Washington, D.C., November 9, 2014 (AMG)  Policy-makers and legislative aides in Washington D.C. recently met to discuss domestic violence in Latin America and the Caribbean, with the showing of a documentary titled ‘Becoming Papa: Fathers Key to Gender Justice’.

Produced by PBS’ To The Contrary and Brazilian NGO Promundo, the film described how men in the favelas of Brazil were forsaking violence for involvement in fatherhood and gender equality.

The discussion panel was attended by journalist and host of the documentary Bonnie Erbé, International Director of Promundo, Gary Barker, and Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment at USAID, Susan Markham.

Why the US is interested: The rate of gender based violence is of keen interest to those with influence in Washington D.C., as it’s intrinsically linked to economic growth, peace and security. Markham explained that gender equality is not just about domestic violence, but also women’s participation in society, including in the labour force. She also went on to say that women must be treated as equals in the process for change, not solely as beneficiaries.

As the importance of men’s involvement was outlined, those who provide grants and requests for proposals relating to gender based violence were urged to make funding available to men and women’s groups.

Men’s involvement: The documentary tells the stories of Gilson da Silva and Marcio Chagas da Paz who were both damaged by the domestic violence they witnessed in their homes as children. Their lives took a turn when they engaged in Promundo-run programs that encouraged them to confront their past and become the fathers they never had to their own children.

One of the ways this was achieved was through the engagement of public health services, in particular antenatal care. Over 80% of Brazil’s adult men are fathers, and the majority attend at least one medical appointment with their partner during her pregnancy. By actively including men and encouraging an early bond with their unborn child, their attitudes towards parenthood, their partners and gender roles changed.

Scale of the problem: The Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women was introduced in 1994, but there remains a gap between the law and how it’s enforced. In 2010, it was found that approximately 30% of women in Trinidad & Tobago surveyed had experienced domestic violence; 67% of women in Suriname had experienced violence in a cohabiting relationship and 30% of adult women in Antigua & Barbuda and Barbados had experienced some form of domestic abuse.

Research carried out by the International Center for Research on Women and Instituto Promundo in 2011 showed that of men who have used violence, over 40% witnessed their mother being beaten by their father, which had a stronger effect on variables such as alcohol abuse, delinquency and depression than being a victim themselves.

In 2012, PAHO and the CDC found that intimate partner violence against women was widespread in the Latin American and Caribbean countries that had taken part in their study. The percentage of women who had ever experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner raged from 17% in the Dominican Republic to 53% in Bolivia.

The takeaway: In order for meaningful and sustained change in the rates of gender based violence, whether towards men or women, it is essential that men and women of all ages are engaged. Institutions must also show commitment to tackling the problem and place more effort on prevention and prosecution of perpetrators. Opportunities like these must taken advantage of while attention from funders is on.

Resources: Violence Against Women in Latin America and the Caribbean: A Comparative Analysis of Population-Based Data from 12 Countries

Image credit: The Advocacy Project

Washington policymakers taking interest in domestic violence in Caribbean and Latin America

Deborah Almond

Deborah Almond is AMG's Health Editor and an infectious disease specialist, with experience in sexual and reproductive health and malaria in pregnancy. She holds an MSc from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and a BSc from University College London.

Category: Health