A Call to Action For Men
The image contains a megaphone and text that says "A Call to Action for Men"

A Call to Action For Men – by MenEngage Alliance Sri Lanka

The MenEngage Alliance, a social change network working with men and boys for gender equality in Sri Lanka, expresses our grave concern over the recent incidents of child sexual abuse and exploitation, and workplace sexual harassment that have been brought to light in the past weeks. We condemn these incidents of sexual violence, harassment, and intimidation in the strongest of terms. The recent #MeToo allegations including in Sri Lankan media spaces and newsrooms, the child sex trafficking of a 15-year-old girl, and the recent sexual abuse leading to the death of a 16-year-old girl among others, highlight the critical need to, while holding individual perpetrators accountable,  identify and address root causes and promote meaningful society, system and policy change, that is compatible with the ideals of a gender-equitable society.

Irrespective of the considerable progress that Sri Lanka has made in improving legislation to curb incidents of violence against women and girls, the widespread nature of gender-based violence in Sri Lanka continues to be a matter of serious concern. Patriarchal practices and beliefs have caused violence against women and girls to be normalized. Additionally, the ways in which masculinities are defined and taught at home, school and through mainstream media and showcased and re-learned through social media have also become serious concerns. We must also recognize that patriarchal masculinities[1] are practiced and encouraged in many legal and governing institutions in Sri Lanka. This leads to an imbalance of power and privilege between men, women and persons of other gender identities. It is such imbalances of power that often create a culture of impunity for incidents of violence, such as those highlighted above.

Recent incidents have caused public and media outrage and warrants a call to action by many stakeholders including men themselves. MenEngage Alliance Sri Lanka believes in the ability of men and boys to work as allies in addressing social injustice and all forms of sexual and gender-based violence. Our work with men and boys highlights the need to,

  • Respect the diversity and rights of those around us
  • Build relationships based on respect and equality
  • Speak out against violence in our society and among the groups that men are part of
  • Empower men to seek help if they so wish
  • Uphold shared decision making,
  • And shared power

As an alliance, we remain firm in our commitment to challenging violent versions of manhood and correct power inequalities related to gender. Our work is centred on the principles of collaboration, transparency and non-discrimination, among others and we promise to uphold these values as we mobilize partners and work together with male allies to take action against- and prevent violence against women and girls. Our collective goal is to disrupt patriarchal systems and practices and instill a strong commitment to look inward at our practices and beliefs, pay attention to ground realities, name and call out abuse when it happens and engage in building a continuous momentum that would result in structural change. Men should see that their own lives are damaged, too, by a system of power and inequality as it damages the lives of women and girls with whom they are in relationships.

At MenEngage Alliance Sri Lanka, we are taking this time to call all men and boys to reflect and act on how they can be better allies and step up to address this grave concern.

We, therefore, join others in our rallying call for men and boys to “do more” by taking actual steps to reflect on their manhood, their own power and privilege as individuals, fathers, brothers, colleagues, friends, lovers, partners, leaders, officers, CSO activists, policymakers, decision-makers, service providers, community leaders and through many diverse roles in their personal and professional lives. It is clear that many men make sacrifices for their children and want them to grow up in a world that offers all young people, regardless of their gender, the freedoms and opportunities to thrive in all environments without fear of violence.

We believe that the following actions can be taken by men to change cultures of violence.

  1. Stop being a bystander – name and call out those who abuse. Take positive action to challenge patriarchal masculinities.
  • Tell him you’re concerned.
  • Remind him of the damage his violence is doing to his partner, his children and his relationship.
  • Tell him that domestic violence is against the law and is a punishable act.
  • if required, encourage him to seek professional help and follow up with him frequently to make sure the violence stops.

    2. Get involved in efforts to make the workplace a safe and dignified environment for everyone, irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Workplaces continue to be places where women and people of other gender identities are often discriminated against, harassed and feel disrespected and unsafe.

  • Men can play an important role in being allies in efforts to create safe and dignified workplaces, both in terms of working to change policies on sexual harassment at the workplace or code of conduct as well as challenging men to change their behaviour.
  • In our society, in many areas of work women still earn less than men for doing the same work. A powerful way for men to be allies to women in struggles for greater gender equality is to support equal pay.

    3. Make critical reflection about how patriarchal masculinities are reflected in harmful attitudes, beliefs and behaviours within our relationships especially in terms of understanding and respecting consent.

    4. Be a role model for boys and young men. Men who believe in and stand for gender equity can be influential role models for boys and men in their communities. Men need to teach and show boys early, and teach them often, that there is no space for violence in a relationship.

    5. Resist the pressure from friends and family to act in ways that disrespect women or those people whose gender identity and/or sexual orientation do not conform to what society considers ‘normal’. If your friends act in ways that disrespect women, it is important that you challenge them to think about what they’re saying and not let them use any type of justification including cultural and religious reasons to excuse and justify violent behaviour. One thing that men can do with their male friends is to promote the idea that a society with greater respect and less rigid roles for men benefits all. We call on men to support each other in challenging harmful masculinities.

    6. Commit to supporting and acting in solidarity, as meaningful allies. Men must be aware of what is going on in their own communities and lend their energy, time, and skills to such ongoing issues. This includes;

  • Supporting efforts to work directly with boys and men on transforming harmful masculinities.
  • Challenging harmful masculinities publicly, including in the media and on social media. (i.e., joining marches against injustice and protests that condemn violence against women and girls;
  • Helping raise funds for women’s shelters and activist organizations demanding for women’s rights
  • Be allies to female friends who are already taking action without devaluing their efforts.7. Push for action by authorities and the justice system – the police and the criminal justice system are repeatedly failing victims and survivors of violence. It is essential that men get involved in taking action to,
  • Demand that the government meet its obligations to ensure the safety and security of all.
  • Accompanying survivors to court, if they so wish
  • Helping them access services when necessary,
  • Exerting pressure on the police and the justice system so that they are held accountable.

    8. Commit to foster dignified online spaces for women, girls and people of other gender identities – online. Digital safety has become a challenge due to the harmful use of online platforms including the illegal collection of personal data, online violations of privacy and engaging in cyber sexual violence.

We encourage all men to start seeing violence against women and girls as a personal issue. Men must be encouraged to examine their own roles within our patriarchal systems of power and pledge to step up when they witness injustice. Such actions are very important, especially considering that we live in a society that has set the bar very low for what it means to be a “good man” in relation to their role amid incidents of gender-based violence. Anyone who chooses to ignore these vicious cycles of abuse should be critically reflecting on the consequences of their inaction, as enablers of Sri Lanka’s shadow pandemic and are on the wrong side of history.

[1] Patriarchal masculinities refer to ideas about and practices of masculinity that emphasize the superiority of masculinity over femininity and the authority of men over women (Source: “Self-Learning Booklet: Understanding Masculinities and Violence Against Women and Girls,” UNWOMEN Training Center)