Solutions for preventing violence against women are often sought from women themselves. However, Islamic Relief’s Mali’s protection and inclusion coordinator Issa Bamba argues that men and boys should be working to make a difference.
85% of women in Mali have been subject to gender-based violence. Whether this is in the form of female-genital mutilation / cutting (FGM/C), early and forced marriages or domestic violence, there’s no denying that the majority of women here experience physical and sexual violence at the hands of men.
Sadly, violence against women in Mali is still often seen as a ‘women’s problem’, and there is a tendency to look to women and girls when it comes to working towards finding solutions to these issues.
The vast majority of perpetrators of gender-based violence are men. But no boy is born as a perpetrator. Rather, boys grow up in a context that downplays, normalises and provokes sexism, gender inequality and violence against women.
I am passionate about gender equality, and about changing this narrative.
I work closely with both women and men and deal with sensitive topics that most people consider a taboo in Mali. At the beginning I met with resistance, and it wasn’t easy working with communities who held deep-rooted beliefs. I saw first-hand that violence against women was normalised. Sadly, women themselves internalised this notion and came to expect to be mistreated.
Many of the women I have met through my work did not know about their rights. They come from an environment where women have little to say, and where a woman is not allowed to say ‘no’. These encounters have made me realise that we must critically examine the breeding ground of male violence and offer boys and men new perspectives on masculinity. We must provide men and boys them with tools they need to become part of the solution.
Things will only really change if men actively commit themselves as allies.
Over the past couple of years and especially since I have started working for Islamic Relief, I have noticed that women are slowly starting to understand their rights and fight for them. Female gender activists in the community face a lot of scrutiny and abuse but thankfully that doesn’t deter them, but rather instead makes them more determined to create lasting change in their communities.
I am in awe of these women, and proud to be working with them.
I am proud to see their commitment in contributing to the development of our country, and this reminds me that women are the backbone of our society.
I am now focusing on what I can do as a man to help with the fight against gender equality. What can I do? This is the question I have been asking myself every day over the past couple of years since my fight for gender equality began. The answer is that anyone can make a difference.
The question is not what you can do, but where you can start.
Islamic Relief’s work to make a lasting change involves running workshops, where we work with community members and educate them around topics such as masculinity, women’s empowerment and the prevention of violence. We use these face-to-face activities to hone in on the rights given to both men and women and we aim to educate and engage people.
In both my professional and in my personal life, I speak to men and boys and confront toxic cultural beliefs by talking to them about how the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) promoted women’s rights. I show them through example that we men are important allies in the fight against violence against women.
I truly believe that change is possible, and I think that change should not come from people far away, but from within the communities. So, I try to bring people together, especially faith leaders who have a powerful position and influence in our communities. That is why we call on them to speak up and start making a difference, as I believe that we have to deal with these deep-rooted gender equalities and harmful social norms together as a society.
Millions of girls and women worldwide have the right to live without fear of violence, and it is not on them to find the solutions. It is the responsibility of men to bring about change.
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