‘Before the war, I was a man’: men and masculinities in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo
Humanitarian interventions that confuse ‘gender issues’ with ‘women’s issues’ ignore the complex nature of gender and its potential as a tool for social change. This article reflects on this issue, in the context of an analysis of the relationship between sexual and gender-based violence and hegemonic masculinities in the conflict zone of North Kivu province in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. It draws on a research study focusing on the discrepancies between dominant ideals of masculinity and the actual realities of men’s lives. As men try to enact masculine ideals of breadwinner and family head, the current political and economic context puts them under increasing pressure. Respondents drew a direct connection between the resulting sense of failure and unhealthy outlets for asserting masculinity, lack of productivity, and violence. They were critical of the fact that most programmes dealing with sexual and genderbased violence focus exclusively on supporting women. I argue here that such interventions do not recognise the interdependent and interactive nature of gender. Their antagonising effect is evidenced by the high level of men’s resistance to programmes and campaigns promoting gender equality. The article further highlights the role of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ in creating a general climate of violence and conflict, pointing up the need for holistic approaches that empower men to make non-violent life choices.
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