The 10th of December marks the International Day for Human Rights. This year’s theme is “Freedom, equality and justice for all”. Reflecting on this from a gender perspective, this blog looks at the impact of a crucial but still invisibilized thematic in the fight against SGBV: masculinities. Highlighting international efforts on the topic – beneficial to both women and men – the conversation goes further reflecting on the misuse of the topic, and the resulting risks. Read further to find out more about masculinities.
Over the past few years, the issue of masculinities slowly gained visibility in international conversations around Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), more specifically in efforts to promote and protect women’s human rights in conflict contexts. It goes without saying that tackling violence against women and girls can only be efficient if expectations and stereotypes around ‘masculine roles’ are properly addressed. Taking masculinities into account also implies moving away from the still-too-common understanding that gender issues are women’s issues. Despite obvious benefits from a more holistic approach to SGBVs and women’s human rights, most States are yet to integrate such a shift in their approach to policy-making. Reflecting on Human Rights Day taking place today (10 December), this blog aims to shed light on international efforts to better encompass masculinities in existing policies – a crucial factor to ensure the efficient protection of women’s rights globally. Going further, the challenges in mainstreaming the topic locally will be highlighted, underlining how important it is for the matter to gain visibility when tackling human rights issues.
Masculinities at the international level
Internationally, the topic of masculinities has mostly been explored in peacebuilding efforts. Following that trend, and to best illustrate the efforts of the international community, this blog focuses on two main areas in which masculinities have slowly been integrated: namely the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda, as well as policies regarding Small Arms and Light Weapons control (SALW). The first striking point is how late the topic was introduced in the former: Despite its (first) resolution 1325 being adopted in 2000, the WPS Agenda only started explicitly referring to men’s role in the protection and promotion of women’s rights 13 years later. These efforts at the WPS level mainly focus on the prevention of violent extremism and have led to a great number of projects on engaging men and boys in WPS. However, these initiatives have not yet led to a systematic consideration of the link between masculinities and violence against women in policy making around gender-based violence. The same goes for masculinities and sexual violence against men and boys, where such a consideration is not accounted for enough.
In contrast, the issue of masculinities and armed violence has been better explored internationally. This deeper focus is mainly related to the fact that the overwhelming majority of civilian small arms-owners are men. More specifically, men constitute a majority of both perpetrators and victims of firearm-related deaths globally. This gendered statistical divergence concerning the possession of firearms is closely related to the protector role men are expected to play within their family and/or community. Furthermore, in contexts of conflict, SGBV is often perpetrated by armed groups or individuals, whose actions are often based on gendered dimensions of violence. In this context, efforts to better integrate the WPS Agenda in SALW control are observed. Important research efforts notably focus on how to integrate a gender lens in SALW control, to tackle conflict-related sexual violence against both women and men.
Going further: Instrumentalisation of masculinities and why it matters
Despite encouraging advancements at the international level, the topic of masculinities faces misappropriation and challenges at local levels, leading to the reinforcement of stigmas around the roles attributed to women and girls & men and boys. In particular, far-right ideologies heavily utilize traditional, heteronormative and gendered narratives, notably on social media, to try and attract new supporters and push their ideas further. One of their main arguments supports the claim that “masculinities are in crisis”. It is believed that such an utilization has, amongst others, led to a rise in hypermasculine violence in the US, mostly translated into white supremacist terrorist acts.
The above illustrates how delicate addressing invisibilized matters such as masculinities can be. Indeed, characteristics associated with masculinity such as strength, power, objectivity and rationality have historically shaped and continue to shape the domestic and private spheres, often leading to preferential treatment of the masculine, being in the households or in public institutions. In the world of politics, the over-representation of men tends to reproduce masculine norms and values that influence political choices. According to UN Women, the fact that police and legal systems are dominated by men is the reason why they fail to enforce laws on gender-based violence. The gender dimension and representation of women in foreign policy, by implementing feminist foreign policies, for example, is therefore a necessity and would be a first step for improved solutions to prevent SGBVs.
Gender studies demonstrate that, opposed to feminine stereotypes, masculine stereotypes impose some often unconscious and perpetuated ideas about relations between men and women that have a direct impact on the role of masculinities in SGBV. The idea of male superiority and the value of domination integrated from an early age permeate the domestic sphere and are the reason for many violent behaviours against women and children. Generally speaking, men are responsible for the vast majority of violent incidents in society. In Switzerland, nine out of ten homicides are committed by men. In fact, the perpetrators originate from all social and professional categories and are of all ages.
In conclusion, understanding and addressing the role of masculinities in SGBV is vital for the effective protection and promotion of human rights. This approach acknowledges that gender issues extend beyond women and girls, and that male stereotypes and roles significantly impact the dynamics of violence and discrimination. By informing ourselves on these often invisibilized aspects of gender and violence, we can foster a more inclusive and respectful approach to human rights, ultimately leading to a more equitable and just society.
Find some accessible and trustworthy resources in that regard below:
– Die Feministen, a Swiss association tackling the topic of masculinity that regularly organizes events and suggests a reading list to inform yourself further.
– IAMANEH actively works on SGBV issues and has projects directly dedicated to tackling masculinities. You can find out more through their events and publications.
– Here, you can find a self-learning booklet on masculinities and SGBV, elaborated by UN Women.
 “Masculinities are social constructs. They are both shaped by and part of social institutions – formal and informal laws, social norms and practices. They relate to perceived notions, shared by both men and women, about how “real” men behave and, importantly, how men are expected to behave in specific settings in order to be considered “real” men. (…) (They are) transmitted from generation to generation.” (Schrock, D. and M. Schwalbe (2009), “Men, Masculinity, and Manhood Acts”, Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 35/1, pp. 277-295)
 See for example this report, illustrating the efforts of the international community in adding men to the SGBV equation. (Aleksandra Dier and Gretchen Baldwin, “Masculinities and Violent Extremism,” International Peace Institute and UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, June 2022.)
 In her essay “Le coût de la virilité” (The cost of virility), Lucile Peytavin calculates the cost of crimes committed predominantly by men and their behaviours based on male stereotypes, which is equivalent to almost 100 billion euros a year in France :https://books.google.ch/books/about/Le_coût_de_la_virilité.html?id=duQXEAAAQBAJ&source=kp_book_description&redir_esc=y