(Photo: Mulwana Mmereguliwa, male change agent and local chairman)
Girl Up Initiative Uganda is part of a global movement that recognizes the importance of increasing men and boys’ involvement in working towards creating gender equal societies. As Deputy Executive Director, Kimberly Wolf says:
“We cannot leave out half of the equation when we are speaking and spreading awareness about gender equality. Boys and men must be included in all activities so they understand their role in creating a gender equal society and recognize how gender norms also affect their lives and well-being”
Achieving gender equality requires systemic changes in policy and modes of social interaction at all levels of society: home, workplace, school, public services, and media. Men and boys continue to occupy positions of power and privilege in patriarchal social systems and without their active involvement, a gender equitable society will neither be achievable, nor sustainable. When men and boys take an active role in promoting gender equality the entire society benefits. Involvement means not only taking a stand in public spaces, but also standing up to gender inequalities in their own households. This requires that men and boys negotiate, question, and investigate their own gender stereotypes, preconceptions, and identities.
Due to gender stereotypes and norms, men and boys miss out on a whole range of emotions and experiences that are immensely rewarding. For example, in most cultures men are not expected to play a significant role in caring for children and sick parents, or to show affection and express their vulnerabilities in distress. Of course, moving toward gender equality does not mean loss of masculinity. Instead, it means that men and boys will be able to share and experience a broader, healthier, safer, and richer life.
Over the past two years, Girl Up Initiative Uganda has created a movement of over 100 men and boys who are committed to promoting and achieving gender equality. They are members of the various projects (Male Change Agents and Champions of Change) that we have implemented as the Kampala-based organization for Plan International Uganda’s Ni-Yetu Youth Program.
(Photo: Male Change agents after a reflection meeting)
We have organized and trained 40 male change agents from all five divisions of Kampala to lead outreach sessions with men in their communities to spread messages of gender equality, ending gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health, and more. A wide range of men were selected to be change agents, such as reverends, imams, local leaders, and parents. In 2017 alone, they conducted 360 dialogues reaching over 6,160 men in Kampala areas where they usually spend their time: gambling spots, boda-boda stage, car mechanic shops, churches, and drinking areas.
Through the community dialogues the male change agents have realized that the struggle for power in the home has been one of the leading factors of gender-based violence. Therefore, they have focused their sessions on family management and communication in relation to maintaining a home free from violence and abuse. Issues around shared home responsibilities have brought debate among participants as some men are hesitant to allow women to share power at home because they feel that women will misuse their power when given authority. The male change agents have taken this feedback and encouraged their fellow men to understand the benefits of sharing home responsibilities and supporting each other to achieve common goals together.
In addition, many men have come to understand that they suffer from negative socially-constructed gender stereotypes and hence also have much to gain from a gender equal society. Such masculine stereotypes put pressure on men and boys to be ‘tough’ and to have the sole responsibility to be the ‘breadwinner’, which results in pushing them into conditions of labor that are often harsh and that may involve injury, violence, crime, and imprisonment.
Girl Up Initiative Uganda also heads the Champions of Change project, where our trainers and mentors have led education programs for over 60 boys who are members of local soccer (football) teams. They encourage the boys to adopt attitudes, behaviors and practices that are consistent with gender equality and that support the empowerment of girls and women. The work of the trainers is not easy because they must counter the strong cultural stigma attached to being a male advocating for girls’ rights.
Solomon is one of the Champions of Change boys who has adopted attitudes and behaviors that support girls and women in his community. In his own words, he says:
“Before I joined the Champions of Change program, I was shy, wasn’t gender aware, and I always thought girls can’t do what boys do. I and my friends always laughed at the one girl who plays soccer on our team, but after attending several sessions about gender, assertive communication and power dynamics, my mindset changed. I got to know that both boys and girls should have equal rights and that what I can do, Juliet can also do. We all have a stake in gender equality.”
(Photo: Solomon happy to be a Champion of Change)
As you can see, the active involvement of men and boys in promoting gender equality is critical in ending gender-based violence, raising safe and happy children, and creating peaceful and fair homes and communities. The effective strategy to engage men in promoting gender equality must first and foremost appeal to male policymakers as a pragmatic and rational framework with clear benefits for men, and not as a moral verdict on the status quo. By understanding how gender power dynamics permeate through every part of their lives, men and boys gain the knowledge to become real change agents and peer leaders. In the long-term, gender equality will improve the lives and well-being of both men and women, and boys and girls!
What inspires you most about hearing about men and boys, like Mulwana and Solomon, standing up for gender equality? Please comment below. We love hearing from you!