“If the world is unfair, who is responsible for making it right, this shouldn’t be a burden just for the women.” This was the submission of majority of those who attended the recently-organised solidarity peace conference of the ‘Life After Abuse Foundation’ themed Men Can End Violence which held at the University of Lagos’ Main Auditorium on March 23. Oluwatosin Omotosho writes
As a survivor of child sexual abuse and a passionate and energetic activist against all types of violence, Halima Layeni founded the Life After Abuse Foundation (LAAF), a non-governmental organisation committed to bringing the issue of abuse to spotlight, driving meaningful conversations to this end and providing psycho-social and medical support to victims.
In her quest to fight against violence, seek justice and support for the abused and vulnerable, she questioned many authorities, organisations and persons, expecting them to join hands in creating a lasting solution to end violence in all shapes but all seems like a difficult task. It was at this stage, she resolved that the foundational cause of violence is not actually men who seem to be the major perpetrators but also with the society who has labeled and made men fashioned into resorting to violence. The several narratives about who a man is, what he is expected to do and not to do not minding his personal emotions are problems the society has created not just for men but for those around them as well. It was as a result of this that the Life After Abuse Foundation began a movement and campaign early this year, tagged ‘Men can end violence’. The campaign was to bring men on board and together with women fight the prevalent issue of violence in the society. The campaign enabled men to take a stand for protection and equal rights for all women and girls. The aim was to call men in to responsibility of protecting every female around them. The campaign witnessed support of more than 500 men across Africa who brought themselves to responsibility and pledged their support to the course of this movement.
For centuries, women have been at the forefront of advocacy against violence. They have been able to make an inspiring progress towards overcoming centuries of violence based on their gender, although much remains to be done. These and more are the reasons Halima Layeni of LAAF thought it wise to get men involved in this progress.
The campaign became embryo of the solidarity peace conference ‘Men Can End Violence Conference’, with about 70 men in attendance, both as speakers, panelists, volunteers and attendees. As it was the aim of the campaign, the conference was not organised to be an attack on the male gender but to tackle issues of socialisation that has affected men overtime, seeking to create a change to these narratives and forming new ideas that will channel men towards ending violence. Hence, the issues of Toxic Masculinity, Man Box, Gender-based Violence, Unfair Stereotype and Stigma and Consent were some of the issues raised at the conference. The conference also helped to project forth men opinion, which says that men needs help too especially because of judgment the society holds about them, believing that a world with better men is a means to end violence against anyone.
Some of the speakers at the conference spoke expressively in the issues raised and enjoined the attendees to help change the society’s narrow views about masculinity.
Speaking on subject of ‘Toxic Masculinity and Man Box Femi Sanni, a research consultant tried to seek for a redefinition of masculinity. According to him, Toxic Masculinity or Traditional Masculinity is a socially constructed attitude that describes the masculine gender as violent, unemotional and sexually aggressive. It is a harmful way in which patriarchy has become a disadvantage to men. It is toxic because the cultural ideal describes manliness only with strength and weakness, is showing emotions, in this ideal, sex and brutality is the yardstick where men are measured. With this, it shows that there is only one way to being a man. The concept of Toxic Masculinity generated from another ills of describing and confining men which is called the Man Box. The Man Box is a general compartment which is seen to be what describes or identifies the limitation of what man is supposed to be and what he believes in. These ideas in the man box are therefore taught unconsciously to a man while growing up and reinforced by the society. Also in the Man Box, men are supposed to be powerful and dominating, fearless and in control, strong, emotionless and successful. These harmful ideas and expectations of the man box taught to a boy-child in other words have led to the high rate of men who are the major perpetrators of violence. As the aim of the conference is to cause a redefinition of masculinity, it is time to allow a man to be himself, express emotions if need be, show and not violence, and for parents to train the boy-child as they are training the girl-child about issues of virginity and consent. These will help reduce the generation of toxic men who express the pain they suffer by violating, especially the vulnerable or resort to drug addiction and suicide.
George Opoku, a youth advocate and educationist spoke on the topic of Gender-based Violence and Consent. According to him, most victims of Gender-based Violence are women and girls. However it is not to say that men cannot be a victim of violence but on a high rate, women and girls are victims. The violence can come as emotional, physical, mental and sexual which is the most common. Gender-based Violence can be prevented if the society could embrace the provision of basic needs and equal opportunities, addressing socio-cultural norms that permit violence against women and strengthening of the laws to serve as detergent for abusers. All these and more are very useful but without training a boy-child about consent might take a vicious circle. Without consent any form of sexual activity is tantamount to sexual assault or rape. In consent, only Yes is Yes, according to him.
George believed that teaching about consent will help to drastically reduce the rate of sexual violence in the society and an end can come to gender based violence if equality is encouraged.
Tinuola Oyeniran, a professional photographer at the conference also told New Telegraph that it was a wonderful experience for her as she got in contact with issues of men’s brutality with several testimonials from other attendees. For Oyeniran, there are better ways to solve violence as Halima Layeni of LAAF would always say, “Don’t treat violence with violence.” According to her, it is necessary to start instilling self-control in male children even from their young age and work towards re-orienting and redefining what masculinity and feminity is all about. “Listening to men with better understanding gives me joy that we still have amazing men in the world and to hope that with this movement, better men can be raised,” Oyeniran said.
Also airing his opinion about the conference, Victor Madike, a youth advocate and human rights activist said that the conference have not only sought men to redefine themselves but it is now a clarion call to both gender to fight vehemently for a reduction in violence in the society as violence is fast becoming an age long addiction. According to him, war against violence is now a collective responsibility but with men now leading a significant role and some of the societal negative norms of seclusion has to be curbed. “Don’t wait to be a victim, be your brother’s keeper, let their lives matter to,” Madike said.
For Immaculate Odekina, a Lawyer and a Volunteer of the LAAF, the conference was an educating, enlightening and a beacon of hope that the fight against violence is not a lost course especially with the movement that encourage participation of men in the eradication of this vice. Men inclusion, support for victims and implementation of laws against abusers are major learning points for Immaculate at the conference.
Oluwatosin Olomu, a Volunteer of LAAF also told New Telegraph that from the conference he has learnt that seeking an end to violence begins with him and to start with all around his vicinity.
Speaking on the purpose and intentions of the conference, Layeni, convener of the conference told New Telegraph that though the number of men in attendance didn’t meet expectation but she was glad the objectives of the conference were met. The objectives of the conference was to take a stand with all women and girls who have been violated and have their rights taken away whom she happens to be one, to address the foundational factor of violence and bring men to responsibility and accountable for every spiteful actions and words against women, also to change the various toxic narratives about men. “A man is a human being who should create a safe, just and peaceful world for all,” Halima obliged.