COVID-19: Engaging Men in Tackling the Recent Rise in SGBV

The past few months have shown an increase in sexual gender-based violence especially in Africa. With the COVID 19 pandemic enforcing lockdowns, more women are in danger of SGBV with Kenya and Nigeria being among the countries reporting a 30–50% average increase in SGBV since lockdown. Engaging men in tackling the recent rise in SGBV is more crucial than ever now that there are limited resources available.

The increase in gender based violence during the pandemic has been labeled by the UN as the “shadow pandemic”. The lockdown has shown that more women are being exposed to sexual and physical abuse. Access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services and protection for survivors has been difficult to maintain due to the pandemic. Through all the underlining issues that are being brought to the surface, we see how the involvement of men in tackling SGBV is almost absent in Africa.

Gender inequality plays a huge role in the rise of SGBV in Africa with social and economic roles of men being a main factor. Masculinity and the role males play in a household has given a bias generalization on what is expected of men and encourages unhealthy sexual norms. Open communication for men can be discouraged and violence can be thought of as a more acceptable masculine expression. With the current pandemic causing huge economic strains in families, the stress and lack of control for men can lead to violence. Although females are more likely to be the victims of SGBV, the lack of knowledge that males have on SRH may further increase the gap in gender inequality. Men need to be included in the discussions on ending sexual abuse and violence not only because they are more likely to be the ones inflicting it, but because they could be victims as well.

Although females are more common victims of gender-based violence, men can be witnesses or suffer sexual abuse themselves. The social stigmatization of male victims of GBV in Africa has made it difficult for survivors to access services. The attention and investment of aid programs for woman which is greatly essential has disregarded the needs of men. There is little to no services for men that have suffered sexual and physical violence. This is mainly due to services not being able to accommodate male survivors as they are intended to assist females only. Moreover, there is limited awareness of male victims and proper assistance in the community. Men that have experienced sexual abuse and violence as adolescences are more likely to inflict the same violence on others, stressing the importance of counseling services to stop this cycle.

The engagement of men in tackling SGBV places them as allies and helps drive the social change for gender equality. Including men in the awareness of GBV and implementation of SRHR practices to change existing gender norms is crucial. Creating a safe space for male victims and male in general to express and communicate themselves can help in understanding and preventing the matter. There also needs to be proper understanding from service workers and communities on dealing with male victims. With more men being engaged in the movement to end sexual gender based violence, they can serve as supporters and not always be the ones being accused.

Although the current circumstances make it difficult to implement new practices to decrease sexual gender based violence, with thorough emphasis on engagement of men there can be a huge shift in the effects of SGBV. Ensuring that both women and men are voices in the fight against SGBV is essential, also to change the stigma towards the role men play in SGBV in Africa.