As the roles of men and women in Congo are changing, men struggle to fit in their prescribed roles of dominant masculinity. For some of them, violence is a means to regain control and authority.

By Srushti Mahamuni, volunteer of the Mukwege Foundation

“When God created man, he said man was the head of the family and the head of the family has to be tough.”
— Male interviewee in author’s research in Eastern DRC

The Democratic Republic of Congo is a highly religious and patriarchal country where many men and women believe that God created men as superior and women as their subordinate aides.

In recent years, however, various factors such as the widening gap between the rich and poor, and trenchant unemployment have resulted in a crisis of masculinity. Men are expected to fulfill traditional provider roles even though their social conditions restrain them from being able to do so.

Traditional roles

Increasingly more women are taking up responsibilities which were previously considered the duty of the man. For example, women are now providing for the family in alternative, new ways by for example taking up jobs as domestic workers. The leave the traditional roles as housewives which had been assigned to them for a long time. This leads to men feeling a loss of value and a sense of humiliation.

However, the rhetoric in society hasn’t changed yet and men are still expected to “be the boss.” As Congolese men struggle to fit into prescribed roles of dominant masculinity, violence is often used to retain a sense of control and authority. Furthermore, insecurity and changing environments have led to a disintegration of traditional social order in Congolese society.Where before, the society was based on a chronological hierarchy and elders were highly respected, now a days, young men, often lured by the promise of material wealth, are feel disillusioned with the traditional hierarchies and are breaking away from them. This can lead to inter-generational disputes, further eating into the fabric of society.

Sexual violence

Sexual violence has become a reality mainly for women and children and non-hegemonic men all over the country. Studies have shown that 40% of women and 24 % of men have experienced sexual violence during and post the conflict in Eastern DRC alone.

Male disempowerment can play a role in the on-going cycle of violence committed against women. Gender norms and dynamics in the society that embed dominance for men and subordination for women into the fabric of society have a big role to play in sexual and gender based violence being normalized.

Changing gender norms

Therefore, changing gender norms and dynamics in the society must be made part of interventions that seek to reduce sexual and gender based violence. Programmes should be centered around positive masculinities – supporting men in finding their new roles. This support can take the form of peer to peer education, psychological counseling for men to express their uncertainties, and creating an understanding of the pressure that patriarchy lays on their shoulders.

In the end, sexual violence is the most horrible repercussion of patriarchy and gender inequality, and as long as the root of evil is not tackled, we are merely scraping the surface.

About the author:

Srushti Mahamuni is a gender expert, activist and freelance consultant. She has lived and worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Photo credit: © UN Photo / Sylvain Liechti

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