INTRODUCTORY REMARKS FROM THE EDITOR
A male perspective on gender equality
The 3rd issue of Gender Equalitynewsletter is dedicated to the role of gender equality for men. Traditional cultural attitudes assign to men a disproportionately large role in the decision-making and allocation of resources, so gender equality is often perceived solely as a "women's issue".
It is believed that all is well with men and boys and their needs met. But do men and boys indeed have sufficient conditions for self-actualization? Let us get down to the facts.
According to the National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus, men make up 46.5% of the population of Belarus (4,398 thousand out of 9,464 thousand people). For reference, in 2003 in Belarus there lived 4,600 thousand men, which corresponded to 46.8% of the total population. Over a period of 10 years, the number of men decreased by 202 thousand; the number of women decreased as well, but to a lesser extent - by 165 thousand. One reason for this is the high mortality rate among working-age men (4 times higher than among women). Men are 6 times more likely to commit suicide as compared to women, they more often die in the workplace and are more vulnerable to harmful working conditions. Alcoholism and smoking are more common among men. As a result, life expectancy at birth is 66.6 years for men and 77.6 years for women (National Statistical Committee, as of 1 January 2013). Thus, the difference in life expectancy between men and women is 11 years, and it is the smallest gap since at least 2000. For reference, the World Health Organization considers the normal difference in life expectancy to be 5 years.
There are differences in the legislation applicable to men and women. There are a number of works that women are forbidden by law to perform due to the difficult or harmful and (or) hazardous working conditions (Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus, Resolution No. 765 dated May 26, 2000). Therefore, such work is to be performed solely by men. An example of being subject to unequal social conditions is the military service, which is mandatory only for the male population of the country. In addition to this, death penalty is applied only to men in Belarus.
Social attitudes often place restrictions on men in their self-actualization, limiting their choices to a single true path and behaviour pattern. "Men do not cry", "Man is the master of the house", "Man should be a good provider" - these assumptions are common and strongly supported in our culture. These do’s and don’ts impose behavioural stereotypes and can hamper the natural human need for expressing one’s feelings and giving care, and thus become an obstacle to self-actualization at one of the most important stages in a man's life - birth of his children and childrearing. Meanwhile, it is important for a man to realize his potential as a father, just like it is important for a woman to realize her potential as a mother.
Family has a priority value in today's society, while at the same time one can rarely find a positive image of fatherhood in the public sphere. The emotional component of the relationship with wife and children often remain "hidden" from boys and men, which affects the entire family. Andrew Turovets, director of the Minsk City Social Services Centre for Families and Children, says,
“For men, gender equality is important, not least because they are all born from women and find themselves in their mother’s psychological space since the very first minutes of their life. And there is a man - the father of the child - present in (or absent from, which is equally important) any mother’s psychological space.
And now we come to the most interesting part: the image of fatherhood that the child perceives through his mother and the image that he perceives himself determine his future personal and family well-being. For example, parents may have a serious interpersonal conflict, but both of them – the mother and the father - are interested and actively involved in the child's life. In this case, we have a paradoxical situation: the would-be man develops a positive model of fatherhood, but a dysfunctional model of marriage and relationships between men and women in general. In contrast, in a traditional family where the parents’ historically-formed gender stereotypes are fulfilled, the family is built around a patriarchal role structure, and the child’s parents are generally satisfied with this situation, the child does not feel emotional discomfort. However, as the father in such a family usually has very little involvement in childrearing at the early development stages, the child develops a picture of a "comfortable" family, but no personal image of intimate fatherhood. In the longer term, this creates prerequisites for traditional emotional alienation between "fathers" and "children", which is handed down from generation to generation”.
Gender roles or, in other words, the behaviours that are constructed in a society, can both facilitate and hinder free self-actualization of both males and females. Therefore, a man’s right to harmonious development is no less important than a woman’s respective right. This principle underlies the healthy functioning of a family and society.
Why an atmosphere of gender equality is very beneficial for a child’s personality development, how fatherhood affects a man’s life, and why it is important to shape a positive image of fatherhood, among boys and men – you can read about all these things in the continuation of our interview with an expert in the “Research” column. The bulletin also provides a brief overview of topical gender issues in the country and worldwide.
We wish you enjoyable reading!
The House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus adopted the two draft laws regulating the prevention of domestic violence
Draft Law of the Republic of Belarus "On the Basis for Prevention of Offenses" was adopted by the House of Representatives of the National Assembly in the first reading on June 28, 2013. The draft law envisages new measures for prevention of family and domestic conflicts, such as registration for preventive control and issuance of a restraining order.
“Application of individual preventive measures will be staged and include preventive conversation, a formal warning, registration for preventive control and issuance of a restraining order,” says Sergei Krasutski, head of the Department for Organization of Work of District Police Officers/Crime Prevention Office/Main Office for Law Enforcement and Crime Prevention/Public Security Police of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic Belarus. – “Preventive conversations will be conducted with alcohol abusers and perpetrators of domestic violence. Measures against these two categories of people are introduced due to the fact that 80% of murders and severe bodily assaults are committed in a state of alcoholic intoxication, and one in four murders and severe bodily assaults is committed by close relatives”.
Under the new draft law, registration for preventive control envisages appearing at the police agency when summoned and participating in the conducted prevention activities at least once per month. If a person registered with the police agency commits a repeated offense against a family member, a restraining order may be issued.
“A restraining order would prohibit a domestic violence offender to attempt to find out the whereabouts of, visit, or communicate with the victim of domestic violence”, says Sergey Krasutski.
A restraining order also ensures the safety of victims of domestic violence finding shelter in "crisis rooms". Work on the draft law "On the Basis for Prevention of Offenses" is in progress.
Amendments to the Code of Administrative Offences were adopted by the House of Representatives on June 27, 2013 in the second reading. Changes were introduced into Article 9.1 (supplemented with Part 2) and envisage a penalty (fine or arrest) for battery, which did not cause injuries, intentional infliction of pain, physical or mental hurts committed against a close relative or a family member, if these actions do not constitute a crime. As Sergey Krasutski explained, this innovation would provide a means to isolate the offender from the family before the trial.
Belarus trains professionals to work with male perpetrators of domestic violence
On June 10-14, a training entitled "A Power and Control Model: Working with Perpetrators and Supporting Victims of Domestic Violence" was held in Minsk.
The training was attended by 40 experts, to include psychologists working in the penal enforcement system of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, staff members of territorial social services centres, as well as non-governmental organizations. In the course of the training, the delegates were introduced to the most common domestic violence scenarios, learned techniques for interviewing the perpetrators and methods of risk assessment in a typical conflict situation.
The model of an integrated approach to countering domestic violence, which includes support for female victims and psycho-corrective work with male perpetrators, was presented in Belarus for the first time by the British experts Liz Ostrowski and Jaskaran Sandhu, who are staff members of the Domestic Violence Intervention Project (DVIP), which has been running in the UK since 1992. DVIP sets benchmarks for public programs working with perpetrators in the UK. A similar model, adjusted to the specific local context, will be used in Belarus.
“Just like any other, the presented model also requires internalization - awareness, understanding and adaptation - in order to make it work in the country and in the specific conditions. Today, we are taking our first step”, said Tatyana Haplichnik, UNFPA Belarus Programme Analyst, at the opening of the training.
Liz Ostrowski emphasized that domestic violence was a global problem and not specific just to Belarus or the UK.
“In the UK, this problem has not been solved yet, and we have come a long way - in the field of social policy, healthcare policy and government funding for projects that help to stop domestic violence, as well as in the recognition by every citizen of the impact of domestic violence on women, children and on society as a whole”.
Tatyana Haplichnik said that not all countries focused on working with perpetrators.
“As a rule, the highest priority is given to addressing the problems of women who suffered from domestic violence – by establishing shelters, hotlines, and crisis centres. But everyone understands that you cannot work with only one side, you need to address both sides and resolve the problems of violence and aggression”.
In the practice of some countries, undergoing psychological counseling designed after this model serves as an alternative to administrative penalty or results in remission of a certain level of criminal penalty.
In their work the trainers used the Duluth model (USA), which sees the root cause of domestic violence in the gender stereotypes. This model is used in at least 26 countries to help male perpetrators change their beliefs and learn new ways of interacting with their female partners. A key element of the Duluth model is the Power and Control Wheel. This diagram illustrates the relationship based on the dominance of one of the partners and allows for comparing them with equal relationships.
The underlying principles of the training were as follows: domestic violence is always unacceptable, it is intentional and the abuser is 100% responsible for the violence.
Staff members who work with people involved in domestic violence have to meet a number of specific requirements, such as a high level of self-awareness, an understanding of the probability of reproducing gender stereotypes and avoidance of such reproduction in their work. Group work should be conducted by a male/female pair of moderators, while support to female victims must be provided exclusively by a female specialist.
The program included work in small and large groups and used role play to model and understand the "victim-abuser” relationship. The training materials included a manual with instructions for individual and group work with men and women, optional questionnaires for the participants of psycho-corrective work, criteria for evaluation of the completed work, and general risk assessment factors. In addition to this, comprehensive information was provided on the support for female victims, up to the point of how to make phone calls.
The training materials will form the basis for determining the mechanisms of a model for working with male perpetrators in Belarus, which will be tested in Brest oblast in the framework of the international technical assistance project “Developing National Capacity to Counteract Domestic Violence in Belarus in the Context of Increased Gender Equality".
Why do men need gender equality?
Gender issues relate to men and boys as much as they relate to girls and women. Traditional societal gender-specific norms define the expectations for each gender. This situation has a direct impact on the health of men and boys, on their relationships with women (partners) and other members of the family, as well as on the health and well-being of their children.
Perceptions of the men’s and women’s roles that are shaped within the family and in society determine attitudes to most of the important aspects of life - parenthood and involvement in childrearing, general physical condition and reproductive health, and use of violence. Studies confirm that gender stereotypes and different expectations concerning how a boy is supposed to behave as compared to a girl have a huge impact on young people. Both men and women fall into the trap of accepted and often obsolete norms. For instance, there is a common perception that being a man means being tough, brave, and sometimes belligerent, taking risky actions, including ones that are destructive to human health. Socialization of children encourages aggressiveness and lack of emotion in boys, vs. obedience and meekness in girls. As a result of such beliefs, imparted almost from birth, men develop careless attitude to their own health and detachment from family life.
According to the World Health Organization, the suicide rate among men is 6 times higher than among women, they also have higher alcohol and tobacco consumption rates and account for the majority of deaths from diseases associated with an unhealthy lifestyle. In Belarus, the mortality rate for men is 21% higher than for women. The belief that reinforces the perception of men as invulnerable and totally independent can cause them to hesitate and linger before seeking medical advice, particularly if the problems are related to reproductive health. Associate Professor Olga Yanchuk , Chair of the NGO "Belarusian Association of Young Christian Women", sociologist, head of the Social Work Department at the Maxim Tank Belarusian State Pedagogical University, and PhD Cand. ( Social Sciences) notes that the existing stereotypes concerning the proper conduct of men and women impose stricter compliance requirements on men, and, respectively, violation of these stereotypes by men is less acceptable.
“One of the most common gender stereotypes in the patriarchal tradition, which prevails in the mass consciousness of the Belarusian people, is the one of a man as good provider. From the supremacy of this stereotype there stem numerous behavioural practices that determine the occupations of men at home, their behaviour in the event of unemployment, expectations for and attitude to them on the part of spouses and other family members. A man is expected to make the greatest contribution to the family budget, and sometimes to be the only contributor, since it is his primary duty and responsibility. For many men, inability to make their family financially comfortable becomes the cause of reproaches and accusations by their close ones, and makes them feel like a failure”.
Gender stereotypes significantly limit the role of men in the family and in the lives of children, which is often limited to financial input ("man as good provider"). As a result, men receive less positive emotions from communicating with children and this situation negatively affects both women and children. Meanwhile, at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) (Cairo, 1994), it was noted that men could play an active role in childrearing and taking care of the mothers. The Programme of Action adopted by the Conference emphasized the importance of gender equality in all spheres of life, including family life.
"Responsible sexual behaviour, sensitivity and equality in gender relations, particularly when instilled during the formative years, enhance and promote respectful and harmonious partnerships between women and men" (ICPD Programme of Action, para 7.34).
Andrew Turovets, Manager of the Dad School project in Belarus and director of the Minsk City Social Services Centre for Families and Children, confirms that an atmosphere of equal partnership in the family is very beneficial for a child’s development.
- Since we know from the developmental and family psychology that the child adopts the emotional "picture of the world" up to the age of three, and the intellectual model of life up to the age of five or six, the significance of birth and early childhood experience in an atmosphere of gender equality becomes quite clear. This childrearing model enhances the developing individual’s capabilities and provides effective alternatives for interaction with the opposite- and same-sex persons in the future. It should be remembered that the emotional atmosphere during the early years is of primary importance, and that the presence of gender equality in the family becomes a powerful source of broadening the child’s personality. This is why we are working on the creation and implementation of a social and psychological technology for development of fathering abilities and skills in young men – would-be fathers – during their wives’ pregnancy.
Educating responsible fathers should start from a very early age. Happy fatherhood can be an indicator of social well-being on a par with such indicators as physical health and the economic component. It has to be understood and it is necessary to strive towards this goal and work on it.
Andrew Turovets notes that the promotion of positive and advanced forms of fatherhood among men and boys is an urgent task of our time.
“The demand for this work, performed by both public and private sector, is ever increasing. There are "key" periods when supporting a man’s role as a father may unveil best human and parental qualities in him. This is, for instance, the period during his wife’s pregnancy and childbirth. This is the time when his baby takes its first steps. This is the time when the child writes his or her first letter in the sand. Each of these moments is unique. And you must not miss them - you have to be present in this moment, enjoy it, and feel it deeply.
Fathers can get help with doing this in our Dad groups, traditionally called Dad Schools, although they are more like fathers’ clubs. Dad groups in 5 districts of Minsk and Gomel have been running in a pilot mode for more than 3 years.
Children develop better socially and emotionally, they are more academically successful in school and able to establish healthy relationships as adults, if men (social or biological fathers) are involved in their lives.
This is proved by the findings of studies conducted in Western Europe and North America. In addition to this, the presence of men beside women and their participation in domestic work has a positive effect on the development of women, allowing them to study, work or engage in the activities that help to improve the quality of life for themselves and their family members.
Men play an important role in the creation of equal conditions for self-actualization of women in society and can do a lot to prevent violence against women and girls, including domestic violence. In the context of domestic violence, men are often seen as part of the problem, only. It is important to see them as part of the solution as well. The first step towards this will be through establishing equal partnership in one’s own family. The next step could be to participate in community initiatives, information campaigns and programs aimed at countering domestic violence and supporting gender equality.
In turn, women should understand how gender-specific norms influence the behaviour of men in society and not reinforce these stereotypes.
Olga Yanchuk notes that stereotypes also change in response to the changing living environment and socio-economic conditions. But they are changing much slower, hindering self-actualization of those people, for whom this behaviour pattern is not or has never been the norm.
"We need to encourage development of such behaviour patterns that would allow each person to find a niche for himself or herself, to ensure that every choice made by any person is free and consistent with one’s personal interests and inclinations."
“It is beneficial both for the individual and for society as a whole, which will have an interested and capable family man, worker and citizen”.
It is necessary to create conditions in the society that would allow for equal self-actualization of men and women. And the particular self-actualization path will be contextual for every individual in each specific case.
“I believe that gender education is necessary at all stages of personal evolution. This will enable a person to see a wealth of alternative lifestyle choices and make an independent and conscious choice”, - says Olga Yanchuk. – “Every life scenario (based on patriarchal gender stereotypes, or on the basis of behavioural norms, which equally recognize the experience of both women and men) has its "gains" and "losses" for each participant of this relationship, and the visibility and importance of these "gains" and "losses" depend on each individual’s values” .
In any walk of life, in spite of the existing and sometimes outdated rules of conduct, the urgent needs of both sexes should be taken into consideration. Only then it will be possible to achieve productive and harmonious development of society.