Men and boys have a Critical Role as Allies in Preventing Gender-based Violence (GBV) and Achieving Gender Equality.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a global problem affecting millions of women and girls yearly. I like to refer to GBV as a growing Global Pandemic. GBV includes any violence perpetrated against someone based on gender identity or gender expression, including physical, sexual, and psychological violence. While women and girls are the direct victims of GBV, men and boys have a paramount role in stemming it and promoting gender equality. 

Unfortunately, GBV incidents in Nigeria have experienced a significant upsurge due to the insurgency in the northeastern region. The escalation of violence in the Northeast since the onset of 2015 has led to a severe humanitarian crisis, with over 2.2 million people displaced due to the intensified attacks by Boko Haram insurgents. May I also remind you that the world is still reeling from the impact of COVID-19, including the socio-economic impact of the pandemic in Nigeria as well as the spike in cases of Sexual and gender-based violence cases? According to a report by the United Nations Women, nearly half (48%) of Nigerian women have encountered at least one form of violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hyeladzira Mshelia engaging boys in JSS Garki School

Why engaging with Men and Boys is paramount. 

Research indicates that men are more likely to perpetrate gender-based violence than women. According to a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. The majority of these acts are committed by men. Additionally, the Global Study on Homicide by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that over 80% of homicide victims are men, with men being more likely to be killed by other men. These statistics demonstrate the need to involve men and boys in the efforts to end gender-based violence, as they are often the perpetrators of such violence.

  • While both men and women can be victims of GBV, men are more likely to be the perpetrators of such violence. Engaging men and boys in ending GBV is important because it can play a significant role in stopping the cycle of violence. 
  • Men can influence other men and challenge their harmful attitudes and behaviours towards women and girls. This can be particularly important in settings where GBV is normalized or accepted
  • Ending GBV requires the participation of everyone in society, including men and boys. Sustainable change can only be achieved if everyone is involved in the effort to prevent GBV and promote gender equality

In this perspective, Connected Development with support from Voice Program in Nigeria took the engagement of men and boys at the core of its interventions to promote gender equality and address violence against Women and Girls within Nigeria. The team and I adopted a grassroots engagement approach that targets men and boys, enabling them to provide direct impact and empowerment to victims and young people. Through this strategy, individuals have been receiving vital information on their roles as responders, the availability of diverse communication and reporting channels, and the importance of mobilizing a collective voice to speak out against gender-based violence. We engaged with diverse stakeholders ranging from informal stakeholders to formal stakeholders. I became conversant with The National Union of Road Transport Workers as a result of spearheading this campaign and very easily, I was fondly referred to as “Iya Motor Park” by my colleagues.

In a bid to strengthen the capacity of 1000 men and 1000 boys as ‘he-for-she’ champions to lead strategic advocacy and multi-dimensional stakeholder engagement against gender-based violence in Nigeria, we held a series of capacity-building sessions, training and town hall meetings for drivers, loaders, conductors, ticketers and even market women. We have come to understand that men and boys can play a significant role as partners and allies in reducing incidents of GBV and promoting gender equality. Equipping them with the necessary tools and knowledge to become advocates and allies in the fight against sexual and gender-based violence is crucial. Collaborations and partnerships are also key to laying a strong foundation for project implementation, which leads to greater success. 

Over the past 18 months, our project has yielded significant results, by partnering with the National Union of Road Transport Workers, the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Agency, and The Enugu State Ministry of Gender Affairs and Social Development, we were able to mobilize various stakeholders throughout the project cycle. This resulted in the creation of five gender desk offices across five states in Nigeria, across the informal sector where women can rant and speak out without fear from their perpetrators, as has never been the case in places like the motor parks in Nigeria. We have thus far created safe places and a reporting channel for women to seek justice and demand accountability on issues relating to sexual and gender-based violence and sensitize school authorities on including guidance and counselling in curricula.  In addition, we empowered 2,610 boys through the Boys Against Gender-Based Violence Club and reached a total of 2.5 million people through online engagement. We also recorded positive behavioural changes by men and boys through their willingness to engage and educate other men and boys, who will do the same for their peers. 

The most exciting aspect of engaging men and boys as allies in ending GBV was through our extracurricular activity in the form of consent education for boys and girls in Junior Secondary schools. This was not only targeted at the students, and this was achieved by also strengthening the teachers’ capacities through the use of the Actions. Boys.Choices [ABC] on the SGBV manuals and ensuring they handled club activities regularly. 

A cross-section of participants during a Motor park town hall meeting in Abuja

Using innovative tools to directly impact and empower victims, young people across the project states

Young people across the project states are utilizing our innovative tools to directly empower and impact victims of GBV. These tools are designed to provide immediate and practical assistance to those affected by GBV, as well as to raise awareness about the issue and promote social change.

  • We developed a Social Construct Platform which is a digital data collection and analysis tool to access the misogynistic tendencies of men and boys, educate them on the subject of gender-based violence, and provide a one-stop reporting platform for victims and survivors. Click here to check your SABI level.
  • Using the Actions. BoysChoices [ABC] on SGBV Manuals, we developed a 24-week educational manual on mentorship and extracurricular activities for secondary school students, both boys and girls, across several states targeted by the project. As part of this initiative, we launched the Boys Club Against Gender-Based Violence in 30 schools, making it one of the first of its kind in Africa. Through this program, we have successfully educated and mentored over 3,000 boys on the issue of SGBV, empowering them to be allies in the fight against gender-based violence. ABC Manual for Boys
  • We produced a series of documentaries aimed at engaging with rights holders and raising awareness about the harmful impact of sexism and male dominance on ending all forms of violence against women and girls. These documentaries helped to shed light on the issue and promote dialogue around the need for action to end gender-based violence.  Find a link to the  docu-story  here 
  • We initiated dialogue with rights holders about their experiences and perspectives on gender-based violence through a VOX POP production. This initiative was conducted in three languages – Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa – and was instrumental in starting conversations and engaging with communities on the issue of SGBV.  Find a link the Vox Pop here 
  • SGBV Manual for Transport Workers and Organizations in the Informal Sector: We designed and developed an SGBV Manual for Transport Workers and Organizations in the Informal Sector. These manuals engaged gender desk officers within the motor park space. Manual for Road Union Workers on GBV
  • We created various knowledge-sharing materials, including fact sheets, cartoons, infographics, jingles, stickers, handbills, and community-based information dissemination tools. These materials were placed strategically in motor parks, buses, and cars to ensure maximum exposure and to reach a diverse audience

Through leading this campaign, I have realized that gender-based violence also affects men and boys, who often remain silent about their experiences. Male victims of gender-based violence often face a unique set of challenges, including social stigma, lack of support, and even disbelief from others. This can make it difficult for men and boys to come forward and seek help.

One of the key obstacles facing male victims of gender-based violence is the lack of data and research on the topic. Historically, most studies and statistics on gender-based violence have focused exclusively on female victims, leaving male victims largely invisible. This has contributed to a widespread misconception that gender-based violence is exclusively a women’s issue. In reality, gender-based violence affects individuals of all genders and can have devastating consequences for men and boys.

In recent years, there has been growing recognition of the need to address the needs of male victims of gender-based violence. This has led to the development of new initiatives and resources aimed at providing support and assistance to male survivors. These initiatives include counselling services, hotlines, and support groups specifically designed for male victims of gender-based violence.

However, there is still much work to be done to ensure that male victims of gender-based violence receive the support and resources they need. This includes challenging social norms and attitudes that perpetuate the myth that men cannot be victims of violence, as well as increasing funding for research and services aimed at addressing the unique needs of male survivors.

Ultimately, the fight against gender-based violence must be an inclusive one, recognizing that individuals of all genders can be victims and survivors.  I hope to witness more initiatives and remedies geared towards addressing the needs of men and boys impacted by gender-based violence.

AboutHyeladzira James Mshelia

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