By Rashme Sehgal
Watching boys playing a game in northern Lebanon, close to Syria, Anthony Keedi, a psychologist working with the ABAAD Resource Centre for Gender Equality in Lebanon, heard the boys use the Arabic name of the fundamentalist group ISIL for one of their groups in play, and realized that all conflict resolution by these kids was done through violence. (ABAAD, which means “dimension” in Arabic, was chosen because ABAAD believes ending violence against women, poverty and inequalities in the Middle East and North Africa region requires working across many dimensions.) “The violence is internalized as boys are given guns to play with; when they grow up, they are given guns to kill,” says Keedi.
“Using a gun is not foreign to these boys. The centrality of violence in our societies is the key to our upbringing. We need to see how men and women are being socialized. There is nothing surprising about the levels of violence that exist in our society.” K e e d i s a y s , “These children were merely following what is being practiced in their societies where in order to win the game, you must learn to become powerful, and resort to dominance in order to win. Being vulnerable and caring is not going to help you win in a conflict. Those not willing to play this game are called emasculated and become outcasts.” Speaking at a session on men’s participation in violent conflicts and peace building at a global symposium in New Delhi, Keedi and others explored whether militarized masculine identities contribute to conflict and if it was possible for these identities to be transformed into non-violent identities.
Keedi said his group, along with the Arab Foundation for Freedom and Equality, has launched a nationwide campaign to change individual men and boys’ understanding of “acceptable” behavior as an essential component in ending violence against women and children.
ABAAD established a men’s center as a space for men to relieve stress. There they learn both how to manage anger and how to behave in a less aggressive manner. ABAAD is presently conducting a study asking women and men how gender roles have changed in the last 30 years. Keedi believes it is important to transform society’s cultural understanding of what it means to be a man into an understanding of masculinity that is beneficial to men and women and aligned with the principles of human rights.
Imperative to Involve Women in Peace Negotiations
Isabella Geuskens of the Women Peacemakers Program in the Netherlands strongly condemns the “militarization of men’s lives and the high emotional costs they have to pay in terms of high depression and suicide rates.” Geuskens maintains that since war has an enormous impact on the lives of women, it is imperative for governments to involve women as active partners in peace negotiations and initiatives.
Along with other feminists, Geuskens has started a pilot program to promote gender equality, she says, since gender is always about power. “Our objective is to strategize and ensure that society follows nonviolent solutions to achieve policy goals,” she says.
Violence only has a 26 percent success rate, Geuskens points out, noting the political scientists and sociologists who assert that nonviolence is a much more effective tool to defuse a crisis.
“We are witnessing increasing militarization around the globe and also a proliferation of weapons being used against civil society,” Geuskens says. “We need to invest in disarmament, demilitarization and conflict prevention.” Australian Cate Buchanan, who works on the Surviving Gun Violence Project, concurred, saying, “Women have been excluded from peace making.
All mediation remains male dominated, but there is weak accountability when gender is overlooked.” She supported her point by highlighting peace agreements that had taken place in the last 20 years, regretting the absence of women from these processes.
Buchanan linked the use of arms to male patriarchy. A survey of victims of small arms had found that worldwide 2.7 million people are living with gunshot injuries, a gross underestimation, said Buchanan, as the numbers of victims suffering from the global burden of gun violence were much higher than what these estimates suggested.
To learn more, go to arabamerica.com/ending-violence-is-in-our-hand-abaads-efforts-in-lebanon-and-beyond.
Journalist Rashme Sehgal has worked for daily newspapers in India including The Asian Age, The Times of India, The Telegraph, The Independent and The Indian Post. She presently freelances for the news websites Rediff.com and Scroll.in.
Author of three nonfiction books, she is currently working on a novel. A version of this article first appeared in Dimensions of Change: Stories and Interviews from the 2nd MenEngage Global Symposium 2014.