The Male Engage Initiative

Men are often untapped yet a critical resource in diversity and inclusion efforts aimed at eliminating gender inequality. The Male Engage Initiative is a central strategy and a tested model by a global network of Civil Society Organizations working to involve men in advancing gender equality around the world. Gulu Women Economic Empowerment and Globalisation (GWED-G) one of the IDF partners in Gulu District, Northern Uganda has localised this model in their areas of intervention and it has proved to be a great success in fully promoting the rights of women and right of protection to active participation in community affairs. There are also lessons learnt in implementing this model to address gender based violence (GBV) in the post conflict situation which can be replicated in similar situations in Sub Saharan Africa.

The Male Engage Model and how it has been localised

The Male Engaged Initiatives works to engage men and boys on gender equality and women’s empowerment. UN Women describes it as engaging men and boys for gender equality anchored in the belief that achieving gender equality is about transforming unequal power relations between men and women. This involves challenging notions of masculinity and traditional perceptions of manhood. It requires men to question power dynamics in their actions or their words at the personal, interpersonal and societal level and to take responsibility for change. Men need to be engaged as gender advocates – speaking out as active agents and stakeholders who can transform social norms, behaviours and gender stereotypes that perpetuate discrimination and inequality.

How the model has been implemented in the post conflict setting in Northern Uganda

Working with men is an approach that came as a result of critical investigations on a number of causes of gender based violence in communities with too much pointer towards men as perpetrators and violators of rights embedded with pre-historic states under traditions and cultural practices, traditionally men have been on top of every decisions making.  Gulu Women Economic Development and Globalisation (GWED-G) with IDF support utilised this model in Northern Uganda to challenge dominant masculinities which has been complexed by the LRA conflict situation as men turned into idlers in camps where women were busy collecting food from the charity agencies and preparing it for men. This became worse in the post conflict situation because then men resorted to drinking instead of helping the women in agriculture and other economic activities.  In approximately 90% of the domestic assaults reported, a man was a perpetuator at the beginning of the intervention. With this Male Engage Initiatives (MEI), new innovations of engaging men from this background became vital to rally men to fight against male dominance and gender based violence that had dominated the post conflict period in Northern Uganda.

Gulu Women Economic Development and Globalisation (GWED-G) being its own experts in the field of women empowerment complimented the Male Engage Initiatives (MEI)  model with other approaches such as economic empowerment of households through the Villages Savings Loans Associations (VSLAs) to bring about change in the prevailing unjust society in northern Uganda. The programs is therefore designed along some theories of change, that work at three levels and looks into – If Men gain knowledge on gender socialization, power imbalance, skills to join their power in solidarity to confront issues of unequal gender norms that perpetrate violence, If there is a supportive environment that support men practicing positive masculinity and if Men and Women live in Gender Equitable relations at the Household and Community Level, then  gender equality will be achieved. Therefore working with men at three levels has contributed to greater change and reduction on violence.

Men as agent of change: these are men who actually support women empowerment and can be engaged as change agents to influence social change for gender equality. They are involved as role models, peer educators and leaders to champion; Women’s participation in household and community decision making processes, promotes women’s access and control over land and productive asset. This leads to Prevention & ending gender based violence (GBV) against women and girls, men and boys, Care giving and sharing of domestic work

Men as partners to women; this is based on the fact that lasting empowerment of women require more serious and honest effort to appreciate and support change among men who are integral to women’s lives because; Women live in partnership and relations with men as husbands, other male family members and in their communities. Men have tremendous influence in women’s movements, behaviours and agency

Men as clients; there is also need to recognise that men too suffer from GBV, although men suffering in silence raises a lot of concern, men suffer silently and are ‘expected’ to persevere and resolve issues without reporting, there is need to extend men’s access to psyco-social support VSLA groups, and other interventions that are accessed by women and girls who face GBV and other forms of violence.

The motivation for working as a RMM:

Most of the RMM demonstrated the fact that they were tired of their lifestyles and wanted to show that they can change, others wanted to gain respects. But some men were also selected because they were people of good character. How this has changed their ways of life:  RMM were reported to have started positive masculinity or behaviours including not conducting themselves like they used to do, especially not drinking Alcohol, no more fighting and  quarrelling, stealing food products and selling them for personal money,  Instead they started doing things they were not doing in their homes before e.g. sharing ideas with wife and involving her in planning, being honest on finances, caring more for the family and constructing fuel efficient stove for wife among others

The Successes of the Model

Over 10,000 people have been reached, GWED-G has succeeded in building a network of role model men (RMM) who work as agents of change and reach out to fellow men in promoting male engage initiatives (MEI) and gender equality. Now there are 180 RMM who are champion of gender equality reaching out to 1800 households each, on each household visits they discuss issues of women’s empowerment and gender based violence to reduce on households violence for women and men of reproductive age. the role model men also conducts outreaches where they hold male engage dialogues and they challenge themselves why men are notably violent and how they can reduce on violent act perpetrated by men. In each of the male engaged dialogue, at least 30men attend the male dialogue each time it’s conducted. A total of 201 men reached by RMM during outreach programs. However through household dialogues a total of 10505 people reached with 4320 Male and 6203 Female.

One RMM from Paicho sub-county was able to rescue 5 young girls who were raped by one rapist and he made sure the perpetrator arrested.  We are now seeing testimonies from both the men and women. ”Men during Harvest would sell all the produce stored at home from the garden and spend the all the money on alcohol, now we discuss, we are much better,” Said Aol Hellen. The Wives of RMM: Most of them testified that their husbands now are clean and respected in front of their elders, stated that there was overwhelming visible new peace and joy in the family and no more stealing and selling of food stuffs in homes. RMM gained more trust from their wives, the wives were happier as there was reduced work load for them and they now had time to rest; the women were also happy about the reduced level of womanizing; meanwhile the men played tremendous roles in families. RMM had cleaner homes; there was increased respect, love, peace in homes and many more people started saving.

RMM wives join women solidarity groups and sometimes their husbands participate together. Their women learn leadership skills, financial literacy, assertiveness, gender rights, and participates at every advocacy platform through the Village Saving and Loan Association scheme (VSLA) groups. The project has so far supported and empowered 23 VSLA women groups and a total of 900 groups with other partners. This has complemented the MEI to enhance household incomes. In addition, the VSLA platform has been utilised to discuss how the family should become democratic and involve their families especially the children in decision making processes, family planning and women health, this is an opportunity for them to work as agents of change.

 RMM Personal Account:

Oloya Simon, 45 years old from Lapeta village, Pakwelo parish, Unyama Sub-County now a role model man shares his story. My wife is Agnes Oloya, I was a drunkard, wife beater, abusive and had never paid school fees for any of my 8 children. I called my wife names that brought a lot of shame and fear to her and would beat her even for going to the market claiming she was sleeping with other men as well as force her into sex any time even when she is not interested. I would not allow my wife to attend any community meetings. My wife joined Peko Rwede Peke group and started having trainings on women’s rights and gender equality from GWED-G amidst all the beatings she would receive after attending. One day, I decided to follow her and see what she does with the group that was when GWED-G had a training on GBV prevention and women’s rights. This touched me though I rejected to be part of the group, however, I was identified and the group with GWED-G support continued to talk to me until I was enrolled to become a RMM. I was then trained on the journey of transformation approach and went successfully through the 14 point criteria till I started realising positive change.

Simon’s wife Agnes says, “My husband is not violent now, he has stopped drinking. The changes in our family are significant and observable all because of being involved in the role model man trainings. Simon has even taken back our daughter to school, the one who had dropped out of primary six due to lack of school fees. She has currently completed her vocational skills training in hair dressing and is on apprenticeship while another is doing tailoring. I support women’s efforts, my home is now called a ‘home’ and I can proudly bring and welcome visitors. I feel overjoyed and happy”.