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Nov 29, 2005

Activists focus on male role in gender based violence

Story PictureIn the fight to end gender based violence, it is clear that women have taken the lead, serving as primary advocates and publicly calling for an end to the suffering and the silence of victims. But today, supporters took a slightly different approach and gave the guys a chance to speak up.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting
Today female rights activists took a back seat at the discussion table to give Belizean men the chance to learn how they can eliminate gender based violence. The forum is the first of its kind and according to the experts, long overdue. But organizers believe the number of participants that showed up for this morning?s session is a good sign.

Stephen Duncan, Advocate, Eliminating Domestic Violence
?For too long we have left it to women to try to fight the issue, but in reality it is a societal problem and we need to attack it as a society from a societal stand point.?

In 2004, Belize was one of several Central American countries involved in a study on the participation of men in sexual reproductive health programmes. The study found that among the over four hundred men interviewed, seventy-nine percent of them said ?it was okay for man to hit a woman if he feels that she has betrayed him.?

John Flowers, Advocate/Programme Coordinator, N.C.F.C.
?Nobody said that relationships would have been easy, but beating somebody what does that do, does that actually resolve the problem that you had? In fact it compounds it and of course from a broader perspective, from a policy issue we need to look at this from a public health perspective because clearly it is costing us dearly.?

The Men?s Forum was organized by the Women?s Department as part of the sixteen days of activism to stop all forms of abuse in Belize. Experts tell News Five that in ninety percent of the cases reported, women are the victims. Director of the Women?s Department, Carol Fonseca, says they invited specific men from within society for a frank discussion about three important issues: a batterers intervention programme, the formation of a countrywide men against violence group, and male sexual reproductive health. Fonseca says while there has been male support for the work of the department, organised discussions about the issue is a step in the right direction.

Carol Fonseca, Director, Women?s Department
?Yes, the Women?s Department has taken the initiative to have this men?s forum, but let me say that came a lot from the fact that when we spoke to men they themselves felt it was necessary for them to get together so we gave that little extra push that I think was needed.?

Anita Zetina, C.E.O., Ministry of Human Development
?The Women?s Department has been working on the issue of changing attitudes and behaviour in our efforts to attain gender equality and equity. It hasn?t been easy because we have to work with both men and women in our society in order to achieve that, but I am particularly pleased today that we are moving the issue of domestic violence a step forward where we are now seeing men wanting to be involved in the process.?

Research shows that there are a number of reasons why some men abuse the women in their lives. Studies show that batterers gain power and control by threatening, intimidating, emotionally and economically abusing their partner. Some abusers minimise, deny and even deflect blame, saying she caused it. National Committee for Families and Children Programme Coordinator John Flowers says there is an urgent need for measures like the batterers intervention programme.

John Flowers
?There is also a component that seeks to look at the whole issue of sensitising men to gender issues and looking at their partners as equals and respecting individuals. Unless we build relationships on a foundation of fundamental human rights, we will not get very far.?

Stephen Duncan
?How do you convince a policeman who is a batterer to go and arrest a spouse beating his wife? It?s just difficult to happen. That policeman will not see the urgency in such a situation. How do you get these things fed down into your society if we don?t learn to choose our leaders properly, leaders who are batterers, should we have that??

The batterer’s intervention programme is scheduled for implementation in 2006.

John Flowers, Programme Coordinator, NCFC
?We cannot entertain that kind of behaviour, so one of the thing I want to encourage all men to do is to fact stand up if you have a friend, if you have a bother, if you have an uncle, if you know somebody who is abusive, at least in the first instance until we get this programme rolling, to actually sit down and talk to the man help them to understand first of all that there are other ways of dealing with conflicts.?

During today’s men?s forum a documentary on domestic violence was launched as well as a domestic violence handbook and a document entitled a “Man To Man Guide.”

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