BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Men in the Colombian city of Bucaramanga are being told to stay home and mind the children while their wives and partners go out reveling as part of an initiative to tackle the high levels of domestic violence in the city.
The women-only night, set for Thursday, is expected to be a hit with the city’s women and bring a carnival atmosphere.
Bars, restaurants and shopping malls will offer special events for women, and local authorities are organizing women-only concerts, parties and dance classes in the city’s parks and squares. The Catholic Church is hosting events too. For men staying at home, restaurants are offering discounts on home deliveries.
Organizers of the women-only night, which is spearheaded by the chamber of commerce, governor and mayors of the province of Santander, of which Bucaramanga is the capital, hope it will stir debate about gender roles in a city known for its macho culture.
“The women-only night and voluntary curfew for men aims to be a symbolic event and a moment of reflection for the authorities, state institutions and society about the high levels of domestic violence and the role of men in society,” said Yamid Saldana, one of the project’s coordinators and press manager at Corpovisionarios, a Bogota-based think-tank that is promoting the initiative.
“It aims to send the message that it’s ok for men to stay at home and look after the children and wash the dishes, and it doesn’t mean they are less of a man,” Saldana told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.
Men who want to venture onto the streets will have to carry a special 'safe-conduct pass' they can download online, stating they know about the initiative and the reasons why they do not want to participate, Saldana said.
Women will be in charge of this northeastern city of 530,000 people for the night, when four mayors and the provincial governor will temporarily hand over power to female government officials, he added.
Domestic violence rates in Bucaramanga and its metropolitan area are higher than the national average, with 215 cases of domestic violence reported per 100,000 inhabitants in the city in 2012 compared with the national average of 180 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to Colombia’s National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences.
Pervasive male chauvinism and a patriarchal society fuel domestic abuse, research by Corpovisionarios shows.
“Our survey found domestic violence is related to machismo, the prototype of an imposing and dominating man over a submissive woman,” Saldana said.
Critics of the women-only night say it is a gimmicky knee-jerk reaction by politicians to show they are doing something to tackle gender-based violence, while more needs to be done to encourage women to come forward to report domestic abuse and increase conviction rates.
“One activity one night isn't going to change the behavior of men from one day to the next and their idea of masculinity,” said Saldana.
“But it can sow the seeds and open the doors for change when followed up and carried out alongside other public awareness raising campaigns and initiatives,” he added.
This is not the first time Colombia has launched a women-only night.
Back in 2001, Bogota’s former mayor, Antanas Mockus, who is now head of Corpovisionarios, introduced a successful women-only night in the capital that led to a fall in the city’s overall crime and murder rate.
Reporting By Anastasia Moloney; Editing by Alex Whiting