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One in two men interviewed reported using physical and/or sexual violence against a female partner during lifetime, according to the findings of the first ever quantitative study in China on gender-based violence and masculinities, officially released today. 

With support from UNFPA China and the Partners for Prevention programme, the UN joint programme on gender-based violence in Asia Pacific, the Institute of Sexuality and Gender Studies of Beijing Forestry University, and Anti-domestic Violence Network/Beijing Fan Bao have undertaken a research among 1,017 men and 1,103 women aged 18-49 in a county in central China. The study asked questions about men and women’s use and experiences of violence, gendered attitudes and practices, childhood experiences, sexuality, family life and health.

“Both studies confirm that gender-based violence is preventable… and the majority of factors associated with men’s use of violence can be changed,” says Mr. Arie Hoekman, UNFPA Representative to China. “We need to transform the ways in which boys and men are socialized and relate to girls and women. That is why adolescence is a unique opportunity to foster respectful relationships and endorse cultural norms supportive of gender equality.”

Some of the key findings highlighted in the research are: 
  • Intimate partner violence is pervasive. Among the female respondents who were ever-partnered, 39 percent reported experiencing physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence (IPV). About 52 percent men reported physical and/or sexual IPV perpetration. This gender discrepancy in disclosing violence may be explained by the fact that shame, stigma, and self-blame associated with women experiencing violence is an important reason for under-reporting from women. Another reason that might have contributed to higher reporting of violence perpetration by men is because the questionnaires were self-administratively answered through iPod touch device, which ensured anonymity and confidentiality of answers and maximized men's disclosure of violence.
  • Slightly more than one third (38 percent) of ever-partnered women reported experiencing emotional violence and 43 percent men reported ever hav¬ing perpetrated emotional violence against a female partner. 
  • Men begin perpetrating violence at much younger ages than previously thought. Of men who perpetrated rape, 24 percent were 15-19 years old. This indicates that the prevention of sexual violence needs to begin with teenagers.
  • Of those men who had admitted to rape, 75 percent did not experience any legal consequences, confirming that impunity remains a serious issue in society.
  • The most common motivation for rape among perpetrators was related to sexual entitlement–a belief that men have a right to sex with women regardless of consent. About 86 percent of men who admitted to rape gave this response. 
  • Violence against women has serious physical, mental and reproductive health consequences for women. About 40 percent of all women who ever experience physical violence were injured. Women who experience intimate partner violence were four times more likely to have had multiple sexually transmitted infections. Women who experience violence were nearly three times more likely to have clinical depression and twice as likely to have thoughts of committing suicide. 
  • Intimate partner violence severely impacted women’s everyday activities and their ability to work, and resulted in social and economic costs. Among those who were injured, 49 percent had to stay in bed, take leave from their job or seek medical treatment.
  • Men who reported having perpetrated violence against a female partner were significantly more likely to have experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse as a child, or witnessed the abuse of their mother.

The study presented evidence that unequal power relations between men and women are still deeply embedded in gender norms, which are the root causes of gender-based violence. The research showed that key elements of socially accepted masculinity of “real men” are toughness, sexual prowess, control of decision making and use of force in some occasions. Of all men interviewees, 73% believe that men should be tough, 52% would use violence to defend their honor; 72% think that men have decision power over major issues within the family. The research findings highlight the need to transform harmful social norms that perpetuate unequal gender power relations and the need to work with men and boys to foster respectful relationships and endorse cultural norms supportive of gender equality.

As part of the regional study, a qualitative life history study of selected interviewees was conducted by the School of Social Development and Public Policy, Beijing Normal University. Through interviewing men who were known to have used violence and those who did not, the study explored how influences and experiences across a life span shape dominant and alternative masculinities. The findings echoed that of the quantitative studies, showing that perpetration of gender-based violence is strongly associated with unequal gender power relations and the personal exposures in witnessing and experiencing violence since childhood.  Life stories of men interviewed showcase men who avoid using violence and look for alternative ways to be a man. Those cases serve as examples of how alternative beliefs around masculinities— beyond power and control— are shaped and sustained, and how these impact men’s engagement and practices at home and in workplace. These alternative ways to be a man reaffirm that gender norms are amendable to change, hence proves that violence is preventable.

Partnering with men and boys in preventing and ending gender-based violence is a ‘win-win’ approach and contributes to better health outcomes, including sexual and reproductive health, and harmonious societies.

To prevent violence against women, the study recommends that the government, civil society, communities and individuals to take actions to:

  • Promote full empowerment of women and girls and eliminate gender discrimination. 
  • Make violence against women unacceptable, including through community mobilization programmes and engagement of community leaders
  • Promote non-violent and caring ways to be a man, starting from adolescence, for example through sustained school-based or sports-based education programmes. Work with young people to foster respectful relationships, including safe and consensual sex;
  • Address child abuse and promote healthy families, including through parenting programmes, comprehensive child protection systems and policies to end corporal punishment;
  • Use sexual and reproductive health services as entry points for providing referral and support services to women experiencing violence, and develop a comprehensive health sector response to the impacts of violence against women and girls, including enhancing the capacity of medical personnel to effectively handle cases involving violence against women and girls.
  • End impunity for violence against women, particularly marital rape, through criminalization of all forms of violence against women, and promoting legal sector reform to ensure access to justice for women who experience violence;
  • Support further multidisciplinary research and analyses on prevalence, structural and underlying causes, costs, and risk factors for gender-based violence.