Male legislators are indispensable to ending Violence Against Women and Girls by Rep. Edcel C. Lagman


Keynote Address delivered by REP. EDCEL C. LAGMAN at the PLCPD’s Policy Forum on Male Legislators’ Involvement on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the Philippines on 09 March 2011)


All of us are familiar with the numerous sayings about the home being a sanctuary, a place of refuge from the trials and tribulations of everyday living. Our homes are supposed to be our personal havens, our shelter from both the literal and figurative storms of life.

But for millions of women worldwide, the home is the most dangerous place to be in because an overwhelming percentage of crimes of violence against women happen in the very place where they should feel safest – their very own homes.

Because of its perceived “private” nature, incidence of domestic violence continues to rise even as perpetrators of this terrible crime continue to carry out their assaults in various forms of wrongdoings with impunity not only because the victims are afraid to report the crime but also because of the stigma and shame attached to being a battered woman.

Violence against women is an offensive and alarming worldwide phenomenon that cuts across cultures, religions and social classes.

Although there is no archetype of the victim of domestic violence and there seems to be no rhyme or reason to what will trigger the violence, one constant in the domestic violence equation is certain: the perpetrator is a man.

It is for this reason that male legislators should be at the forefront of preventing all forms of violence against women and girls.


MEN SHOULD BE PART OF THE SOLUTION

Men have often been considered the root of the problem of violence against women. Now we have the chance to be part of the solution. Let us not allow this opportunity to be foreclosed by our inaction and indifference.

While it is true that men commit most of the violence perpetrated against women all over the world and should therefore play a major role in putting a stop to this aberration, it must also be underscored that men are not born violent. They learn to be aggressive and belligerent because they were brought up to believe that these are the hallmarks of manliness.


VIOLENCE IS LEARNED BEHAVIOR AND CAN BE UNLEARNED

Violence against women occurs mainly because culture and habit establish gender-based variant roles for both women and men. Majority of cultures worldwide train male children to be assertive, aggressive and competitive even as female children are acculturated to be patient, forgiving and accommodating and even to passively accept masculine violence.

In other words, they learn violence and become violent men because of the beliefs and norms perpetuated by societies and cultures about what it takes to be a “real” man.

This, in no way, absolves them of blame. It simply recognizes that we should ensure that stereotypes of manhood should be abandoned and that there should be a conscious effort made by fathers to guarantee that their sons learn the value of not using force or violence to settle a conflict or assert a point.

Clearly, violence is learned behavior and therefore, it can be unlearned. If we are to be part of the solution, it is critical for us to ensure that boys and men be re-educated that real men do not abuse women and girls – physically, sexually, or emotionally. It is imperative that young men are trained to develop skills, attitudes and behavior that can help them deal with and resolve conflicts in creative and peaceful ways.


MEN HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO STOP THE VIOLENCE

Those who have the potential to commit the most harm also have the potential to create the most good. Majority of men are not violent and are repulsed by gender-based violence but, for one reason or another, are not speaking up against it.

Men can make a significant contribution to stop the violence. They can consciously decide not to perpetrate acts of violence against women even as they can actively choose to challenge and debunk the attitudes and assumptions that support or prop up violence against women and girls.


MEN LISTEN TO OTHER MEN

It is a fact that men listen to their peers. That is why it is invaluable that male leaders speak out against violence against women and take a pro-active stand to put a stop to gender-based brutality.

For an anti-violence message to be truly effective, it would be best if the principal advocates are male role models. Men can mobilize other men to spread the principle of violence-prevention and the need for men to fulfill their responsibilities when it comes to deterring the escalation of the crimes of domestic violence and sexual assault.

For the message to be powerful, it must be simple. Basically, it should be that real men do not resort to violence. This message will be most effective if men begin first with their own families, and then elevate the campaign to their workplaces and communities.


MEN HAVE INFLUENCE AND WILL BE INVALUABLE ALLIES IN THE CRUSADE TO END THE VIOLENCE

Because of the influential role men play in public life and decision-making and given their numerical superiority when it comes to positions of authority, men’s participation in preventing domestic violence and sexual assault will be invaluable.

Male legislators can exert their influence and authority to ensure that programs that will benefit women and prevent violence will be undertaken, funding for anti-violence projects will be approved and pro-women laws will be passed. All these shall significantly reduce the incidence of gender-based violence.

Violence against women diminishes us all. And when we talk about gender-based violence, we are not only talking about women’s rights. We are talking about human rights.


VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN CANNOT REMAIN A MARGINAL ISSUE

Even in countries like the Philippines where statutes are in place to safeguard the right of women to live lives free of violence, gender-based violence remains widespread and unchecked.

We must remember that every time a man – especially an elected official – speaks out against gender-based violence and every time a man refuses to tolerate violence against women, we chip off a small piece of the roadblock that impedes the success of our common crusade.

Violence against women is not and should never be considered a side issue that concerns a marginal group. Women do not comprise a minor interest group. They encompass half the world’s population.

Men, therefore, have a huge stake in this issue. We have the right to stand up and fight for the rights of our wives, sisters, daughters and friends. We should not sleep on our rights or else we forfeit them.


MOVING FORWARD: MEN CAN DO SO MUCH MORE

As committed men, we can do so much more beyond striving to be role models and participating in public awareness campaigns. We must guarantee that other male parliamentarians will join our cause and facilitate the enactment of legislation that will help reduce violence against women and girls and ensure that there will be no impunity for gender-based violence.

We must encourage the creation of organizations like MOVE or Men Opposed to Violence Against Women Everywhere that works with men to encourage behavioral changes in themselves and squarely address the issue of gender-influenced aggression and injustice. Incidentally, MOVE is headed by Donald Caballero, the Committee Secretary of the House Committee on Revision of Laws.

Organizations such as MOVE try to help male perpetrators of violence accept personal responsibility for their offenses and offenders are also taught anger management skills and non-violent ways to deal with conflict.


NEW CONCEPTS OF MASCULINITY

Our work will not be complete unless we also do our utmost to help redefine and craft a new model of masculinity that underscores traditionally “non-masculine” traits such as the ability to nurture, communicate effectively and show compassion.

I am hopeful that in the process we will also understand that if we are to truly move forward we must work closely with women and their leaders and organizations who started this crusade long before any of us here have expressed interest in contributing to its success. We are their partners but in the issue of women’s rights, we must not try to steal their thunder. We must acknowledge the fantastic gains that women have accomplished in terms of eliminating violence against women despite the overwhelming negative influence of culture and religion and even the open opposition of some men.

Promoting gender equality is Goal No. 3 in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and this cannot be realized without preventing and ultimately eliminating violence against women.

In working for the eradication of gender-based violence, we will be showing women and girls everywhere – our wives, sisters, daughters – that the MDGs are not merely a set of objectives but are a set of deeply held principles and commitments that place a premium on creating a world where women are liberated from the shackles of inequality, inequity, poverty and violence.

The MDGs are a promise of a better life for those who have had to make do with too little for too long a time. And since real men do not renege on promises, we are duty bound to deliver our commitment.

Men have the obligation to assure that this avowed liberation of women becomes a genuine reality. Let us discharge this onus with devout dedication, steadfast commitment and deliberate alacrity.