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Real-Women’s Initiative on Gender & Masculinity Engaging Young Men and Redefining Masculinity

Real-Women’s Initiative select youths -- from colleges and low-income urban communities, possessing leadership skills and creative potential, sensitize them and intensely train them to communicate with their peers and other young men on gender, healthy relationships, masculinity and sexuality-related matters.

Photo of Dr. Mike Iyanro
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To address the root cause of the problem, focused, long-term efforts promoting men’s involvement (simultaneously with women’s empowerment) are required at various levels. Men have to be involved not as supporters (or do-gooders) but as ‘partners’ and ‘stakeholders.’ And they would be seriously involved only if they are convinced that the problem affects them equally, that it is a problem of both the genders. While men have been earlier involved actively in numerous programs for women’s empowerment across Africa, there were no platforms to examine ‘gender issues’ as equally ‘men’s issues’.
Real-Women’s Initiative on Gender & Masculinity Engaging Young Men and Redefining Masculinity will select youth -- from colleges and peri-urban and urban communities, possessing leadership skills and creative potential, and they will be sensitized and intensively trained to communicate with their peers and other young men on gender, healthy relationships, masculinity and sexuality-related matters. Through experiential learning, personal dialogue and revisiting formation of gender norms, the core group of male youths (after receiving intensive training on the subject through varied, innovative ways) will be able to engage their peers and many other young men in their respective regions.
The trained communicators will be able to provide safe, non-threatening platforms (physical and psychological) to many young men to comfortably unwind, open up, communicate, share their fears, thoughts, dilemmas and concerns, get exposed to newer ideas on men and masculinity, self-introspect on a wide range of Sexual Health, Man - Woman Relationships and other gender matters. And in the process of collectively addressing gender matters, they will be evolving and promoting alternative, positive models of masculinity that are gender-equitable.

Explain your idea in one sentence.

The main focus of this project is to see young men as change agents, taking ownership of issues (which have been largely seen over the years as women's issues). Bringing them up as a major force in addressing issues of violence against women, as ‘partners’ in the movement for a gender-equitable society.

What is the need you are trying to solve?

Gender-based violence against women is both a human rights as well as a public health concern, associated with serious consequences for women’s health. Over the years, gender issues – including gender-based violence against women have been seen largely as ‘‘women’s issues’’ by women’s organizations, other developmental activists and governmental bodies. In Nigeria, traditional efforts to tackle gender-based violence against women have concentrated on empowering women to assert themselves and prevent violence. This approach totally isolates and insulates men from the process of transformation and keeps them embedded in their patriarchal mould. Patriarchy, apart from disadvantaging women, brings with it a set of behavioral norms and responsibilities that hinders men from expressing their fears, problems and vulnerabilities. Men, often become violent, aggressive, and uncaring due to patriarchal modes of socialization that moulds their psyche. Images of masculinity in society are linked to being strong and violent, and to notions that men with ‘power’ are ‘real men’. The situation necessitates efforts that address how men can analyze perceptions of masculinity and create appropriate alternatives. There is a woeful dearth of safe platforms to talk about problems that give rise to violent behavior, including those relating to issues of gender and sexuality. There is also an equal need for positive role models among men, who assert a gender-sensitive society and can engage young men in the discourse. While the importance of changing norms and attitudes relating to masculinity is widely accepted, there have been few sustained efforts at changing these norms. There is an urgent need to challenge perceptions of dominant forms of masculinity in men at a young age. Gender-based violence is a wider social issue that affects not only women’s health ((physical, mental, sexual and reproductive) and well-being, it also affects men’s health and sexuality, relationships, their self-esteem and the ability to channelize their potential.

Who will benefit from this idea and how would you monitor its success?

The Project aims at reaching out to specifically young men, age-group of 18 - 30 years, from colleges, peri-urban and urban communities, in select districts of the developing world. As of now, it has reached out to over 5,000 young men and 2,000 young women in Nigeria. It plans to reach out to more than 100,000 more Young men in the next 2 years.

Who would be best equipped to implement this idea in the real world? You? Your organisation? Another organisation or entity?

Anyone passionate about change can implement this strategy. In Nigeria, presently we are looking to scale in partnership with NGOs and community organizations over the coming year.

Where should this idea be implemented?

This idea is particularly targeting at risk communities around the world. we believe we need to engage men more in the fight against gender base violence.

How might you prototype this idea and test some of the assumptions behind it?

The initiative can begin with selection of young men from among colleges and universities having leadership skills and creative potential. After selection, they will be intensively trained as ‘Communicators’ for a year. A wide range of youth-friendly and cost-effective media like interactive workshops featuring group-discussions, games, awareness songs, posters, film-screenings, street-theatre, exposure-visits, youth-festivals, debates and attractive wall-newspapers (monthly, every issue focusing on one gender theme) will be used as part of the intensive one-year training.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Michael, very nice idea. I truly believe that awareness and education is crucial in changing perceptions and behaviors and starting with young men is a great start.

In its attempt to change mindsets through dialogue, it reminded me of the idea of Melchior

It reminded me also of a video interview on changing men's mindsets in India:

The person interviewed explains how he changed his mind after participating to a workshop which from the video seemed play-based (check video at 1:37).

I also like the idea to make the program sustainable by having participants in the program becoming trainers too.

I was not sure what you have already piloted and what you are planning to develop.
You wrote:
"As of now, it has reached out to over 5,000 young men and 2,000 young women in Nigeria. It plans to reach out to more than 100,000 more Young men in the next 2 years."

This is an impressive reach! Have these young men gone into the program described in this idea? Were these mixed groups?

Photo of Dr. Mike Iyanro

Thank Anne. My organization initiated this program 4 years ago in an attempt to get more men in northern Nigeria to allow there wives accept immunization. This region of Nigeria is filled with cultural and religious beliefs which makes a lot of men stop their wives from receiving immunization for their children. At the same time there are reports of domestic abuse here and there. With this we launched this program with the support of the council elders who helped us to mobilize there people. We further establish clubs in schools across four northern states where we train young men to understand what it takes to be women's keepers. So far so good we have been able to arrive at those statistics base on feed backs we get from the field. However, we had few challenges in the region right now base on the unrest caused by Bokoharam insurgence. However, we hope peace restore quickly so we can continue on this project. In addition, we are looking into expanding the program more into other parts of the country has we have a pole of over 300 volunteers spread across.

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Thanks Michael for this detailed explanation, which complements my knowledge of the context you are working with. What you've achieved with this program and the other initiatives you shared with us on the platform is really impressive.

Photo of Dr. Mike Iyanro

Many thanks for your kind words and support. Looking forward to working with you.