What makes a “good” man?

Amy Ernst is a young American woman who is working in Congo, with an organization that supports survivors of rape. Rape is commonplace in Congo, and in addition to its emotional and physical impacts on survivors, it creates a ripple effect of stigmatization, isolation and poverty. This is what makes it such an effective weapon of war. Ernst, guest blogging at Nicholas Kristof’s blog “On the Ground,” writes about husbands whose choose not to abandon their wives when their wives are raped:

Due to social stigma and, in many cases, pregnancy, it’s common for men in North Kivu to leave their families if their wives are raped. But there are also men like Paluku. Paluku encouraged Hangie to go to the hospital for treatment and accompanied her when she decided to go. It wasn’t easy. He was afraid because soldiers have diseases, and at first he didn’t know if he could pardon his wife. “I was so mad, but after [the hospital] I forgave her because I realized she was innocent.”

Valerie, another survivor from the same area, relaxes when I ask how her husband responded to what happened. “He’s calm; he’s sad but calm about it. He asked if he, too, can participate in the counseling or if there’s anything he can do to help with medication or anything else,” she explains, only a month after she was attacked. She has been uncomfortable throughout our entire conversation, but a simple reference to her husband seems to give her something strong to stand on.

The blog post is called “A Good Man,” and Ernst describes her interactions with these good men, who stood by their wives, as “indescribably refreshing.” In her line of work, she writes, she “can’t help but focus constantly on the evil men possess, especially here.” But men like Paluku and like Valerie’s husband – good men – give her hope.

You can read more about Ernst’s work and her life in North Kivu, Congo at her blog.

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One Comment

  1. Posted January 5, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Interesting and good to know. It does bring up the question of how NGOs can work with Global South nations to enhance women’s lives, yet at the same time, do not threaten men by taking away their culture’s definitions of masculinity.

    One of the biggest concerns transnational feminists seem to have is how to not colonize cultures, yet I think we sometimes also forget that masculine identities are an essential part of that culture. CARE is an organization that has done wonderfully in furthering the gender equality agenda, while at the same time including men in the process, as not to alienate them. As men are the ones who often buy into practices that hurt women, any movement to help women in these nations and culture also need men’s involvement.

    This, for me, is not about asking “what about the men?” but truly identifying all the resources and ways to further our agenda of gender equality.

    Perhaps what the feminist movement needs, as a whole, is not to suppress the various layers of “masculinity,”but rather, encourage men – both from Global South and developed cultures, to practice what I envision to be “virtuous masculinity.”

    Ideas and discussions on how to go about doing that, and how said masculinity can be defined, are definitely welcomed.

    I’ll add a post later this week on the whole issue.

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