It is known that development programs aiming at empowering vulnerable women are likely to increase the risk of sexual and gender based violence, as a form of backlash by men and communities. To prevent such risk, the Gender Equality and Women Empowerment Program in Rwanda-known as GEWEP- has been consistently engaging men and local leaders, in order to create a conducive environment for rural women to be economically empowered, able to take decision about their income and live a life which is free from violence. The program is implemented in all districts of the Southern Province and aims at empowering socially, economically and politically 173,000 vulnerable women and girls.
With funding from the Norwegian Government, the GEWEP program is coordinated by CARE Rwanda, and implemented in collaboration with a consortium including African Evangelical Enterprises (AEE), Pro-femmes Twese Hamwe and the Rwanda Men’s Resource centre (RWAMREC). While AEE and Pro-femmes focus mainly on the women’s empowerment component through the Village Saving and Loan Associations (known as VSLAs), RWAMREC is in charge of engaging the women’s husbands, in order to promote gender equality and prevent SGBV.
RWAMREC does this using the three following approaches:
1- the Journey of Transformation (JoT), which is a 17-week-long training program for couples. Women in VSLAs and their husbands are taken through different sessions, in which they learn how to challenge rigid gender roles and norms, to create a more equal relationship among spouses and a healthier and ultimately more prosperous family;
2- the Community Activism Model: some women and men trained through the JoT are selected to become Community Activists (CAs) and receive extra gender training. They become a network of local activists able to sensitize their communities about basic concepts in gender and power, and who can support other families in conflict resolution. The CAs - together with other couples in the communities reached out by them-create Men Engage Clubs at the local level, to keep discussing and addressing cases of family conflict and SGBV within their own communities.
3- Opinion leaders, including local leaders and religious leaders are also regularly engaged at the local level, to make sure they support the work of the CAs and the ME clubs, in fighting and prevent SGBV.
By working with men and community members, RWAMREC intends to challenge social and gender norms that might hamper the results of women’s empowerment initiatives. By engaging men, RWAMREC has the important task to ensure that women's empowerment is supported by their own husbands, families, and communities. Gender equality becomes everyone’s concern and business and can be sustained over time!