How many times have we recommended a helpline number to our friends who are victims of domestic violence? How many times have we dialed that number ourselves?
Whenever we are victims or witnesses of gender violence, we are the ones who seek help, but a new anti-machista hotline in Colombia has turned the tables.
As the New York Times explained, this change “is simple, but radical.” The so-called Línea Calma, as it is known in Colombia, is a number that seeks not only to prevent violence but to address what many experts say is one of its root causes: machismo.
“Welcome to Calma, the listening line for men,” says a male voice, subdued, paused. “We are here to listen and guide you.”
Minutes later, an official from the Bogotá Mayor’s Office answers, an expert in psychology to attend to the anguish of some men in the Colombian capital.
The line was initiated by the government of Claudia Lopez, Bogotá’s first woman and openly gay mayor, who has made the fight against machismo part of her government plan.
Nearly 2,000 men have called the line in 10 months of existence. And some 200 of them have taken advantage of the ten personalized sessions they are entitled to, free of charge, just for being willing to examine their macho emotions, thoughts, and attitudes.
It is the first time that a platform in Latin America seeks to put the responsibility in the hands of the aggressor and not the victim, trying to dismantle the ingrained belief that men “must be dominant.”
“I believed, and other people also believed, that we were not getting male perpetrators of violence to call us for help,” Daniel Galeano, one of the psychologists, told the Times. “And something is happening, all of a sudden those male role models are no longer passing, no longer matching the relationships they’re having.”
By pushing men to analyze how that often-overlooked attitude is harming their lives and the lives of those around them, the program aims to be part of a profound cultural shift, said Nicolas Montero. He heads Bogotá’s culture office, which introduced Linea Calma in early September, following a pilot program last year.
“Imagine a headline of this society in 20 years,” Montero said. “‘Machismo has been eradicated from the national geography.'”
This momentum is not spontaneous. The past two years have seen the emergence of grassroots, community, and collective feminist movements, which among cultural and political manifestations, have denounced the epidemic of gender violence that plagues the region.
The Times also explained how in Colombia, where a woman is sexually assaulted every 34 minutes, according to government data, university students have begun organizing workshops on “micromachismos” (small sexist or macho gestures, which often go unnoticed). At the same time, nonprofit organizations in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Brazil offer therapy or courses focused on healthy masculinity. In addition to supporting the education of abusers, some governments are now backing parenting classes.
And throughout the region, dozens of men’s collectives with names like “Manes a la Obra” now meet regularly to discuss their role in patriarchy and the various ways of being a man.
“Since it’s a system we learned, we could unlearn it to relearn it,” Mauro A. Vargas Urias, founder and director of Gendes, a Mexican organization that examines masculinity. Urias told the newspaper machismo was an “oppressive” and “hegemonic” system, but one that could change.
And it seems that Latin America is at the forefront of that change.