At this time of year you are probably inundated with messages celebrating the UN’s International Day of Women (March 8th). It may seem strange, but this blog is about men – or rather how we include men in the training we offer women.
Experience has taught us that for lasting change, we must show men that they too will benefit from the life skills we teach the women in their lives. For instance, at our Aspire project in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, one of our main goals is to ensure the women are able to earn money to support themselves and their families. In addition to literacy, health, hygiene, nutrition and First Aid, we teach hairdressing and cookery, so women can increase their income. This leads to a more profound change: the women have increased confidence, they feel in control of their lives, and are proud of themselves.
In a society where women traditionally have low status, it is hard to overstate the importance of greater self-esteem. A woman whose male partner begins to respect her because she is making money for the family, is less likely to be the victim of abuse. Likewise, a mother who feels happy and fulfilled is more likely to be ambitious for her children.
On average, when the women of Aspire complete their training with us, they are earning about £24/$34 a month. Once they finish our programme, they have more time to work, and their income on average rises to about £56/$80 a month. Bear in mind these are among the poorest and most vulnerable women in a very poor country, who were earning nothing when they arrived at the Aspire compound.
Aspire also involves men in reproductive health classes, knowing they are less likely to resist family planning or be suspicious if they have been included. The men begin to understand the advantages of having smaller families, and spacing their babies, meaning they are better able to invest in their children’s health and education. The men see that the investment pays off when those children grow up to have jobs that enable them to care for their fathers in their old age. Our survey of the “class of 2015” showed that 100% of the women who attended our family planning class went on to use birth control.
We also offer our women’s partners/spouses a “positive masculinity” training session, run by the Rwandan Men’s Resource Centre (RWAMREC). RWAMREC’s trainers discussed women’s rights, domestic violence, and how men can effectively communicate their concerns and reach solutions to conflicts within their marriages. To put this in context, most men in the community believe abusing their wives is ‘normal’ and not illegal. Following this session in 2015, 12 couples were legally married (making sure the women have rights under Rwandan law) and 89% of the women reported positive changes in their partners’ behaviour. Crucially, the changes included a reduction in domestic violence and improved relationships between spouses.
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