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Transforming Masculinities: ending SGBV

As we seek to see an end to sexual and gender-based violence, we’re changing what it means to be a man for good.

Written by Tarryn Pegna | 26 Feb 2024

A group of five men sit in a circle on plastic chairs under a shelter.

Pastor Armando in Guatemala grew up in a culture where men were considered to be above women. As he got closer to Jesus, he started changing some of the beliefs he had grown up with. Later, he participated in a Transforming Masculinities workshop led by Tearfund's local partner. He is now a Gender Champion who volunteers in his community to lead and facilitate change with respect to gender norms, gender equality and the role of faith. Credit: Caroline Trutmann/Tearfund

Trigger warning

This story contains mentions of violence and threats of sexual violence that some readers may find upsetting.

It’s true that men and boys can experience violence, including sexual violence. And this is not acceptable. However, when it comes to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), the vast majority of those on the receiving end are women and girls and, statistically, the perpetrators are predominantly men and boys.

One in three women and girls

In fact, one in three of all women and girls will experience either physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. Think about what that means for the women and girls around you. Maybe it already means something for you personally. If so, you’re not alone.

The sad truth is that violence against women and girls (VAWG) is happening all around us. It isn’t limited to a certain economic or social demographic. It happens everywhere and it can be carried out in many forms. It can be defined as ‘any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women or girls, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether in public or private life’.

‘One in three of all women and girls will experience either physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.’

Rape, physical assault, financial control, emotionally, spiritually or psychologically damaging behaviour – or even the threat of any of these – all constitute types of violence in this definition. Anything that can make the victim of this behaviour feel powerless or of lower value than the perpetrator.

SGBV and whole communities

Strong, capable, intelligent women and girls can be affected by this type of violence – and when inequalities that allow violence against women and girls (VAWG) become a social norm, the knock-on effects are felt across whole communities.

A report by the UN for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence states ‘New IMF research in Sub-Saharan shows how violence against women and girls is a major threat to economic development in the region. An increase in violence against women by 1 percentage point is associated with a 9 per cent lower level of economic activity. At the global level, it is estimated that the cost of violence against women (public, private and social) amounts to US$1.5 trillion.’

So, how do we make it stop?

What the UN report also states is: ‘The good news is that VAWG is preventable and there is more evidence than ever before about what works.’

And if the people largely responsible for the problem are men, then surely one of the ways of working to end SGBV must be to find ways to bring men onside to change the situation.

One of the things that we have discovered works is an approach Tearfund has developed called Transforming Masculinities.

Faith and gender norms

As a response to what we were hearing from survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), Tearfund commissioned a series of studies to start to understand how best to work with men and boys – specifically to look at the role that faith plays in influencing masculinities (gender norms around male behaviour) and how certain masculine behaviours can lead to male violence and SGBV.

‘VAWG is preventable and there is more evidence than ever before about what works.’

A large majority of the global population have some form of religious tradition or faith beliefs, and this study showed that faith is a key factor in shaping male identities, social and gender norms and behaviours. It also highlighted that certain interpretations of religious texts, intertwined with harmful cultural and traditional practices, can have a negative or positive impact on both the prevalence of SGBV in a society, as well as in achieving gender justice.

With this in mind, Tearfund began developing the Transforming Masculinities approach as a way to involve men and boys in bringing an end to SGBV.

The aim of Transforming Masculinities: to transform masculinities!

The training manual for the Transforming Masculinities approach sets out the goal: ‘Our vision is to bring about change, to take these men and boys on a journey of transformation that will result in them living and promoting a lifestyle of positive masculinities and gender equality.

‘We want to see more men and boys involved in work to prevent SGBV and living as role models – promoting this new way of being a man. This will significantly improve the lives of men, women, boys and girls, improve relationships and promote the well-being of the family.

‘Our vision is of a world where both women and men live with dignity, are valued and can aspire to a life free of violence and abuse.’

How does Transforming Masculinities work?

Faith leaders (who are predominantly male) and certain interpretations of scriptural texts can play a significant role in setting out – or perpetuating – gender norms that are dangerous for women and girls (and harmful for men and boys).

In some cases, these interpretations can seem to excuse or justify gender inequality and even violence. Furthermore, they can be used to shame the survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

‘Our vision is of a world where both women and men live with dignity, are valued and can aspire to a life free of violence and abuse. ’
Transforming Masculinities

Equally, however, faith leaders and faith traditions can be powerful agents for positive change in eradicating SGBV.

The Transforming Masculinities approach helps communities work towards gender justice through the principles and sacred texts of our faiths that value the wellbeing and equality of all human beings.

Who is more valuable?

Rather than challenging existing gender roles directly, it starts by asking faith leaders to look at and question the unequal power, value and status that people are given in their communities based on gender. It asks them to think about what an ideal society would look like and, through carefully considering these things, examining sacred texts (scripture) and hearing the lived experiences of members of the opposite gender, faith leaders are encouraged to reconsider the way they understand things and the behaviours that this can result in.

Once community faith leaders have spent time understanding this approach, they then select key male and female members of the community to be trained as facilitators (or Gender Champions) of small group discussions called community dialogues and to carry these messages of transformation and restoration into their communities.

Restoration and transformation

By building these conversations and promoting positive models for being men and women, relationships can be restored and this can lead to changes across all spheres of society. As ways of interacting between genders are transformed, this can result in a society free of sexual and gender-based violence in all its forms.

You can read about an example of how this works in practice here.

The Transforming Masculinities Pledge

I commit to promoting positive masculinities and gender equality in my life, home, workplace, church and community. I commit to model it in my personal and professional relationships, in all spaces and spheres of my life. I commit to maintaining personal and relational accountability practices so that I’m accountable for my thoughts and actions. I commit not to use violence, violent behaviours or words to hurt myself or others in my community. I commit not to blame victims of SGBV, not to shame or stigmatise them, but to offer my support and my love to help them on their journey of healing and restoration. I commit to work with my local church to work towards a community free of SGBV. I commit to model gender equality in my words, relationships, day-to-day life, so that I can be a role model for the younger generation. I believe that God the Trinity created us equal in God’s image. I believe that sin broke this image, and put enmity between God and me, and between men and women. I believe that through Jesus I was redeemed and restored. To this restoration, I commit my life to work together for a better life for all. This is my commitment to my family, my church, my community, my faith and myself. And by the grace of God I will do all that I can to keep my commitment.

We pray and ask for wisdom, grace and strength from Christ Jesus, who is our ultimate model, helper, healer and friend. We believe that in and through Jesus all things are possible if we believe and commit ourselves to this process of transformation. We commit ourselves in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Pray about SGBV

    • Pray for women and girls around the world. Ask God for justice and equality everywhere that will protect them and will turn the tide on SGBV.
    • Pray for men and boys. Ask God for transformed mindsets where necessary. Pray that they will be champions for the rights and protection of women and girls.
    • Pray for the church. Ask God to help churches and faith leaders to be examples in their communities and to bring healing, restoration and transformation where it is needed.

SGBV: Definitions of key concepts

This is a list of some of the terms commonly referred to in work to prevent and respond to SGBV. This list is adapted from a guide developed by the International Rescue Committee.

Abuse: To treat another person in a harmful, offensive or injurious way.

Emotional abuse: Any behaviour that attempts to control a person by causing them emotional harm; this can include threats, intimidation, humiliation, coercion or bullying.

Gender inequality: When one sex is not treated equally to the other.

Gender-based violence (GBV): Refers to a wide range of human rights violations, including the sexual abuse of children, rape, domestic violence/intimate partner violence, sexual assault and harassment, trafficking of women and girls, and forced marriage. Gender-based violence affects women and girls disproportionately, but is also experienced by men and boys to a lesser degree.

Human rights: The basic freedoms and protections to which all humans are entitled.

Positive masculinities: masculine identities, knowledge, attitudes and practices that are not harmful to oneself and others and that are based on a commitment to gender equality, non-violence and equitable relationships. Men exhibiting positive masculinities promote gender equality at home, in the community and in society, creating spaces for women to thrive.

Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV): refers to a wide range of acts that violate people’s human rights, including the sexual abuse of children, sexual assault and harassment, domestic violence, rape and forced marriages. It includes any abusive act, attempted act or threat of a sexual, physical, emotional or economic nature directed at a person because of their gender identity using coercion, power/authority or force without consent/against their will having or likely to have harmful consequences.

Sexual violence: any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other act directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting.

Violence against women and girls (VAWG): Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women or girls, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether in public or private life.

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Written by  Tarryn Pegna

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