Father's Day: How men can help break the cycle of violence against women

TearfundTearfund's gender workshops in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

One in every three women and girls will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, or both – a shocking total of one billion people in our world today.

This sort of violence happens in every sphere of society, and includes rape, physical abuse, harassment and discrimination.

It deprives people of a life of dignity and affects women and girls disproportionately.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Christian relief and development agency Tearfund is working, sexual violence in conflict has had a catastrophic impact on the lives of women and girls, and also of men in this context.

But because there's so much focus on the 'rape as a weapon of war' narrative, an even larger epidemic of sexual and gender-based violence is most often not acknowledged, or addressed, and sadly people continue to suffer in silence, in their homes, in their day-to-day lives, and often at the hands of people they know.

It's just accepted as part of 'how things are', a norm, and not the exception.

And sadly, religious texts are frequently interpreted in ways that justify, promote and support harmful concepts of gender, relationships and power that continue to drive this issue of sexual and gender-based violence.

Tearfund's work to combat sexual and gender-based violence aims to address the roots of this, by addressing knowledge, attitudes and practices of both men and women.

So we developed an evidence-based approach, which engages faith leaders, trains 'gender justice champions' and helps people reflect by creating safe spaces for dialogues in their local communities.

It gets people to think about what it means to be a man or a woman; to understand how harmful aspects of culture, and scriptures, are used to promote and justify such behaviours and norms, and to explore new ways of being - ways that are still grounded in people's understanding of faith but that promotes the equal value, contribution and decision-making of both men and women.

TearfundTearfund's work training 'gender champions' in DRC was funded by UK Aid from the UK government, via the What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls Global Programme.

Last year I met a man called Bura in a remote village in the Democratic Republic of Congo while training 'gender champions'.

He told me taking part in Tearfund's programme had changed his life.

It had created a space for him to reflect on the way he and men in his village behaved towards women, and on his own attitude to his wife, and has significantly improved his relationship and his family, and they are happy.

He said that physical violence is now rare in his community, and people reach out to him and his wife for advice and support.

People like Bura have become 'gender champions' helping others on a journey of transformation, speaking up for gender equality in their homes, churches, mosques, communities and wider-societies. Transformation at household and community level significantly improves people's lives and relationships, for everyone – men and women and whole families.

Tearfund's aim is to see many more women and men being valued and living a life of dignity, free from violence and abuse in all forms.

As a father, my message is that the work on promoting gender equality is not just about improving the lives of women and girls, but that it also improves our lives as men, and promotes positive ways that we can be men, in our relationships, in our lives, and in our families, especially as fathers, being a positive role-model to our children.

And we as men can contribute to breaking the cycle of violence, starting with us.

Prabu Deepan is Tearfund's Technical Lead - Gender, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and Peacebuilding. This project was funded by UK Aid from the UK government, via the What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls Global Programme. Follow on Twitter @Tearfund

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