UNFPA Representative Iori Kato's speech at the Male Advocates Assembly on Eliminating Gender-Based Violence

3 December 2018
UNFPA Representative Iori Kato along with panel members and distinguished participants stand against gender-based violence at the Male Advocates Assembly on Eliminating Gender-Based Violence. © UNFPA

Honorable Executive Director, Commission on Population (POPCOM), Dr. Juan Antonio A. Perez III

Honorable Chairperson, Philippine Commission on Women, Dr. Rhodora T. Masilang-Bucoy

Honorable Executive Director, Philippine Commission on Women, Ms. Emmeline L. Verzosa

Under-Secretary of Department of Social Welfare and Development for Protective Operations and Programmes, Ms. Aimee T. Neri

President of MOVE Philippines, Mr. Reynaldo G. De Guia

Distinguished panel members of this session,

Other distinguished participants,

Magandang umaga po, sa inyong lahat! 

I would like to thank the organizers of this very important gathering of the Male Advocates Assembly for kindly extending their invitation to me to say a few words on behalf of UNFPA, the UN sexual and reproductive health agency, about the global perspective in addressing gender-based violence and male involvement in gender equality. 

This event is timely because as Ms. Verzosa already said, we are in the midst of the global campaign of 16 Days of Activism to end gender based violence, from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day.  The Philippines’ case is even better as you have extended it by 2 more days to make it the 18 Days of Activism. The Male Advocates Assembly also embodies the spirit of the international “HeForShe” movement that started in 2014 to invite men and boys as partners for women’s rights.  You have no idea how happy I am to see so many male comrades in this room.  The global campaign’s advocacy theme this year is: Orange the World: #HearMeToo to create opportunities for dialogue among activists, practitioners, policy-makers and law-makers, development partners, civil society and the general public, to support storytelling and advocacy through the voices of the women and girls.  But personally, I think it is also important for the world to hear what we as men are doing to eliminate gender-based violence. 

So, what do the global facts and figures say about gender-based violence - More than one out of three women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives. The cost of violence against women, according to research, could amount annually to around 2 percent of the global GDP.  This is equivalent to 1.5 trillion US dollar[1], which is about 5 times bigger than the entire GDP of the Philippines. Child marriage is also one form of gender-based violence, and there are 650 million women and girls in the world today who were married before age 18.  And sexual harassment is everyday, everywhere, it seems.  A national survey in Australia showed that two out of five women aged 15 and older have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the last 5 years. And, in a multi-country study from the Middle East and North Africa, 40 to 60 percent of women said they had experienced street-based sexual harassment, like sexist comments.  Even more unfortunately, the prevalence of GBV tends to increase in the aftermath of a crisis like natural disaster or armed conflict.  Also minorities face a higher likelihood of suffering GBV, like people with disabilities, migrants, refugees, ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, etc.

These cases of gender-based violence can lead to deaths of those women and children, or severe injuries, psychological depression, dropping out from school, quitting jobs, unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, but it is impossible to calculate these detrimental impacts of GBV on women’s and children’s lives, dignity and health.

Together with stakeholders, UNFPA Representative Iori Kato; President
of MOVE Philippines, Mr. Reynaldo G. De Guia; and Commission on
Population Executive Director, Dr. Juan Antonio A. Perez III, stand in
solidarity with the survivors of gender-based violence. © UNFPA
Philippines/Mario Villamor

This is compounded by the ‘culture of silence and impunity’, that all of us here are too familiar with.  In the majority of the countries in the world with available data, it is less than 40 per cent of the women who experience violence that seek help of any sort. And it is less than 10 percent of those women who had sought any help for experience of violence that sought help by appealing to the police. 

In many societies in the world, men tend to think that “real men are tough” and “boys will be boys”, they think as if men were superior to women, and they resort to violence to settle disputes with women or children, and they think men are entitled to have sex irrespective of whether their partners agree to want to have sex with them.  Many men seem to think that they are entitled to more money, more food, more land, more power, than women. These gender norms that socialize harmful masculinities, perpetuate gender inequity and inequality, and condone violence.   This is the root cause of gender-based violence, as Dr. Masilang-Bucoy already discussed.

Distinguished participants, men and boys can thus be barriers to gender-equality, but we the men and boys can also be critical contributors to the empowerment of women and girls. Are we not? Men’s attitudes and actions matter, given the key roles that we play as fathers, partners, peers, and community leaders, within the private and public spheres of the lives of women and girls.  This is why UNFPA has supported the establishment of national and local chapters of Men Opposed to Violence Against Women, or MOVE, under the partnership with the Philippine Commission on Women for “Strengthening Government Mechanisms in Mainstreaming Gender in Reproductive Health, Population and Anti-VAW Programs.”[2]

By the way, why is it important to engage men and boys in reducing and preventing gender-based violence?  There are several reasons, as the Executive Director of PCW already said, and I will mention just four of those.  One, it is because globally and also as in the case of this country, although not all men are violent and it is actually only a fraction of men and boys who commit violence, it is unfortunately predominantly men and boys who perpetrate violence, compared to women and girls.  Two, social constructions of ‘masculinity’ play a crucial role in shaping men’s and boys’ violence against women.  Three, perhaps, we as men may have better chances to change our fellow men.  And four, when we involve men and boys, that means women and girls do not have to make this social transformation alone, but together.

The challenge is, we cannot fix social norms and values overnight.  Then what can we do?  What should we do?  Existing evidence seems to suggest that the most effective way to transform gender inequitable social norms and create a ‘culture of non-violence and peace’ is to address this issue at several levels simultaneously, through engaging men and boys.  There can be many, but I will mention just six of those levels.

First is the individual level, to increase individual men and boys’ knowledge and skills to prevent or avoid violence.  This level of efforts can take place in many different settings including families, friends, classrooms, colleagues, or community groups.

Two is to make this individual level engagement a bit more systemic by way of education and awareness raising at the community and school levels, including school curriculum, community mobilization, social media campaigns, events, gatherings, etc.

Three is alliance building to establish and strengthen coalition and network, like #HeForShe, and the White Ribbon Campaign, for nurturing leaders and champions and followers.

Four is advocacy to influence policy and legal frameworks to make gender-based violence prevention and response as effective as possible, including adequate allocation of human and financial resources, as both EDs of POPCOM and PCW alluded to.

Executive Director, Philippine Commission on Women, Ms. Emmeline L.
Verzosa believes in a VAWC free Philippines. © UNFPA
Philippines/Mario Villamor

Five is as Dr. Jeepy, POPCOM ED, said, capacity development and training of service providers and other professionals for effective multi-sectoral prevention and response to gender-based violence, in particular, school teachers, doctors and other health service providers, psycho-social counsellors, police, prosecutors, judges, etc. 

Six is to change organizational practices in both public and private sectors, such as ensuring zero tolerance of sexual harassment at workplace as the PCW Chairperson also said, zero tolerance of sexual abuse by law enforcement agencies and other government offices, and seeking gender-parity among senior managers and decision-makers within your organizations.

I know I am talking about a lot of tasks, all challenging ones, but we have to start somewhere.  I just would like to reiterate the importance of nurturing gender-equitable social norms and a culture of peace and non-violence from childhood onwards. 

In the Philippines, the last Violence Against Children Survey seems to suggest that those men who witness their fathers’ violence against their mothers during their childhood are more likely to commit such acts when they grow up to adults.  In this regard, implementing Comprehensive Sexuality Education at school is increasingly recognized as a key strategy to prevent gender-based violence, through teaching adolescent boys and girls about sexuality and healthy relationships with age-appropriate, culturally relevant, scientifically accurate, realistic, non-judgmental information.  And I am pleased to report to you that UNFPA Philippines is working closely with the Department of Education to carry forward sexuality education for young people.

In conclusion, distinguished participants, let us, men and boys, continue to stand in solidarity with the survivors of gender-based violence and their advocates and women’s human rights defenders who are working to prevent and end GBV / violence against women and children. But our duty as men and boys is not just to stand in solidarity with them - but also to intensify our efforts to find solutions and measures to stop this preventable global scourge that has a detrimental impact on women’s lives and health and on our entire society.  

I would like to reassure you that UNFPA will do its part the best we could.  But I cannot preach to you because you are all preachers against GBV.  I cannot convert you because you are all converted.  We need to advocate and transform the other men and boys.  We need to do more and better.  We need to think out of the box.  We need innovations to scale up our move. Otherwise, next year, we will be here again, talking about the same.  Reducing GBV is not enough.  We have to end it.  And the world that is free from gender-based violence starts with each one of us here today.  And I am confident that we can do it, if we work together.