Targeting men in the war against
Story by DOROTHY KWEYU
08. March 2008
As women the world over celebrate their International day this
year, Unifem’s interim director Joanne Sandler has a rosy vision
of “an end to the pandemic of violence against women and girls —
and genuine progress on achieving gender equality and women’s
That there is such a pandemic is not in dispute; certainly not in
the aftermath of the disputed presidential vote tallying in
December that unleashed an unprecedented orgy of violence against
women and girls.
At least 1,200 people were sexually assaulted during the two
months of hell before former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan
brokered a peace accord between combatants Mwai Kibaki and Raila
Odinga just over a week ago.
Just over a quarter of these — 341 to be precise — were treated at
the Gender Violence Recovery Centre of Nairobi Women’s Hospital.
According to the patient services manager at the hospital, Mrs
Rahab Ngugi, 43 of the sexual violence survivors were men and boys,
meaning, women and girls bore the brunt of post-election violence.
The age diversity of victims treated at the women’s hospital —
between one-and-a-half and 60 years — speaks of the sheer
brutality of one of the most dehumanising forms of violence.
But this is the official figure, and there have been other tales
of victims as young as nine months.
The seriousness and ubiquitous threat of sexual violence is
captured by Mrs Ngugi: “Every time there was a flare-up or a
demonstration, you found the numbers just go up.
We therefore believe the lack of security in the country and the
increase in other crimes also increased the number of cases that
Because of the shame associated with rape, it is evident that the
published figures are just the tip of the iceberg, and that many
more people are likely to have fallen victim of sexual violence.
It is ironical that the campaign to end gender violence in general
and sexual violence in particular has been on for over 30 years.
That it persists escalating in situation of breakdown of order
such as Kenya explains international concern over it.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon in fact unveiled the Unite to end
violence against women campaign on February 25 which should
farther this cause. During the kick-off of the campaign, Mr Ban
pledged to bring in men and world leaders.
While Unifem’s Ms Sandler speaks of a UN fund that has grown from
3.5 million dollars in 2006 to 15 million last year with an
ambitious target of 100 million dollars by 2015, it is Mr Ban’s
commitment to rope in men and world leaders that warrants
Far too much money has been sunk in useless campaigns to end
violence against women that do not address the underlying problem,
namely male responsibility.
And yet targeting men as the starting point to ending violence
against women has been on the UN agenda since the 1994
International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in
An important outcome of the Cairo meeting, and one that is little
talked about, was its recognition of male responsibility in
matters of sex — an issue that seems to have received short shrift
in the reproductive rights debate.
In affirming the importance of male responsibility, the ICPD
programme of action sought to promote gender equality in all
spheres of life, and to encourage and enable men to take
responsibility for their sexual and reproductive behaviour.
The campaign against gender violence, whose worst manifestation is
undeniably rape of women and girls, will need to shift its focus
from women to men — because by and large, men are the perpetrators
of the violence.
In the wake of post-election violence, institutions such as
Nairobi Women’s Hospital have played a commendable role. They have
covered women with antibiotics, anti-retrovirals and morning-after
pills — the latter to ward off unplanned pregnancies.
But the strategy only partially addresses the problem as it fails
to deal with male attitudes that underlie sexual violence against
Efforts to end gender violence will be boosted if programmes are
designed to address male responsibility in sexual matters not just
within the domestic sphere, but also well beyond.
It is difficult to tell the budget lines of the UN’s multi-million
dollar Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. On the other
hand, it should be possible, and imperative, to channel such
resources towards activities that improve the quality of the human
person — men to be specific.
There is need to address the masculine underpinnings of violence
against women, which is rooted in their cultural attitudes towards
sex. In the era of HIV and Aids, it is critical to drive the
message home that men’s attitude towards sex, both forced and
consensual, affects not just their victims but also themselves.
Youths were strongly implicated in post-election violence, and as
Mrs Ngugi says, there is a pattern linking sexual violence to
On a recent NTV interview, the chairperson of the National Aids
Control Council, Prof Miriam Were, expressed concern over negation
of gains made in the war against the pandemic.
It is ironic that while sexual violence seeks to affirm
masculinity within the patriarchal order, it ends up not only
hurting the women and girls at whom in most cases it is directed,
but also the men when they contract infectious and in the case of
Aids, incurable diseases.
Shouldn’t the UN make a deliberate decision to channel the bulk of
its multi-million dollar trust fund towards education initiatives
to promote male responsibility in sexual matters?