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RIGHTS-TURKEY: Transforming Men from Culprits to Allies – Part 1

Hilmi Toros

ISTANBUL, Nov 16 2009 (IPS) - Success in fighting violence against women may well hinge on partnership with an often overlooked but still a critically vital party – men themselves.

Population experts are moving ahead with strategy and projects that go beyond treating men simply as perpetrators or, at best, uncaring and passive onlookers. Recently, more and more men are looked upon to become allies in combating violence against women.

“The current approach is that without men’s involvement, the problem cannot be solved,” Karen Daduryan, a senior officer of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), told IPS as the U.N. body presented a study at a meeting in Istanbul Nov. 11-13 on women’s health in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. “Otherwise, the risk is that women returning home after assistance and shelter will be going back to violence by the same men. We need to try to change the attitude of men.”

The UNFPA study, “Partnering with men to end gender-based violence,” documents results of recent practices to engage men in the region – particularly in Armenia, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine – and said it could set an example for other regions.

“Violence remains pervasive in the region, with estimates showing that one women in three still experiences abuse in her lifetime,” Thea Fierens, regional UNFPA director, writes in the report. “Attitudes and practices that perpetuate violence against women are accepted as norms and countless crimes go unpunished.”

But, enlisting men as allies won’t come easy. As the study finds, “innovative tools” are needed to gain male involvement – or even get their attention to talk about a phenomenon that is widespread but hardly discussed or acknowledged openly until recently.

Anticipating apathy, as well as resistance, by men, the report suggests that the subject of gender-based violence be eased into discussions on other topics that may be of interest to men. In Armenia, gender issues rode the coattails of sessions dubbed “Healthy Families,” the overall topic in Turkey was HIV, human rights in Romania and “dating and relationships” in Ukraine.

The study also reported examples of recent practices that could lead to significant progress toward lessening violence against women, including:

In Turkey, 250 police officers received training in handling domestic violence and went to train 40,000 of their peers. As a result, police who only dealt with the criminals in the past now understand the needs of survivors. They also write formal reports on complaints and encourage prosecution, rather than sending women back to their families with no action.

“The first question I asked myself in the training is whether I would be destroying Turkish families if I tried to encourage a victim to prosecute,” a police officer trying to balance tradition with his new training told the UNFPA study. He eventually sided with the victim on prosecution.

Also in Turkey, all males of the current generation will have knowledge of gender-based violence – thanks to the military. Education in gender equality has been introduced in military service. It is obligatory for all men.

Police in Romania now make detailed reports of complaints and the status of victims is followed through a computerised tracking system. Police also make weekly visits to homes to remind abusers that they are being watched – and hand men information on counselling and encourage them to seek help. Psychologist Marinela Lazar is quoted in the study as saying: “Most of the men who come to us for counselling had violent childhoods, and want to stop.”

In Armenia, UNFPA attempts to reach men also through their mothers because, “matriarchs have a great deal of power over their sons – particularly in close-knit communities where several generations live under the same roof.” Yet matriarchs may also be perpetrators of violence – a 2007 study conducted by the American University of Armenia is quoted in the UNFPA report as saying that “in 10 percent of domestic violence cases, the perpetrators were mother-in-laws.”

In Ukraine, male students brought their gender-equality documentation home from training for discussion with their parents.

Imams in Kyrgyzstan agreed to training on gender issues and later organised meetings in their communities on family planning and women’s rights, as high hopes are pinned on a more active role by faith-based organisations (FBOs) in combating violence against women.

The U.N. study found that in countries like Romania, Armenia, Ukraine and Turkey, the media plays a major role in awareness. Entertainment personalities in these countries take part in campaigns against violence to women.

“Most countries now have legislation against gender-based violence,” Daduryan told IPS. “The silence is being broken. The issue is on the table. Awareness is growing. But implementation is just beginning, and it cannot be fully implemented without changes in men’s attitude.”

Perhaps in some women’s, too. A survey in the study finds that in Turkey – aspiring to attain full EU membership – 14 percent of women said “it was sometimes acceptable” for a husband to beat his wife, and 49 percent of women who had been abused did not seek help because they did not believe it was a problem.

*This is the first of a two-part series on gender-based violence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

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