THE BLOG
04/15/2014 12:42 pm ET Updated Jun 15, 2014

Let's Get Men and Boys off the Sidelines

It may seem intuitive that ending violence, and particularly violence against women and girls (VAW), requires the commitment of all community members. Historically, however, men and boys have been largely relegated to the sidelines of violence prevention efforts, or approached only as potential perpetrators of violence. But recent efforts are changing this through a seismic shift in approach, beginning with a focus on prevention through the structural promotion of gender equality, and the vital involvement of boys and men as supporters and partners in prevention efforts.

In the last decade, a growing number of gender-based violence activists and organizations across the globe have pioneered a men's engagement approach, in which men and boys are invited to take an active role in interrupting and preventing violence in their communities. While programs' strategies differ depending on the region and context (including approaches such as men using local folk songs and art traditions to speak to other men, or men marching in solidarity with women to highlight sexual violence) the goal is the same: to mobilize the energy and resources of the vast majority of men in the world who are non-violent and care about ending gender-based violence.

My colleagues and I in the Global Research Program on Mobilizing Men for Violence Prevention (MMVP) provide evidence of this recent increase in men's anti-violence engagement efforts in a recent study, which showed that more than half of the 165 organizational respondents from across the globe that identified engaging men and boys in primary prevention efforts to end violence against women reported using this approach for fewer than eight years. More than half of these organizations reported that 25 percent or less of their institutional resources went toward male engagement efforts.

Although programs number in the hundreds globally, examples of these important prevention efforts include the White Ribbon program that started in Canada and exists in 60 different countries, and the international organizational coalition MenEngage. These kinds of initiatives aim to create structural change by engaging boys and men in conversations about equality, gender expectations, family health, fatherhood, and the concrete, positive roles they can and do play, such as sharing caregiving and being a role model for younger generations.

Creating hope turns out to be one of the vital pieces necessary to engage boys and men in ending gender-based violence. In another MMVP study (in press) of 29 organizational representatives, about a third of respondents talked about being hopeful about men's strengths and contributions as one of the guiding principles for deepening men's engagement in the work. While we believe that men should hold themselves accountable for ending this violence, our findings suggest that it can also be helpful to approach boys and men with a focus on their ability to change and to mobilize change in the communities in which they live, relate and work.

Although early research on these efforts to engage men in violence prevention efforts is building, less is known on what boys and men identify as the strategies that attract them to VAW prevention efforts, and what keeps them invested in taking action.

To begin to answer these questions, MMVP researchers Dr. Erin Casey, Dr. Christopher Allen, Heather Storer, Dr. Richard Tolman and myself are currently completing an international, tri-lingual study. To date approximately 400 self-identified male individuals from more than 30 countries have responded to questions about what brings them to gender-based violence prevention efforts, and questions designed to test the reliability and validity of Dr. Allen's Gender Equity Scale. These studies seek to provide an empirical base upon which to build knowledge about the strategy of engaging men to end VAW.

The eradication of gender inequality of which violence against women is both a cause and symptom, can only happen if structures from nation states to family systems to intimate partner relationships address gender-based violence from a prevention standpoint. Our work suggests that these prevention efforts must be multi-level in nature and engage boys and men as active participants in, and beneficiaries of, ending gender-based violence.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Read all posts in the series here.

Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.