Engaging Men to Promote Women’s Rights
During conflict, women are significantly responsible for maintaining the family unit to survive. It is for this reason that they are also targeted for exploitation. After the conflict, women survivors of war and gender based violence must overcome adversity in order to keep the family and community together. Women for Women International believes that women, who not only disproportionately bear the brunt of war, are also society’s bellwethers. When women are empowered in education and employment, society as a whole benefits. When women are deprived of opportunities and trapped in cycles of victimization, it is only a matter of time before social stability is at risk.
However, merely facilitating women’s empowerment is not enough to bring lasting change to communities. Women are members of families and communities and cannot effect change single-handedly. To further facilitate an environment to promote women’s rights and community participation, WfWI designed the supplemental Men’s Leadership Program (MLP) to target male leaders in critical sectors of society.
WfWI understands that in order to achieve our ultimate goal—establishing viable civil societies where men and women work together as partners in peace and prosperity—we cannot afford to overlook opportunities for women and men to work together for change.
The Men’s Leadership Program
Women for Women International’s Men’s Leadership Program sensitizes male leaders to crucial women’s rights issues and prepares them to leverage their community influence on behalf of women. Covering topics on post-war community rebuilding, violence against women, reproductive and family health, and women’s community participation, MLP session topics and the following objectives are tailored to each country’s specific circumstances and gender relations:
- Train and educate community and traditional leaders on violence against women and its impact on the community
- Enhance the capacity of community and traditional leaders to develop strategies to address the varied impact of violence against women on the community
- Build awareness of how leaders can be more responsive to issues of concern to different sectors of their communities/constituencies
- Help leaders become more aware of the factors affecting the development of their communities, ranging from economic and political participation of women, to health issues such as HIV/AIDS
- Give leaders a forum in which to discuss their ideas for a stronger community where men and women are equally respected and valued
Men’s Leadership Program participants are culled from traditionally male dominated critical sectors of society. These sectors often include government, religious groups, police, military, traditional institutions, and civil society. The leadership roles that these men hold in their communities allow them to reach out to other men and spread awareness and mobilize men to actively advocate for greater respect of women’s rights, thereby facilitating community development by engaging both men and women as partners.
MLP training typically begins with 50 male leaders, known as “Level One” participants, who are trained by WfWI staff or specially trained Men’s Leadership consultants. They are trained on topics including the value of women and girls, female participation in family and community decision-making, violence against women, and personal and family health.
The second stage of the MLP focuses on training participants on how to further educate men in their respective constituencies. Upon completing the MLP, each “Level One” participant commits to training at least 10 to 15 other local men, called “Level Two” participants, on MLP topics. MLP participants thus become agents of change in their communities.
Functional working groups, the third component of the MLP, allow community and traditional leaders to develop strategies to promote women’s participation in family and community life and to stem the tide of gender-based violence. These working groups are comprised of MLP participants, as well as local men and women community members who come together to share ideas on how to promote women’s rights, prevent gender-based violence, and protect victims of rape and sexual violence from stigmatization and exclusion. Working groups provide a forum for community members at various levels of the community’s social strata to work together toward practical and viable solutions to gender inequity and violence against women in their communities.
Women for Women International believes that when women are well, sustain an income, are decision-makers, and have strong social networks and safety-nets, they are in a much stronger position to advocate for their rights. Their stronger position will not be able to sustain itself without the active engagement from male traditional, civic, and military leaders. When women and men understand and advocate for women’s rights and participation in society, dramatic change is possible.
The Women for Women International Men’s Leadership Program has trained over 2,100 male community leaders in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, and Nigeria
“During the conflict and war in Afghanistan, relationships between men and women became worse. Men do not respect women as human beings, and incidents of violence and abuse against women have increased. Women are used to resolve debts or conflicts between families – men who cannot pay back their loans will give their sisters or daughters to the lender instead, while the women involved have no say in the matter.” – Sweeta Noori; WfWI-Afghanistan Country Director