Gender violence is not just a women’s issue 

Gioconda Belli - The Guardian

Every year, on the feast of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, throngs of people move through the streets of Managua in Nicaragua to visit altars of the Virgin in private homes and public spaces. In return for their devotion, they receive party favours – bags of sweets or rice and beans. The Virgin Mary has many fans in Latin America, and most countries have a day or two devoted to festivities in her honour.

But when they are not paying homage to the Virgin Mary, the reality is that Latin American men, in general, have been raised in cultures that diminish women and objectify their sexuality. It’s hard to change widespread cultural values that establish men as the dominant and authoritarian figures in society. And as women have advanced in their independence and self-affirmation, men seem to be more defiant and violent in denying them their rightful place. The region has the highest numbers of femicides in the world. Seven of the 10 most dangerous countries for women in the world are in Latin America: Mexico, El Salvador, Colombia, Brazil, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Suriname.

It is true that the cult of the “strong man” who can get away with horrific behaviour is not just a problem for Latin America. One of the most dispiriting things about the recent electoral campaign in the United States was to realise how little it mattered for Donald Trump supporters to hear their candidate talk about women in a hideously demeaning and offensive way.
Around the whole world, the cultural legacy of male power works against the gains achieved by feminism. According to recent UN Women facts and figures, one in every three women in the world “experience physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner”. Violence against women is a pandemic, in spite of harsh legal measures against men who engage in it.

Women all over the world have reacted by staging powerful demonstrations to demand that states take a forceful role and put in place measures to stop this kind of male violence.

But the real cry, in my opinion, should come from men. Up to now, too many have been happy to marginalise this as a “women’s issue”. In Brazil and Nicaragua, there have recently been private efforts to approach the problem by working directly with men in the construction of a new masculinity, based on an identity that does not require them to be aggressive or dominant.

I think we should realise that punishment is not the only way to deal with this problem. We need to dedicate more thought and effort to change the mentality and culture that drives men to commit these crimes. Educational programmes and institutions have a major role to play.

School curriculums should include subjects that prepare young people for parenthood – one of the most important responsibilities adults have in their lives and for which, so far, there is no advance preparation. Learning, from a young age, about the effects of violence for children in the home and the importance of caring for a child’s self-esteem, would go a long way in establishing some theoretical basis to start changing attitudes and behaviours. In these aspects men have to take an active role. They are the agents of this issue and they have to join the crusade to rid the world of this horrible remnant of an uncivilised world.

Gioconda Belli, 15/12/2016