Letter from Jerez de la Frontera, Spain

It’s a small city of 200,000, known as the home of sherry and a centre for flamenco. It’s also a wonderful example of how a city government can promote initiatives to transform the roles of men and support work among men to end violence against women. Seven years ago the city started the Men for Equality Program, a unit of the city’s health and equality department. The program now employs three men full time. (In proportion to the population, that would be like having 40 city staff in Toronto focused on promoting gender equality among men and boys.)

A focus of its work is the ongoing effort to end domestic violence. This was one of the first cities in Spain to use the symbol of the white ribbon. Posters in bus shelters proclaim that men should “show their faces” and speak out against the violence. The posters say this must be a 365 days-a-year effort. Men For Equality also works in schools and is in the process of creating new resources, including a board game for boys. Next week they’re hosting a student art exhibit called “Men in the Process of Change.”

The Program also works to promote more active involvement by fathers. This is an area where European countries are taking real leadership. A combination of more extensive father’s leave, combined with education and new social services, is creating a new norm among young men. Aside from the obvious benefits to children and mothers, this is part of the process of transforming masculinity through the celebration and promotion of nurturing roles. It also is part of a long-term strategy to end violence against women: research tells us that the involvement of caring men in parenting means the raising of a generation of boys who associate manhood with emotional closeness and a generation of girls who will expect nothing less from the men in their lives than someone who shows love and respect.

I’m in Jerez, my first city in a month-long speaking tour in Europe. While here, I led a half-day workshop for social workers, government staff, youth workers and staff from local women’s programs; the workshop focused on the causes of men’s violence and how local organizations can develop more effective strategies to work with men and boys to end the violence. I took part in a lively press conference with the mayor and, in the evening, gave a public talk.

Two events over, 31 to go. Today, I’m on my way to Istanbul . . . More to come.

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