(The Humanitarian Social Network)
How do you make livelihoods “safe” for displaced women? It’s obviously an important question, though if you believe the latest reports of the Women’s Refugee Commission on preventing gender-based violence (GBV), one that is not very well understood.
As you can read in the reports, there are of course a whole range of ways a NGO can and should take to address GBV for female refugees, trying to make a living. But I want to concentrate on one aspect, which WRC even has a special report on, but which is often neglected in the debate around GBV against women: the role of men not as perpetrators, but agents of change.
Of course, men are the worst perpetrators of violence against women. But if you look at the history of the struggle for the emancipation of women (and ending GBV in the context of income generation in refugee camps is a part of this larger struggle), men always played an important part.
Too often, men are only perceived as potential spoilers, something women need to be protected against. This has always frustrated me a bit, as I know plenty of men from around the world and all walks of life who share the belief that women should be equal members of society, including when it comes to earning a living.
Even if NGOs don’t find the necessary support in the male community from the start, integrating them into programs to end GBV should receive priority over treating them as obstacles. In the end, true and sustainable emancipation has to be realized with the active support of men, not against them.
Of course there are situations where it makes sense to ignore the agenda of men. In a project here in Burkina Faso, a local organisation gave contraception advice to rural women. The women were happy, the men not so much. Asked about their reservations and why they hadn’t talked with their wives about contraception before, many said that knowing about contraception would make their wives more likely to cheat on them (many men here go working in neighboring countries for extended periods of time).
In the end, the frustration of the men was not so high as to turn into aggression. And now that the women know about contraception, talk about family planning and sexuality becomes more common. But even in cases like this, where men are not included at first, their acceptance, cooperation and support is still needed to ensure the overall success of the project.
For these reasons I would argue that NGOs should make men a priority - not, of course, when it comes to the transfer of resources, but when it comes to convincing, informing and including men in the process of securing livelihoods for women.