Working at The Rwanda Men's Resource Centre (RWAMREC), with its role in promoting gender equality and transforming negative masculinity, was such an unforgettable experience in my life.
Learning about engaging men and gender transformative approaches was one of the most memorable times I have ever had. While I was there, I witnessed and learned how men can become more involved in unpaid care work, especially in RWAMREC Bandebereho program that encourages men to be supportive partners to their expectant wives and to care about their children under five.
There were times when we would film success stories from the field, of men who had actually transformed. I heard stories from men who had changed their attitudes towards unpaid care work, and taken steps to do their share at home.
When I attended an event intended to introduce local leaders in Musanze to this program, I remember a man who shared how this change enormously improved relationships with his family and the wider community, and that he now sees its value. However, in the beginning, it was not easy:
"We live in the same compound as my mother and one morning she saw me cleaning the dishes outside my house, which surprised her; she said married men don't do much, she kept saying that my wife had used some "traditional medicine on me," which was why I was acting strangely."
He persistently maintained that it didn't stop him, but the wife was also attacked and blamed for not being “the good wife”. As a result, they were shunned by the community and their own family.
"My wife and I did not stop until a team from RWAMREC kept visiting our village to offer some sessions to other couples, and most couples who thought of my behaviors as “strange” eventually got to understand that men should take part in unpaid care work,"
Let me just say the RWAMREC experience was quite beneficial, and it was inspirational to learn about how men's involvement in unpaid care duties can be a powerful tool to promote gender equality. By the way, while my spouse and I are talking today, I can obviously smell both the positive and negative aspects of masculinity in our own conversations, actions, and our daily routines. Personally, I think it is an amazing thing to be able to detect all that ha!
RWAMREC’s work is clearly necessary for the health and well-being of families and the larger community, and I am confident that sustained efforts to encourage men in this area will benefit everyone. I was also able to work with the Rwanda Men Engage Network (RWAMNET), which is a network of different local NGOs applying the MEn Engage approach in their work, coordinated by RWAMREC. This allowed me to learn about the network's distinctive principles that it teaches men. I had the luxury of attending numerous community meetings and activities, and I developed a greater appreciation for the organizations that have joined forces to include men and young boys in the march toward gender equality. Through their interventions, I've seen how men and women work together to promote gender equality and the establishment of strong, healthy communities.
But when it’s all said and done, one unsolved question will keep me interested in men and unpaid care work. The majority of these measures are working well in other provinces of Rwanda. Men in the city must still change some social standards. How will this be accomplished? What are our options? The city has the highest concentration of men who haven't gotten to the point of appreciating and taking part in unpaid care work. Can we intend to adapt and extend these programs to engage and reach the "urban guy", i.e. our own husbands?