Coming from a GBV-response background in Sweden, I have listened to countless testimonies from women who have had their rights and integrity brutally and cold-heartedly taken away. Horrendous accountsinvolving the darkest actions of humankind, presented on a platter of
broken hearts and desperate minds. The common denominator? These acts of utter violence were all perpetrated by men. Men who in one way or another refused responsibility and punished help-seeking behaviors.
As months turned to years, my inner frustration slowly but steadily spilled over the entire male population like a bucket of ice cold contempt. It was as if I went through my days hearing the familiar voice from an Attenborough documentary exclaiming“Ah, the infamous male Homo Sapiens! It grows up to two meters tall. Carnivorous. Easily identifiable by its fragile ego. Wondrous at sight, but beware! It can lash out and kill at the smallest inconvenience.”And I couldn’t possibly wrapmy head around why non-violent men were not climbing the barricades of their friend circles, families, and communities roaring for change. My didactic observations concluded; men suck.
Arriving at RWAMREC, a proud member of RWAMNET and the MenEngage Alliance was, in theleast, an apocalypse. It was as if I had entered through a Narnia-like portal to a dimension in which men and thunder hollered for justice and humbled themselves under the rain of women’s eternal plights. As my world-view turned like a Swedish meatball in a frying pan, the questions I silently carried on my lips for the first weeks were; does it really work? Can men change? As trivial as that, but tragically honest from a young woman’s perspective.
My inner journey required three monthsof internship, a pinch of casual car-talks and cross-checks with ED and the Program Manager, a trip to Musanze-Eden of East Africa and crafted beer, and frightening amounts of ginger infused African tea. Then one day, as the bright Rwandan sun dawned in competition with my inner self, I could finally see it. I saw men fallen prey on their own selves, tripping over history of failed masculinities, and men refusing to accept the status-quo. Men who selflessly, genuinely, and for solid reasons spent overtime at the office and in the field. Personally convicted gender inclusive individuals who intelligently shared a feminist vision of social justice. It was virtually spiritual.
Today, I identify as a reformed feminist, convicted and baptized into the MenEngageapproach. Not merely because I can back up my stances with miles of research material in my support, but also because I have courageously taken a step of faith to envision a future in which men and women can work together for change. When my former colleague back in Sweden called me for some regular updates the other week (new clients at the shelter, yes rape and beatings during pregnancy, yes revengeful former husband) she paused, inhaled for a second, and distrustfully asked the questions that apparentlylinger on many female minds. So, does it really work? Can men change? By now you know my answer.