Men as allies against gender-based violence
In our work to end gender-based violence (GBV) there is a range of actions which we can take and support. GBV affects everyone. Women generally feel the most severe and lethal effects of GBV, and men are most often the perpetrators. While many men do not behave violently, we are left with the reality that over 30% of women and girls experience GBV in their lifetimes. This is true worldwide, and in Caribbean countries like Grenada and Guyana, as boys and men learn how to use violence as part of their masculinity.
Boys learn how to be men as they grow in their families, play with their friends, watch television and movies, and socialise in schools and religious settings. They also learn how to behave around girls, and what boys and girls, and men and women should expect of each other. Often this means that men will expect to be in charge in a relationship, and that women must listen to and obey them–ideas that are common amongst boys and men in Guyana, according to a 2021 study of young Guyanese adults by Ruth Rodney et al, and in Grenada, according to at 2020 UN Women’s report for five CARICOM countries.
Other lessons that boys learn include how not to show their emotions, except anger, and how to use violence to prove their manhood. Some men then go on to use violence in their relationships, against their girlfriends and wives, what we usually refer to as domestic violence – a type of GBV. Colin Marks, at Help & Shelter in Guyana, believes that without working with these men, we cannot end domestic violence, and GBV. The need for services for men became increasingly apparent to Help & Shelter as they provided survivor counselling and magistrates’ courts began to send men for counselling as well.
How do we work with perpetrators to end GBV?
To work with those men who have used violence against women, we have seen many court-based programmes, often referred to as ‘batterer intervention programmes’ (BIPs), some of which can be found in the Caribbean. In particular, Grenada has its Man to Man Batterer Intervention Programme, based on UN Women’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) for men referred through the court system, and Help & Shelter Guyana provides training through the Male Education & Accountability Group Sessions (MEAGS), and also through court and police referrals, including support in accessing sexual and reproductive health services.
The importance of working with men to end GBV cannot be overstated. There are roles for all men, including perpetrators, alongside women as an important part of the solution to end GBV and towards creating healthy families and a peaceful society. Reframing the narrative where they are seen as potential partners, advocates and allies can advance strategies to end GBV.
Men who have used violence against women can find their place in making the world more peaceful by participating in programmes such as BIPs. This is much needed work both in Guyana and Grenada and in the Caribbean generally, where current rates for GBV may be higher than the global estimate–perhaps as high as one in two women experiencing GBV in her lifetime based on recent research.
What’s happening in Grenada and Guyana?
Grenada’s Man to Man Batterer Intervention Programme, coordinated by the Legal Aid and Counselling Clinic (LACC), is a 16-week psycho-educational court-based programme to promote men’s accountability and responsibility for their violence. Grenada’s pilot in 2005 was the first time that the UN Women’s PfP was adopted in a Caribbean country. Since then it has been reviewed and customised for six other Eastern Caribbean countries, including Saint Lucia, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica and the British Virgin Islands. In each country where it has been adopted–17 worldwide to date–it is named differently and caters to the local culture.
Man to Man teaches each man anger management and communication skills, self awareness, including understanding his masculinity and relationship with women, and how to reject violence as a part of his masculine identity. To date, Grenada has completed 34 cycles of the 16-week programme, and 482 men have successfully completed it. Less than 10% of these men have since engaged in domestic violence, showing that the programme is valuable, and is making a difference.
Help & Shelter was founded in Guyana 1995, and continues to work to eliminate GBV, providing support services, such as counselling, public education and advocacy for victims/survivors, and most recently for men who are perpetrators. Their MEAGS is a 7-week BIP where through discussion and conversation therapy perpetrators are guided by two facilitators to be accountable for their violence and to build skills towards a life free of violence.
In addition to GBV response (working with survivors and perpetrators), they also work on prevention. Help & Shelter’s work with the Caribbean Family Planning Affiliation Ltd (CFPA) for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence (2021) was an example of this work. They issued a call to action for men, inviting them to publicly campaign against violence against women and girls (VAWG).
Their campaign – Men as advocates against violence – mobilised the ‘multi-sectoral’ and ‘transformative’ principles of the global 16-Day “Orange Day” campaign, calling for everyone to get involved and address this scourge that ruins lives, families and society. They also raised awareness about the importance of talking about gender roles to promote peaceful relationships.
Help & Shelter also held several focus group discussions, including one on men in the court system for acts of violence against partners. Men who participated in this campaign said they want more to be done to educate men and boys to prevent GBV starting at an early age, and are willing to advocate against GBV. This willingness of men to serve as advocates is key.
What happens in these Batterer Intervention Programmes?
The goals of Grenada’s Man to Man programme are similar to those of Help & Shelter’s batterer intervention programme MEAGS. First and foremost, participants learn that violence is a choice, and that they must take responsibility for that choice.
Both programmes function to:
- hold men accountable for their violence,
- educate the participants on how their behaviour and use of violence is learned,
- examine their expectations of themselves as men, and of women and where those expectations come from
- allow for therapeutic discussions about manhood and how it affects them and others, and
- learn how to respond to life events in different ways that are non-violent.
Participants have said that they previously felt unheard, and that they need more information. Men have a voice in these programmes and are able to examine who they are and why they behave in the ways that they do. Help & Shelter’s MEAGS’ approach– ‘convo-therapy’– responds to this and makes space for conversations with the participants to let their voices be heard as a starting point in addressing violent behaviour.
By addressing what the men are asking for and meeting them where they are, these programmes have been having a real impact on the participants’ lives. “It transformed my whole psyche as it relates to interpersonal relationships,” a participant of Grenada’s ‘Man to Man’ said, describing it as a transformational experience.
How BIPs can Reduce GBV – Transforming Men from Perpetrators to Advocates
One of the most important ways that we can see the impact of these programmes is in the attitudes and behaviour of graduates. Many of the men who participated in Grenada’s programme said that they felt it was very useful, and exited the programme understanding that violence is a choice.
Men who successfully complete these programmes recognise that they can respond to their anger and frustrations in a number of ways, that they are not limited to violent behaviours. Tyrone Buckmire, the Coordinator of Grenada’s LACC, tells us that it is important for these men to now be advocates, and expose other men to share what they have learned, a view shared by Colin Marks of Help & Shelter.
We can learn a lot from the programmes that have been ongoing for years, and in this way invite more men into peace-building by reducing GBV. These programmes honour the humanity in all men while making them aware that violence against women has a high cost not only to the women, but to themselves. For example, according to Buckmire, perpetrators may lose days at work, and suffer mental health challenges as a result of their own violence.
These programmes also create spaces for men to learn about themselves, about different ways to relate to other men and to women, and to build communication skills. For example, one participant in MEAGS saw how important it was to really listen and how to respond to his partner. The men also recognise that they are not defined by the violence they commit, that violence is only one part of them, and that they have more to offer to the world.
The current programmes, however, can only do so much in the short amount of time that they have the participation of the perpetrators. The Man to Man programme runs for 16 weeks, and the MEAGS for 7 weeks, while the men who participate spent many years learning how to be men, and how to use violence as part of their manhood. They learned from their families, peers and religious leaders that men are protectors and providers for women, and are not allowed to talk about their feelings.
Long-term follow-up efforts to extend the reach and impact of the BIPs are needed if we want to ensure that men transform their relationships, reject violence as a way of being a man, and end GBV. This will also provide more support to men who need more time to learn-by-doing for communication, and anger management and conflict resolution skills.
Another way to extend the work of the BIPs is to recruit men as advocates in communities, as Help & Shelter has done, going to barbershops, musicians, and religious leaders to gain their allyship in spreading positive messages and challenging those childhood messages about masculinity. These spaces are also important because men often talk to each other when going through struggles, and preparing perpetrators to become advocates in these settings can make a real impact.
Men in BIPs are allies in the elimination of GBV. This work with perpetrators is an opportunity to share a new vision of how men and women relate in society, how they share responsibilities and roles and how they can live free of violence. Perpetrators can be partners for change when we share a new vision of gender roles, inviting men into the process where we work together to build trust, empathy and full partnership.