A Belfast conference is set to hear a call to encourage male leaders to speak out against all forms of gender-based abuse and violence.
US based educator Dr Jackson Katz will be the keynote speaker at a gathering in the Long Gallery in Stormont on Tuesday organised by the Executive Office.
It will be the final part of a two-day series of engagements which includes events with key representatives from sports organisations and the education sector to look at their role in helping to promote a positive attitude towards women and girls.
Earlier this year a survey presented by the Women’s Resource and Development Agency found that more than 90% of women believe Northern Ireland has a problem with men’s violence against women and girls.
While the Stormont Assembly remains unable to function due to a political disagreement over the Northern Ireland Protocol, work remains ongoing to inform a strategy to tackle violence against women and girls.
It is aimed to have a draft framework for an Ending Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy by the end of 2022.
Dr Katz, a pioneer of the Bystander Approach to prevention, who has worked extensively with the NFL, and other professional sports leagues as well as all branches of the US Military, will address the event on Tuesday.
He will also address events in Dublin later this week.
In an interview with the PA news agency, he explained the approach as encouraging leaders to speak out to change society’s attitudes.
Dr Katz said he has been involved in activism since he was a 19-year-old university student in the early 1980s.
“Men’s violence against women is an enormous problem, and there was and is an obvious deficit of men’s leadership on this topic … as a young guy I was pretty confident and I was a very successful athlete, so I was not intimidated or worried that other men would ridicule me when I spoke out,” he said.
“When you have men assaulting and harassing women, it’s not about their individual pathology, they are individual actors who are acting out much broader social forces, and so how do you change those social forces – that became my life’s work.”
Dr Katz started the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) programme at the North Eastern University in Boston.
It initially trained university male student athletes to speak out.
“My thinking was not that there was a problem in athletics, it was that we have this global problem of men’s violence against women and we need more men who are willing to speak up,” he said.
“I thought if we get men who already have some status in their peer culture like athletes, if we get them to speak up, it would open up space beyond the athletic culture and make it more acceptable for men and young men to talk about this stuff and to engage and support women’s efforts.”
He said the MVP programme became the biggest programme of its kind in university sport and then in professional sport in the US, before moving into the US military.
“In the 1970s and 1980s, when people did what they called sexual assault prevention, most of it was focused on women and girls.
“They called it prevention but really it was risk reduction where women and girls were taught things like not to put their drink down at a party, have a buddy system or have a man’s voice on the voicemail,” he said.
“All that is still to this day taught to girls and young women, and it’s good advice but it’s not prevention, it is risk reduction.
“Back then when men were focused on it was almost always as perpetrators or potential perpetrators … the problem with that is most men don’t see themselves that way and they deny it and say it’s not their issue … and so a lot of men tuned it out.
“It’s about how you conduct yourself 24/7 in a way that makes it clear to people around you that you’re not going to go along with sexist or misogynist behaviour on a whole continuum ranging from sexist comments and jokes when there are no women present to actual acts of violent right in front of you.
“The Bystander Approach is about everybody else in a given peer culture thinking about some that they can constructively challenge or interrupt abusive behaviour, support people who are the targets of that behaviour and to the extent that they have any influence in helping to set the tone in that group where abusive behaviour is completely socially unacceptable, not because it’s illegal or against the policies of the organisation but because it’s the peer culture itself is saying this is not acceptable, and the person who challenges the abusive behaviour is a strong person and acting on the best values of the group.
“We badly need more men and young men with the courage and the strength and the self confidence to speak up and to challenge their friends, teammates, classmates, colleagues and co-workers when they see other guys not treating women with respect and dignity, which is a complete reframe of the existing dynamic.”