Questioning Masculinities to Tackle Violence against Women

As part of its community workshops, GAMS Belgium organises an activity for men to take a critical look at masculinities, so that they question female genital mutilation (FGM) and other forms of gender-based violence. Here’s a sneak peek at the 2020 edition of the “Men Speak Out” workshop.

Men fighting against FGM

This workshop is part of the continuation of the “Men Speak Out” European project coordinated by GAMS Belgium in 2015 and 2016, which aims to involve men in the fight against FGM.

The 2020 edition was organised in 6 sessions for a small group of participants and was conducted online by Annalisa D’Aguanno and Seydou Niang. The objective was to reassess FGM and its link with femininity and masculinity, but also to discuss several topics such as traditional female and male education, injustice, as well as male privilege.

What are masculinities?

Being the common thread running through this workshop, masculinities have been described as the set of values that a person must assume within a specific group to embody male gender. Masculinities can be either positive or negative, depending on the person’s own use of their status as a man.

Female genital mutilation and societal roles

FGM defines the role of women in society. During their discussions, participants associated FGM with “the learning of pain, and self-sacrifice”. It is also “education in the cultural codes of marriage: respect towards the others, but especially towards the husband”, among others.

Whether they share these values or not, they explain: “Hypothetically, a woman who is not circumcised may not embody all these values, and therefore lacks credibility as a woman. Her husband also loses his credibility to live in society. Consequently, neither of them possesses any value.

Dismantling privileges

Participants also debated men’s role. Most of the time, “a man has to understand that his role is to dominate, and a woman has to understand that her role is to be dominated. It is how the system works”. And to add: “While growing, a man is raised violently in order to perpetuate violence. He must not show weaknesses or approach the female world at the risk of losing his powers”.

Some raise their children differently. Does this call into question the man they are? What about their place in the community? How can one be a “good child” if they do not pass the education delivered by their own parents?

Findings

During the workshop, some men pointed out the importance of sharing their personal feelings about the burden of this immutable education, the past and current expectations of the community.

Through this emotional relief, injustices can be spoken out and the system thrown into question gradually. It is now clear to us that the work of emotions and their expressions are a crucial stage in the work of masculinities. What’s next? They planned to discuss this topic with other people for injustices and gender-based violence to eventually stop.


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