NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Patriarchy and pressure on men to conform to ideals of aggressive masculinity not only contribute to the abuse of women and girls, but also hurt men and boys, a gender rights activist said Tuesday.
Gary Barker, international director of the charity Promundo, said the pressures of living up to the view of men as providers and protectors with no vulnerabilities were leading to violent behaviour and even suicide in men.
“I think we need to be brave enough to talk about things that ail men. Men’s vulnerabilities affect men, but they also affect women,” Barker told the MenEngage Global Symposium, a four-day conference to involve men and boys in gender equality.
“Top of the list of pressures is that men have to be providers for their families,” he said.
“Such economic stress, we find, is associated with violence against partners, against children and violence against themselves such as drinking, substance abuse, reckless driving or suicide.”
Barker, whose charity has been working with men and boys in the favelas, or slums, of Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro for almost 20 years, said a recent report on global suicide rates indicated that men often kill themselves because they have no outlet to express their problems.
More than 800,000 people annually commit suicide. Two-thirds of them are men and three-fourths are from poor or middle-income countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a September report.
From an early age, boys and men are expected to act like “real men”, encouraging attitudes and behaviours that are passed down from generation to generation and promote gender inequality, Barker said.
For example, men who were physically or sexually abused as children, or who witnessed violence towards women and girls in their families, were likely to do the same as adults.
Men who witnessed violence as children are two-and-a-half to three times more likely to be violent later on in life, Barker said. Those involved in fights or those who are victims of multiple forms of violence are about two times more likely to use violence against a partner.
“I am not making excuses for men, but if you care about ending violence against women and girls, you have to care about the violence that is happening on the bodies of men and boys.”
Reporting by Nita Bhalla; Editing by Maria Caspani