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International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women: The Value of Men as Allies

اليوم العالمي للقضاء على العنف ضد المرأة: عندما يصبح الرجل حليفا لقضية المرأة, Beirut Times, By Errachid Montassir (HAF project manager).

Caption: On November 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, HAF celebrates its community partners who work tirelessly toward gender equality.

November 25th marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, established by the United Nations in 1993. This day marks the launch of the UN’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign. The campaign concludes on December 10, aligning with the UN’s International Human Rights Day. This year’s campaign will take place under the slogan, “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!”

“Sexual violence against women and girls derives its roots from the centuries-old male domination,” Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres said during last year’s campaign, “and we must not lose sight of the inequalities between the sexes, which nurtures a culture of rape, is primarily a matter of an imbalance of power.”

Violence against women is similar to cancer– it is a fundamental cause of disadvantage and even death for women of childbearing age. One in three women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, most frequently by an intimate partner.

Violence against women manifests itself in many forms: physical, sexual, and psychological. Intimate partner violence such as battering, psychological abuse, and marital rape are often ignored because of societal or social stigmas. Women experience an onslaught of daily mistreatment in the form of street harassment, stalking, and cyber-harassment. They also experience sexual violence in the form of rape, forced sexual acts, unwanted sexual advances, and forced marriage.

Young girls are victims of child sexual abuse and child marriage. Femicide and female genital mutilation is still rampant in many parts of the world. At least 200 million women and girls, aged 15–49 years, have undergone female genital mutilation in 31 countries. Women and girls account for 70 percent of global human trafficking victims, most of whom are trafficked for sexual exploitation.

According to the UNODC, 137 women around the world are killed by a member of their family every day. It is estimated that of the 87,000 women who were intentionally killed in 2017, more than half were killed by intimate partners or family members, while more than a third of those victims were killed by their current or former intimate partner. Furthermore, emerging data shows that all types of violence (particularly violence that occurs at home) against women and girls has intensified since the outbreak of COVID-19.

Despite the prevalence of violence of women around the world, less than 40 percent of the women who experience violence seek help of any sort. Most victims look to family and friends for support, while very few look to formal institutions, such as police and health services. Less than 10 percent of those seeking help appealed to the police.

Gender-based violence in the Moroccan context

Caption: Women take part in an IMAGINE empowerment workshop to learn more about their rights.

When discussing gender issues in Morocco, one must address the issue of space. The private and public spheres of Morocco have become mutually exclusive, as associations with power and gender have developed.

The public space is largely controlled by men, as they manage the economy, lead businesses, and regulate domestic policy. The private space leaves women and children vulnerable, as they are limited to domestic work. In recent years, the dichotomy between public and private space has begun to evolve due to the fact that women have started to wield power in other areas of their lives.

This vulnerability in the private space opens women to the increased possibility of domestic violence. In a 2018 survey by Morocco’s High Commission for Planning, more than 40 percent of women between ages 18 and 64  said they experienced “an act of violence at least once.”

However, not many women in Morocco press charges against or divorce their abusive husbands. Despite the legislataive and civil progress that has been made in recent years, a number of cultural and social norms allow for the continued presence of sexual violence. Moroccan society remains patriarchal, meaning women are often subject to the “blame/shame logic.”

While a new bill was passed in 2018 imposing tougher penalties on various types of sexual violence and harassment, women still find it difficult to report incidents to local authorities. Many have criticized the law, saying police officers reportedly do not take allegations seriously. Likewise, cultural and societal norms paired with social stigmas often mean many women victims of sexual violence feel that they cannot come forward without damaging their family honour and their own reputation. If a woman does speak out, society is more likely to blame female victims and women as a whole, rather than the perpetrator.

IMAGINE being an ally

Caption: Men taking part in HAF’s IMAGINE empowerment workshop.

A study by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) about gender diversity at organizations around the world found that when men are consciously engaged in gender incorporation programs, 96 percent of organizations see progress — as to only 30 percent of organizations where men are not engaged. Nevertheless, nowadays several organizations still miss the mark on gender equity efforts by concentrating gender initiatives just on changing women — from the way they network to the way they lead.

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) insists on engaging men in not only ensuring the balance between gender, but also raising awareness of empowerment principles through an effective program called IMAGINE. One of the main sections of this program is to explain “Moudawana” (family code), the Moroccan law that establishes women’s rights. Participatory mapping conducted by HAF in the Al Haouz province in 2017 found that 94 percent of rural female participants had never heard of the Moudawana even though it had been enacted in 2004.

The 2017 International Men and Gender Equality (IMAGES) survey found that both men and women in Morocco sense that they are in a time of transition. Men report that they are largely in favor of legislation that promotes gender equality (such as the Moudawana), but their theoretical support of progress is at odds with their attitudes and practices in their private lives, which can often be more traditional, and this perpetuates the subversion of women’s rights and roles in their own lives. Men play a vital role in achieving gender equality, and through IMAGINE workshops, they are able to gain access to information that can transform their ideas and positioning on, as well as their approach to, essential allyship  to women.

During IMAGINE workshops, HAF introduces the topic of Moudawana as a tool to develop rural Moroccan women’s capabilities, and thereby their own capabilities, as well as their sense of capacity to achieve sustainable change, including creating development projects that they manage to meet their needs. This leads men to support positive change and equality. Men come to believe that placing women at the heart of the process, using participatory methods, provides a fresh perspective on community development and maintains a balance between genders that benefits everyone.

For women, IMAGINE workshops provide them with time to reflect on their own goals. In addition to personal development integrated with the aforementioned rights-based approach, these workshops include a strong emphasis on economic engagement, focusing primarily on cooperative building among women, but also supporting other group initiatives that generate income for rural women and families, such as small businesses and associations. A female participant shared that “I discovered that inside every woman, inside each one of us there is an unlimited power that can lead us to achieve our goals and what we want to do in life.” Additionally, contrary to many published studies, HAF’s IMAGINE trainers have noted anecdotes of domestic violence reportedly decreasing once women are able to work and contribute to household income.

Through this process, men become allies for the women and girls in their communities. Men add their voice to the conversation to become agents for change in the fight for gender equality. HAF stresses the importance of involving youth as well in order to enact change for future generations.The dialogues that stem from these meetings are integral for advancing a better future for Morocco’s next generations, and in particular for girls and women.

Workshop participant Hassan expressed: “The IMAGINE training wonderfully summarizes what I have been trying to collect information on and address with my young daughters, whom I don’t want to struggle the way their grandmothers did.” HAF hopes to reach as many men and women as possible with empowerment programs that will contribute to the elimination of violence against women.

Research by Anya Faruki, a HAF-UVa Intern during the summer of 2020, contributed to the elaboration of this article.

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