, and ultimately eradicate gender-based violence. A major forthcoming World Bank report on women’s voice and agency is one such undertaking.
The brutal gang-rape of a young Indian woman last December galvanized global attention and spurred numerous men to speak out publicly against gender-based violence. Understanding why men use violence and working with them more fully is crucial to ending it.
-- Jeni Klugman is Director for Gender & Development at the World Bank Group. Maria Correia is the Manager for Social Development, South Asia Region, at the World Bank Group.