| Author: Tom Haines | Function: Communications Advisor

“#MeToo shows that gender-based violence is global and relates to us all”

In 2017, #MeToo shed light on gender-based violence (GBV) across the world. In the Prevention+ programme, Rutgers, together with partners Promundo and Sonke Gender Justice, work on preventing GBV by engaging men and boys. A year after #MeToo, Global Programme Manager, Ruth van Zorge reflects on how the movement has underlined the importance of this work and what the next steps should be.

“Equal relationships have positive effects for everyone, including men”

Ruth van Zorge
Global Programme Manager Prevention+

How has #MeToo impacted the work of Prevention+?
‘The entire #MeToo movement really reinforced our conviction in the importance and aim of our programme. What #MeToo clearly brought to light, is that the issue of GBV is global and it relates to us all. #MeToo stirred up the debate, on why GBV is a universal issue and how it can be tackled and changed.’

‘You could say everyone is, in principle, against GBV. However, challenging and changing the status quo of the power we have over each other is a very sensitive issue. There were hostile reactions from men, and sometimes women, on the #MeToo movement, which we also encounter in our programme. On the one hand, we experience very positive results at many levels. Yet, at the same time we experience opposition in some of the countries we work, with growing conservatism and challenging democratic spaces. It is important that we don’t feed into this polarisation, but that we continue the dialogue, increase leverage on the ground, and support role models and change-makers that show the positive consequences of gender equal societies.’

‘What happened after #MeToo, and especially the revelations in our own sector, is that organisations working on this subject started to reflect on themselves and on their own policies. #MeToo is about more than GBV. It is about power dynamics and people misusing their power – consciously, and unconsciously. Everyone working in Prevention+ realises that we need to continuously look at our own behaviour.’

‘#MeToo also showed the power of the media to bring this subject to the forefront. The response from the general public has been “we knew it, but we didn’t know the scope”. One girl in our programme said: “It never felt right, but now I know it isn’t right.”’

So how do you address this problem in Prevention+?
‘In our programme, we see gender roles, norms and values as the root causes of GBV. In Prevention+ we challenge the status quo. In the first place, by making people aware that power imbalances exists, as they are not always clear. We start by asking what the norms and values associated with gender in communities are, and then reflect on their consequences. We create awareness around the costs of negative norms, not just for an individual, but also for families, communities and societies as a whole. What would we gain if we changed those norms? We then discuss the possibilities to adapt and change. We really stress the importance of doing this with men and boys. We work with individuals and couples, but also operate at the community, institutional and policy level.’

Why is it so important that we involve men and boys?
‘Men and women are raised with notions on how they are supposed to behave, and relate towards each other. Change will not happen, by solely focussing on half of the population, and only one of the actors in a relationship. We have a lot of testimonies from men, who after being part of our interventions, tell us that the increased equality in their families and relationships, have not only improved the lives of their wives and children, but also their own. Equal relationships have positive effects for everyone, including men.’

‘If you don’t engage men and boys, and only work with women and girls, you run the risk of creating more resistance and actually increasing tensions, as we also saw happen around #MeToo, where men felt blamed or threatened. This causes a negative backlash. If you take a positive approach, talk to men and start with the positive role they can play, they actually want to be part of the solution.’

Is this positive approach of involving men and boys the answer to #MeToo?
It is the answer to tackling gender inequality worldwide. But it is not just about gender. It is about class, race, religion, age groups, and more. #MeToo has made a lot of people aware of the differences in power, how people use power and the injustice of it.’

‘Our programme shows the importance and effects of engaging men and boys. It may sound a bit soft, but a lot of our work is about communication and dialogue. It is amazing what the effect is of having a number of sessions to discuss these matters. It changes people. The results of Prevention+ show that after these interventions, there is a shift in the way people shape their relationships and how they relate to the opposite gender. We see less violence and more equitable decision-making in the household, just by being able to communicate and connect.’

“Our interventions aren’t called #MeToo, but we address the same issues”

Do enough people know about the idea of involving men and boys?
‘In the development sector, we see that engaging men and boys is being recognised as an important strategy. Our interventions may not be called #MeToo, but we do address the same issues. However, it is very important to stress that it isn’t the only strategy. Gender equality will always remain our aim. The end result is always to empower women and girls to end GBV. If you work with men and boys, you might unconsciously strengthen the already existing power relationships. Always stay aware of that. Our approach is a contributing strategy, but we must continue to focus on women’s empowerment, and provide support in cases of violence.’

A year after #MeToo, what is the way forward?
‘What is important for us, as we are halfway through the Prevention+ programme, is that we see a lot of positive effects of our step-by-step approach. We will capture and share these results with others in the field, but also with the general public. To tackle this global issue, we have to communicate, connect and act together to challenge and change the power dynamics leading to inequality and GBV.’

Tom Haines Communications Advisor