Gender equality: Engaging men and women to transform gender roles

Gender equality: Engaging men and women to transform gender roles

"People are listening, saying, 'what's happening in your house? It's very quiet.'"

When the absence, rather than the presence, of violence is seen as remarkable, something needs to be done.

In many of the countries where Concern Worldwide currently operates, a greater emphasis on equality within the home is slowly changing attitudes and behaviours. 

Our ultimate aim is to move from 'gender-sensitive' to 'gender-transformative' programming, and this means working with communities to develop programmes that transform the root causes of gender inequality at many layers of society - from the individual to the community, to the institutional and ultimately to the national.

Monday 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, is the first day of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, an international campaign that runs up until Human Rights Day on 10 December.

Ibrahim Koroma and his wife Gbassy work together in Sierra Leone. Photo: Concern Worldwide
Ibrahim Koroma and his wife Gbassy work together in Sierra Leone. Photo: Concern Worldwide

The campaign aims to challenge the systems that perpetuate gender-based violence, as well as creating the systems to overcome it.

Violence against women is an under-recognised human rights violation.

According to Women’s Aid, at least one in three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in their lifetime. Moreover, 25% of all violent crimes reported involve a man assaulting his wife or partner.

Always one man

Gender equality is a core focus for Concern.

Our ‘Engaging Men on Gender Equality’ approach seeks to create and facilitate space for couples, or single sex groups, to discuss issues related to equality.

Participants in the programme are asked questions such as, ‘what does it mean to be a man or woman?’ or, ‘how do our expectations cause harm to those around us and ourselves?’

This approach is a key part of our work in Lebanon, Pakistan and Bangladesh, as well as Sierra Leone - where the programme has made great strides in particular - Rwanda, Malawi, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger and Chad.

As a result of this crucial work on gender equality, which we hope to expand to more than 20 countries from 2020 onwards, more and more communities have adopted equitable households and fairer treatment of women.

There is a long way to go but we have already seen plenty of positive changes.

 

A couple acting out a role play as part of a gender transformational session with couples in Sierra Leone. Photo by Adèle Fox, December 2017
A couple acting out a role play as part of a gender transformational session with couples in Sierra Leone. Photo by Adèle Fox, December 2017

"You'll always find one man, in every village, who is living life differently, helping out at home and doing the chores and helping his wife and not being violent,” Bernadette Crawford, Equality Advisor for Concern, explains.

“They're jeered at, and laughed at, by other men particularly and I always ask them ‘why?’”

In the vast majority of cases, it has come down through the generations.

"It's either one of two situations,” she says. “It's either that a man saw his father behave in a positive way, and the love and the affection that they gave their mother and the family (is carried on), or in other cases (the fathers) were extremely violent and led their lives through a very rigid form of masculinity. 

"The impact of fathers is massive."

Countering rigid social norms

Changing long established views of the respective roles held by men and women is a long-term process and can be a challenge.

Life can be tough for those men who believe in equality with their spouses and in the home; they can even face situations where their masculinity is called into question by those people who are used to gender norms being defined in a different way.

"It isn't just men, it's women, because people are socialised in that context to believe men and women have specific roles,” Bernadette adds.

“They believe a man shouldn't do X, Y and Z, they shouldn't brush, they shouldn't clean, they shouldn't look after the children."

Bernadette Crawford

“So other women, equally, because they've been brought up to (believe men have a very specific role to play), they think the guy who is doing it that way isn't a real man and can be called a 'sissy boy' or all kinds of names.

“That’s why it’s important to work with women as well as men, as women often also carry those rigid social norms.”

Lifting the weight of expectation

Removing the need to conform to male stereotypes came as a huge relief to men in the programme.

"There was one guy in a country where Concern used to work, who spoke about how he was literally relieved - like a weight had been lifted - that he didn't have to perform in a certain way any longer,” Bernadette says.

"He didn't have to be the man that leaves the house and doesn't come back until ten o'clock at night, he doesn't have to be the man that does nothing in the house, and he doesn't have to be violent. But, he says, 'we never knew this. We were told by our mothers to be in control'.

"It really stuck out, for me, the impact on him because now he and his family were all a lot happier. He didn't like staying out until ten o'clock at night.”

Sonke Gender Justice and Concern

In 2017, we teamed up with Sonke Gender Justice, a South African NGO renowned for its pursuit of social justice and advocacy for gender equality, women’s rights, prevention of gender-based violence and reducing the spread and impact of HIV and AIDS.

The partnership aims to strengthen Concern’s approach to gender work in our programmes, including gender transformative programming and the ‘Engaging Men and Women on Gender Equality’ methodology.

Chris Connelly making his Gender Equality pledge. Photo: Mervis Nyirenda / Concern Worldwide.
Concern's Chris Connelly making his Gender Equality pledge. Photo: Mervis Nyirenda / Concern Worldwide.

Through our work with Sonke, we are implementing approaches to prevent gender-based violence in a number of countries. These support couples in transforming their attitudes and behaviours.

The aim is to move to more positive and equal relationships, to encourage men and women to work together to build harmonious households, and to reduce gender-based violence in both the home and the community.

Using experiential activities and exercises to understand gender roles and gender relations is key to our methodology, as well as looking closely at cycles of violence and the root causes of gender-based violence.

Reinforcing the importance of equality

Equality, above everything, is key and Bernadette hopes to see the success of Concern’s work in Sierra Leone replicated in many other countries. In a country where, in 2013, 45% of people had experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, a change in attitudes was crucial.

Working with police and healthcare workers to put a stop to institutionalised gender bias is an ongoing process in the west African country and beyond. However, there has been some success in eradicating gender-based violence in the home as a result of the ‘Living Peace’ approach.

This is an 11-week interactive curriculum that creates a safe structure for women and men to talk about problems, to deconstruct gender identities, roles and expectations, and to analyse the impact of behaviours and violence on individuals, relationships and households.

Gibrilla Turay from Petifu Mandugu, Kunike Chiefdom, Sierra Leone. Photo: Concern Worldwide
Gibrilla Turay from Petifu Mandugu, Kunike Chiefdom, Sierra Leone. Photo: Concern Worldwide

Gibrilla Turay, who lives in the Kunike Chiefdom in Tonkolili District with his wife Rugiatu and their two children, believes it’s important to work together with his partner, to consult each other over major decisions in the household, to share chores and to be an example to his children.

“I believe my wife has her own rights,” he tells Concern. “She is not a slave and she needs my support.”

Gender inequality and extreme poverty

We believe that gender inequality and extreme poverty are inextricably linked, with the barriers placed in front of women and girls preventing them from access to everything from healthcare, to education, to livelihoods and ultimately to a better life.

"When we're talking about inequalities in male and female relations, we're talking about control, powerlessness, marginalisation and exclusion,” Bernadette Crawford says.

“While all of those factors are at play, it's impossible for somebody to rise out of poverty. 

"That crosses all dimensions, whether it’s health, education, livelihoods, issues of violence. It intersects with all of that."

Bernadette Crawford

With that in mind, the ‘Engaging Men on Gender Equality’ approach, which has run successfully in countries like Liberia, Tanzania, Mozambique and Sierra Leone, has been crucial in showing the male populations of those countries the most positive aspects of masculinity, rather than accentuating the negative.

Working with Sonke has been invaluable in spreading the word, and scaling up efforts to reduce inequalities and violence against women and girls.

"It's really moved things on, at a country level," insists Bernadette.

"So a lot of countries have already got plans in place, they're doing a lot more around gender equality, they're tweaking some of their existing programmes, so we're definitely moving forward at a scale we couldn't have done without Sonke."

Couples who attend workshops

The perception of what a man’s role should be is changing, Bernadette believes, as trust grows between couples who attend workshops in countries like Sierra Leone.

"(One) guy wouldn't let his wife go (to the meeting), initially, there was a lot of control there,” she says.

“But then he found it interesting and asked his wife to come along. They had never trusted each other, around money especially, but over time there was that realisation that there was now more money in the house because they were communicating far better. 

Mulbah Walewula and his wife, Kabah Kalama, who are Changemakers in the village of Kalamata in Lofa County, Liberia. Photo: Concern Worldwide.
Mulbah Walewula and his wife, Kabah Kalama, who are Changemakers in the village of Kalamata in Lofa County, Liberia. Photo: Concern Worldwide.

"Then you have the guy bringing his kid to the health centre, and the health centre asking him why he - as a man - was bringing his child. That's 'not your role', they told him. But he persisted and persisted and ultimately influenced others to do the same."

Word is spreading across communities.

“One man said, ‘people are listening and wondering, ‘what’s happening in your house? It’s very quiet.’’

“So there’s less violence happening, and people want to know about this alternative way of living. So then the opportunity - particularly in those rural settings - to influence others is huge.”

Learn more about Concern's work on Gender Equality by clicking the button below.

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