Men and Boys as Full Partners in Transforming Masculinities to End Gender-Based Violence

What’s Happening in Saint Lucia and the Wider Caribbean

Raquel LM Sukhu

What does being a man mean to you? Did you know that men and boys participate in the process of defining manhood in every society in the world? Yes, it is true that we are taught what a man does, and how he behaves in our daily lives by the culture in which we live through our families, schools, religious communities, the media etc. However, men and boys in their day-to-day lives either reinforce or challenge these ideas of manhood for each other. This places an incredible amount of power for change in their hands.– If we agree that violence is not acceptable, that care-work can be shared, that both men and women can be breadwinners, we can change the way we live with each other. Most significantly we can end gender-based violence (GBV) and promote sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)  for all.

The vast majority of perpetrators in reported cases of GBV globally, and in Saint Lucia are men and the vast majority of victims are women. GBV impacts roughly 33% of women and girls globally and perhaps even as many as 50% in Saint Lucia and in the wider Caribbean. This violence also impacts victims’ sexual and reproductive health and rights, as they may be forced into having unprotected sex, may be infected with sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs), have unwanted pregnancies and have less access to family planning services.

Many ways to be a man

While men and boys have more power in our societies, the most popular ways of being a man actually have significant negative effects on their quality of life. Men are more likely to take risks, increasing the chances that they will die from accidents; and they are less likely to go to the doctor for check-ups or when they are sick. Men and boys often feel pressure to ‘man-up’, which denies them the freedom to express the full range of human emotions and to get the emotional support that they need. 

Fortunately, we know that there is no single way of being masculine. Men can be men in different ways, and by challenging the limits that are placed on masculinity in many societies there is endless potential to improve the lives of boys and men and all members of society. Both boys and girls can just be children, who are free to explore the full range of emotions as they grow and discover themselves and all of their talents, unrestricted by rigid traditional ways of being boys and girls. This can form the basis of a more equitable and peaceful society. 

This can also make a tremendous impact in our efforts to end GBV and promote SRHR for all. Boys and men in most societies are taught that violence is a necessary part of their masculinity – that there are situations where, if they do not act violently, they are not being masculine. This puts boys and men at risk, as well as their victims. 

Imagine a non-violent future

Imagine a future where men are not defined by their willingness to be violent. This is a future we can imagine, as we work to end GBV. Research conducted by the Caribbean Family Planning Affiliation in Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines reveals that many Caribbean men want more information, and are interested in participating in workshops and training initiatives to learn more about non-violence, gender relations and gender equity. While there may be limited interventions in St. Lucia,  these types of activities are being organised by a number of civil society organisations (CSOs) such as CariMAN, Barbados-based Men Empowerment Network Support (MENS), and Dominica’s Family Empowerment Movement (FEM Inc.).. 

Key success strategies being used by these CSOs include having men-only spaces for open discussions guided by well-trained facilitators, including pro-feminist men; campaigns on social media encouraging men to pledge commitment to key values; and partnering with academia, for e.g. the Institute for Gender and Development Studies, at the University of the West Indies. Through this type of activism, we turn our attention to the impact of what it means to be a man on the quality of life of both men and women, and use a gender-transformative approach– that is, challenge the harmful aspects of traditional gender roles.

Taking action in Saint Lucia

Saint Lucia, like so many other countries in the Caribbean region and around the world, is deeply affected by the incidence and effects of GBV on its population. The United Nations Universal Periodic Report (2021) characterises GBV in Saint Lucia as “one of the most persistent and under-reported crimes” in the small island nation. In response to this reality, governmental and non-governmental agencies have developed and implemented a range of interventions intended to reduce and ultimately end GBV, with attention to masculinities and gender-transformative programming. 

The Government of Saint Lucia has, among other initiatives  (i) implemented its National Plan/Partnership of Action (NPA) to end GBV through its Essential Services Package (ESP)  for Survivors of Gender-Based Violence  in 2021; (ii) widened the scope of its Domestic Violence Act; (iii) implemented the UNWomen’s Partnership for Peace Violence Intervention rogramme through the Family Court; and (iv) introduced interventions for primary and secondary school children, such as Youth A.R.T. (Active Response Team) through the Department of Gender Affairs.

Also responding to the call are numerous civil society and non-governmental organisations, including 

Full partnership with boys and men

Men and boys engaged as full partners alongside women and girls give us the best chance of success in our work to end GBV, and these agencies recognise this. Both men and women participate in creating expectations of each other, such as financial support, emotional support, domestic (indoor/outdoor) chores and care-work; and therefore they must both be involved in transforming these gender role expectations. This partnership with men and boys is reflected in work all over the world as we promote a more equitable world, for example in the work of MenEngage Alliance promoting allyship of men in ending GBV and UNWomen’s Share the Care campaign to promote shared parental care, especially fathers’ participation in childcare. 

So let’s talk about how we can continue and build on this work in our own homes and communities. We can transform gender roles and norms with small actions on a daily basis, and by joining the work of our local organisations and agencies. There are men and boys in our communities who have already moved, or begun to move their definitions of masculinity towards gender equity, rejecting violence and accepting greater roles in care-work and domestic responsibilities. These men and boys can be role models for new ways of being a man and accelerate our work to transform gender roles locally. 

In doing this work, remember – we live in a world with many differences. Embracing difference and allowing everyone’s specific needs to emerge and be addressed will promote respectful and fulfilling outcomes for everyone. Differences will also mean that we will not always agree; and it will give us opportunities to challenge harmful attitudes to women and girls, and forms of GBV. Getting together with each other, men and boys might share sexist jokes, or instances of abuse. These are spaces where, if you feel safe to do so, men and boys can talk about alternative ways of thinking. 

At the core of it all, we know that harmful masculine gender norms are costly to both men and women, and that each one of us can help to move us towards gender equity and non-violence. Looking at Saint Lucia, we can see a number of approaches which the government and the civil society are taking to transform gender roles and norms, and ways in which they and the Caribbean region recognise that the full partnership of boys and men is critical in this work. So, the next move is yours, and you can make a difference in everyone’s future. The end of GBV is in sight   if we all work together; men can be men in many different ways – you are not limited by the traditional ways of being a man that you learned or are learning as children.

Author Profile

Raquel LM Sukhu is an educator and researcher who has worked in the field of higher education for over 30 years, in teaching, administration and quality assurance. Her research areas include men & masculinities, gender-based violence and gender & religion.