Violence Against Women: How Men and Boys Can Join the Conversation To Be Part of the Solution

YEREVAN, Armenia – Violence against women can be a difficult topic to discuss, especially for men. Craig Norberg-Bohm, Coordinator of the Men’s Initiative at Jane Doe Inc. and Co-chair of North American MenEngage Network (NAMEN), has known this for many years, since he first began engaging men in the conversation about domestic violence and sexual assault. He gave a talk at American University of Armenia on December 1 to tell his story and share his experiences. Members of the AUA community, including AUA President Armen Der Kiureghian, and AUA faculty members and students, as well as members of the general public attended the event that was sponsored by the School of Public Health. A lively discussion followed the presentation during which audience members brought up examples of their own work and practice in Armenia. 

Norberg-Bohm’s White Ribbon Day campaign in the state of Massachusetts in the US invites men to become more active in the conversation about ending violence against women. Norberg-Bohm said that he sees many men not as “offenders,” but “as part of the solution” to a problem that, “In its extreme, it’s lethal, and in daily life, it’s miserable for at least one person,” as in the case with domestic violence.

“In my view, men are clearly part of the solution.  And it is our challenge as men to work together. We talk about some of the struggles that some of the men that I know, where I’m from, have in the topics of being men, in the conflicts they’re having with equal relations with women, in how they are able to conduct themselves for the raising of boys and girls in a slightly different way through mentorship, role modeling, and example,” Norberg-Bohm said, emphasizing the “positives” of men in their role as fathers and caregivers.

 “I’ve been doing this work for many years in the US and I don’t pretend to know how it would work here in Armenia. I’ll be talking about my work and what my experience has been, and suggesting that people think of this as an opportunity. That’s what I want to encourage. This conversation is important everywhere. But, here in Armenia, it’s even difficult to start the conversation,” Norberg-Bohm, who has worked in the field of promoting healthy masculinities for 38 years, said.

“Hopefully, this event is an avenue to have this conversation.  One positive outcome would be interest among both men and women to start a new conversation about this subject with the men they know,” Norberg-Bohm said. He began his work in this field shortly after securing his degree in electrical engineering in the late 1970s.

Norberg-Bohm has also contributed a chapter in the 2011 edition of the groundbreaking book about women’s health and sexuality, Our Bodies, Ourselves. Being from Boston, Norberg-Bohm has become more connected to the Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA), where his partner Judy Norsigian is currently Vice President of Development. She is also co-author of multiple editions of Our Bodies, Ourselves that has been translated into 30 languages, including Armenian.

“Women’s rights are human rights, women’s issues are everybody’s issues,” Melissa Brown, Assistant Professor in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said prior to the start of Norberg-Bohm’s presentation. Amy Sandridge, Assistant Professor in the School of Public Health, introduced the speaker. “Violence against women is an extremely important public health topic. Public health works to defeat this societal ill brought about by poverty, marginalization of women, shame, and ignorance. Time and time again, public health research has shown that violence against women leads to women being unable to fulfill their potential as humans, mothers, sisters, and daughters leading to deficits in society. In 2013, one of our students researched this topic in Armenia and her research is being furthered by one of the 2016 cohort students.”

“There’s a lot of energy in Armenia right now around women’s issues and women’s studies. Lately, a lot of that energy has been swirling around AUA. This is an area that we’ve always been committed to; we’ve dealt with it in our classes, in our research, in our outreach. AUA has become more explicitly and directly involved in women’s studies. It’s beginning to seem inevitable. We’re still in the planning stages now, but we may be offering one or more classes next academic year in women’s studies, with an eye towards a possible undergraduate minor in the not-too-distant future,” Brown said. A conference or congress exploring women’s successes and challenges in Armenia in different areas—in human rights, health, business, politics, and the arts—is possible in the fall of 2016, according to Brown.

Norberg-Bohm’s professional path is a story of success, according to him. “I do this for personal reasons as well—my sister who is a survivor of sexual assault; my son, who I want to raise well; and my mother and father, who I honor in their memory. So I do this for love and family. It’s my purpose. I am here with passion and purpose. I invite you to join me,” Norberg-Bohm said.

The AUA School of Public Health works actively to improve population health and health services in Armenia and the region through interdisciplinary education and development of public health professionals to be leaders in public health, health services research and evaluation, and health care delivery and management.

Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia and affiliated with the University of California. AUA provides a global education in Armenia and the region, offering high-quality, graduate and undergraduate studies, encouraging civic engagement, and promoting public service and democratic values.

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