Gendered sources of conflict and war in Eastern DRC and gendered responses for security and stability Several wars and conflicts over the past decades in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have caused tremendous damage to relationships between men and women and have greatly exacerbated partner violence, including sexual violence between partners. War-related rape of women and girls, committed by uniformed and armed men, militia members, or civilian men, was a daily reality for many families. Many men and boys were also raped, and countless were forced to watch their wives or daughters being raped. The results of the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES), carried out in North Kivu by Promundo-US in 2012, explore the numerous and complex factors that contribute to high levels of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in a context of post-conflict DRC (Slegh et al, 2014). The study found that support for traditional gender norms, including male dominance, is high among both men and women in North Kivu. Men who are less supportive of gender equality were more likely to have perpetrated physical or sexual violence against a partner. The study also found that nearly 24% of women reported being raped during the conflict; their husbands and families often rejected those women who experienced sexual violence in the conflict. In addition, the findings show that men who were exposed to violence as children were more likely to use intimate partner violence as adults. Men who were forced to have sex or raped in conflict were also more likely to use physical or sexual violence against their partners. The construction of violent masculinities in men is strongly influenced by childhood exposure to violence and exposure to violence during armed conflict. In North and South Kivu specifically, rape and sexual violence in private and public domains remains an epidemic. In this context, rape is usually primarily portrayed as a weapon of war to destroy others. Yet, several other studies confirm that rape and sexual violence should also be understood as an expression of failed masculinity in a failing state. (Baaz et al, 2013). Men’s multiple identities in conflict and post-conflict settings — as perpetrators of violence, but also as witnesses to and victims of violence — must be appropriately addressed in any effort to end violence against women and girls, to promote gender equality, and to facilitate women’s and men’s access sexual and reproductive health resources and services. As noted in both MONUSCO’s International Security and Stabilization Support Strategy (ISSSS) and the Government of the Netherlands’ Multi-Annual Strategic Plan for the Great Lakes Region, the continued presence of SGBV and the traditional norms contributing to it also prevent healing and stabilization of communities, thus driving further conflict. Female survivors of sexual violence in conflict are frequently ostracized and lack support, including within their own families; children born of sexual violence in conflict also face rejection. Even when these women remain in their families and communities, they are often subjected to violence and relegated to lower social status, as Promundo’s research and that of others has found. IMAGES research in DRC found that nearly half of women and men thought that a woman who had been raped should be expelled from her family and community. The fractures in the community are not mended, and security, social cohesion and reconciliation — both between men and women, and between men and other men — remain elusive. In this context neither men nor women are able to heal. These issues also play out in terms of economic stress. Men’s reports of higher levels of economic stress (due to poverty, displacement and loss of property) and regular binge drinking were further associated with elevated levels of violence against their partners. This is unfortunately common, as communities affected by conflict in the region are often left in economic turmoil. In the case of DRC, conflict left many men and women without the ability to provide for their families, with IMAGES revealing that 71% of men post-conflict (versus 39% before conflict) reported never having enough means to support their families. This, in turn, is likely to lead to further interpersonal conflict, stress and depression. To this regard, one man interviewed during a formative research for the pilot project in Burundi affirmed, “If you have nothing [no income or work] you are nothing.” In a context where economies are in need of rebuilding, women’s increased access to economic resources can contribute to a range of positive outcomes for themselves and their families, as well as for economic growth more broadly. As a result, many livelihood and economic empowerment initiatives in the Global South, including those in the Great Lakes region focus primarily or exclusively on women: of the 82 million people served by microfinance programs in 2005, 84% were women. However, as the Dutch multi-annual strategic plan for the Great Lakes region has assessed, “For many men in the region, it remains difficult to accept new and equal rights of women. The majority of agricultural workers are women, with a large percentage of female-headed households, which has changed the role of women in communities.” Indeed, efforts to boost economic development after the conflict that focus (solely) on the empowerment of women may aggravate men’s sense of lost power and fragile sense of manhood. When men are unable to fulfill the culturally defined male roles as protectors and providers for their families due to war and poverty, self-perceptions of failure and loss of power and control lead many of them to use more violence at home, as affirmed in the IMAGES DRC study. Indeed, the study found that many men cope with shame and feelings of loss and failure with alcohol abuse and violence against women; for some, this sense of lost masculinity is also a motive for joining armed groups. Constructions of masculinity based on rigid and traditional notions of power, control, and honor also contribute to a perspective that fighting and violence are the only way to resolve interpersonal and inter communal conflicts. All of these arguments suggest that women’s economic empowerment initiatives can work better when men are engaged as partners or with efforts to promote men’s attitude and behavior change.