Why is it important to work on masculinities with men and young boys in communities affected by Female Genital Mutilation?
Female genital mutilation is a product of age-old and unequal gender norms, issues that women and girls cannot address alone. This year, the number of women and girls who will undergo FGM is expected to rise again as conflict, climate change, increased poverty and inequality undermine efforts to eliminate this harmful practice and the deep discrimination that underlies it.
To effectively tackle female genital mutilation, men and boys must become allies, not just in initiatives to end the practice, but more broadly to rebalance gender power imbalances and be truly transformative.
By seeing the pain, consequences and trauma caused by female genital mutilation around them, some men and boys are increasingly willing to get involved in the struggles to end female genital mutilationC by raising awareness among other men and boys in spaces where they can be sure to be heard. These spaces would allow masculinities to be questioned. After a training on masculinities, the members of the COP FGM shared ideas on how to integrate masculinities into their field activities with young boys and men.
“It is very important to work on masculinities . Often it is the men who set the social norms in most traditional communities and each established norm is judged and tested on the man’s ability to bear the sanction (positive or negative) corresponding to the established social norm. If men (decision-makers) accept that women have desires independent of men’s desires, and that the realisation of their Dreams and Aspirations should not depend on men’s approval, then the work on “Masculinities” will be successful in ensuring that women and girls can live their lives with dignity and realise their desires, and dare to dream of a better world than that imposed by men. “(member of the COP FGM, Senegal)
Millions of girls are still at risk of being circumcised around the world
The UNFPA-UNICEF Global Joint Programme on FGM has supported 3,000 initiatives over the past five years calling on men and boys to become active activists, to convince their peers and to speak out in solidarity with women and girls. In Kenya alone, nearly 50 networks involving more than 43,000 men and boys are now fighting this terrible and illegal human rights violation (UNFPA, 2020). Similar initiatives have since emerged in Mali, Belgium, Senegal, …
It is important to work on masculinities for several reasons. First, gender norms and stereotypes that influence male behaviour have a significant impact on gender relations and society as a whole. Male behaviours can contribute to the perpetuation of violence including female genital mutilation against women and girls, discrimination and injustice.
It is also important to work on masculinities as social norms related to masculinity can often lead to toxic and harmful behaviour. This is why it is important to work on masculinities at the individual, interpersonal, family, community, institutional and structural levels.
By working on masculinities, it is possible to promote what are called “positive” models of masculinities that encourage empathy, vulnerability and respect for others, and contribute to the construction of a more equitable and equal society. In addition, by recognising the diversity of masculinities, it is possible to promote a more balanced understanding of gender identities and to address exclusion, discrimination and gender-based violence.
Finally, working on masculinities can challenge rigid gender norms that can be oppressive to men and boys themselves, encouraging them to express their vulnerability and free themselves from social pressures that can prevent them from being themselves.
Working on masculinities: an approach to sustainable and transformative gender change to end Female Genital Mutilation
It is important to note that working on masculinities does not mean that masculinity itself is toxic or negative. Rather, it is about challenging the toxic social norms associated with masculinity and encouraging men to adopt healthier and more respectful behaviours and attitudes, in order to create a more equal and inclusive society for all individuals.
As mentioned earlier, men are also subject to social injunctions (virility, performance, endurance, courage, etc.) despite the privileges that their status as men gives them in the society or community where they live. Bringing these contradictions to light can enable men to question these privileges, the expectations attached to them, the stereotypes expected of them and the status assigned by society, to deconstruct a hegemonic model of masculinity, to question dominant gender relations and to be able to situate themselves in relation to this status. Understanding this principle helps men and women to better understand the links that may exist between the internalisation and acceptance of certain social values and the expression of violence. Awareness enhances understanding of gender issues and contributes to gender equality, a necessary condition for ending violence against women.
In summary, here are some reasons why it is important to work on masculinities:
Ref: Author’s construction
How can masculinities be integrated into field activities?
Integrating masculinities into field activities for field actors fighting to end female genital mutilation can be done through a variety of approaches, such as:
- Education and awareness-raising: by providing men and young boys with information about gender stereotypes and toxic social norms related to masculinity, as well as the negative consequences of these attitudes and behaviours on themselves and others.
- Dialog and communication: encouraging men and boys to communicate openly and honestly, to express their emotions and vulnerability, and to respect the opinions and experiences of others.
- Promoting gender equality: encouraging men and boys to support gender equality and to work in partnership with women and girls to achieve this goal.
- Fighting gender-based violence including female genital mutilation: by encouraging men and boys to challenge attitudes and behaviours that lead to violence against women because they are women, and to provide holistic support to victims of gender-based violence.
- Developing positive role models: encouraging men to adopt healthy and respectful behaviours as role models for others, especially for the younger generation.
According to some members of the Community of Practice on Female Genital Mutilation, the best way to integrate masculinities into field activities would be to, for example :
- Raise awareness of the problems associated with toxic masculinities and its negative consequences on individuals and society.
- Organise workshops, focus groups, etc. to discuss with men and boys the different forms of masculinities and their impacts.
- Encourage men to share their experiences and reflect on their own masculinity.
- Create safe spaces where men can express their feelings and vulnerabilities without being judged.
- Encourage men to challenge gender stereotypes and engage in concrete actions to promote gender equality by opposing female genital mutilation in their families, communities, …
- Work with organisations and community groups to promote ‘positive’ and non-toxic masculinities.
Integrating masculinities in workshops for men from communities affected by FGM: the example of GAMS Belgium
We were able to learn more about the approach used by GAMS Belgium to integrate masculinities in the different activities provided to men from communities affected by female genital mutilation during the thematic discussion on this topic.
The methodology and approach used to work on masculinities with men from communities affected by FGM is a great learning experience. What is also important in their approach is that the objectives are not static and are adapted over time to the results of the discussions in these workshops.
Initially, GAMS Belgium wanted to reach men with female genital mutilation, to strengthen their knowledge, and to create a space for exchange and dialogue (general awareness of gender-based violence)
Then: the need to approach the perspective of masculinities through the perspective of female genital mutilation and to have a critical look at the way in which they themselves have/have constructed their masculinity.
Here are some reflections on their experience:
- GAMS Belgium approaches all issues related to female genital mutilation through the perspective of the man. Their experience, their feelings, and their injustices;
- FGM –> gender-based violence –> gender education –> men’s education –> masculinities: this is the path followed in their animations. Talking about gender education has allowed the group of men for whom these workshops are intended to be totally focused on the debate, to concern themselves completely and to prepare the ground for talking about masculinities;
- Before each workshop for men, GAMS Belgium sends the topic of discussion to the men’s WhatsApp group, as well as the proposal of investigation questions, to allow them to familiarise themselves with the subject, to take the risk of bringing the subject to their social environment, which has helped to reinforce the group’s adhesion to the subject and to get them to work;
- Just as GAMS Belgium does in the women’s groups, they ensure that the participants, i.e. the men, are placed at the centre of the process.
Their method is to propose a module of 6 sessions with these men. We share with you the main topics that are addressed in each session:
Workshop 1 – Female Genital Mutilation
In this workshop, the thematic of female genital mutilation is addressed. “We invite you to sound out the people around you (relatives, friends, via WhatsApp groups, etc.) how people feel when the topic is brought to them? What are their reactions? How do they talk about it? In what words? What are the reasons why they think it should be done? ”
Workshop 2 – Female circumcision in the construction of femininity and masculinity
What is the link between female circumcision and becoming a woman?
What does it mean to be a man in a society where women are circumcised? And on the contrary, in a society where women are not circumcised?
How does female circumcision contribute to the “credibility” of men (since the debate centred on the fact that if a man does not assert his authority, particularly over girls/women, he loses credibility, as the woman is the image of her family without society).
Workshop 3 – education
Apart from female circumcision, what aspects of traditional female education are valuable to you? Which aspects do you want to keep (for example in your daughter’s education)? And why?
Workshop 4 – education of men
“How are boys traditionally educated? What is expected of them later on when they are adults? What impact does this education have on their relationships with others, including women?
Workshop 5 – awareness raising
“Men’s education is an ordeal.” (this was said in a workshop). Share this statement with those around you and collect opinions.
In what way would you say that you suffered or not (either as a child or as an adult) from the education you received to be/become a man?
Walk of Privilege.
This is the experience of GAMS Belgium in integrating masculinities into field activities. Also, the clarification that the workshop is facilitated by two facilitators. It was found that the male facilitator was an inspiring and comforting identification figure for this group.
In conclusion, working on masculinities is an important step in involving men for sustainable change, which is part of the Transformative Gender Approaches to ending female genital mutilation and creating a more equal and fair society for all.
Rallying men and boys in the fight against female genital mutilation, febuary 2023 (Rallying men and boys in the fight against female genital mutilation (unfpa.org))
UNICEF-UNFPA, Gender-Equitable Masculinities : The Role of Men and Boys in the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation in the context of COVID-19,ANNUAL REPORT 2020 (FGM gender equitable masculinities.pdf (unicef.org))
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