Engaging Men As Allies

Ghulam Rabi, 52, is a local community leader in Nangarhar Province in Afghanistan. He is respected as an elder and people from his neighborhood come to him for guidance. Ghulam Rabi is one of 50 men in his community who participated in Women for Women International’s men’s engagement program. For several months, they met two days a week to discuss women’s rights using Islamic text and other local knowledge. The training had a lasting impact on Ghulam Rabi.

“Sometimes we blame ourselves for what we were doing before, why we didn’t have this information [about women’s rights],” he says. Ghulam Rabi is one of the 15,000 men who has been trained by WfWI in rural and isolated communities in Afghanistan, Iraq, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Nigeria, Rwanda, South Sudan and Kosovo. Their engagement as partners in women’s empowerment is key. In patriarchal societies where men hold a disproportionately large amount of power, male relatives and community leaders can prevent women from living their full lives. In fact, at WfWI, we learned that some women were unable to attend our programs because the men in their families didn’t allow them. In addition, the women we worked with told us that in order to be able to fully use the skills they are learning, the men in their families need to be more supportive.

The women we work with told us “We need the men to learn what we are learning,” so we started training programs for men in 2001. Through our men’s engagement program, we create a place for men to explore gender and masculinity and understand the benefits of women’s empowerment to women, families, and communities. In classes led by local male trainers, men learn and explore ideas of gender and violence using strategies such as role-play, reflective sharing, and small group discussions. Together, they talk about sensitive issues like gender-based division of labor and their role in preventing violence against women and girls. Our program is making a difference.

For example, in the DRC, 92 percent of graduates from our program report that they have talked with another man about women’s rights and preventing sexual and gender-based violence, compared to 56 percent before the program. In Afghanistan, 51 percent of male graduates surveyed report that they took action to reduce gender-based violence, compared to 13 percent before the program. Globally, the men we trained last year reported a 34% increase in the number of actions they took in support of women’s rights and participation.

Change is also happening in households. Because of what he has learned through our program, Said Merwais of Kabul says that he now sees his wife, sister, and mother differently. He acknowledges that before he treated the women in his family poorly, but now he shares what he learned about women’s rights with them. He also talks to other men in his community about women’s rights. He now supports his young daughter’s dreams and hopes that someday she will become a doctor and help others.

Ghulam Rabi, Merwais, and the thousands of other men we work with are changing attitudes and behaviors in their communities. Together, we are building a better and safer world for all.

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