Karongi District, Western Province
Follwing the International Women's Day training last month, my counterparts decided to hold an ibiganiro (literally, a conversation, but means a ceremony that involves some kind of lesson and discussion) to teach the students about what they had learned. The ibiganiro lasted about an hour at the end of the day, and included good discussions about why there's a need to celebrate International Women's Day. At the end of the ceremony, however, boys still felt slighted. Even doing lessons about IWD and gender roles in class, boys can give the pat answers they've been taught about gender balance, but once challenged further, they reveal that they feel left out, threatened, or just scared about what it means for them. Boys see girls getting scholarships, sponsors, extra marks on exams, opportunities to participate in groups, camps and more. It doesn't seem fair. This isn't a new phenomenon of course, but it does pose questions of how we can better engage men and boys in discussions about female empowerment, development, and overall human rights.
Many development organizations have begun to work with co-ed groups to address this problem. By creating clubs and cooperatives for both men and women that provide life skills training and education about GBV and family relations through the lens of human rights, organizations hope to engage community members at a family level that isn't as off-putting to men. While I praise the efforts of these organizations and think they are doing fantastic work, I do believe strongly that there is still a need for women and girls to have their own space. I think GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) clubs and camps have been an enormous source of support and encouragement for the girls at my school, as well as a space to ask questions they would otherwise feel uncomfortable asking. Without boys in the room, girls feel safer to speak up, to voice their opinion, and talk openly about sex, health, families, hopes, and dreams. But where does this leave boys?
In Peace Corps, we have BE (Boys Excelling) clubs and camps to provide life skills education along with important information about HIV/AIDS, sexual health, and GBV. But many times, volunteers struggle with what to do with their boys' groups. And many boys can be resistant to some of the material – no one likes to be confronted with privilege nor do they like to be addressed as a perpetrator. The GAD committee is currently working on an updated BE curriculum that aims to better address these issues for boys. Too often, we forget how gender roles affect and constrain men as well. Too often, men are never educated about how issues that seem to pertain only to women affect their lives and well-being. And too often, the materials we have only address the bad things men do to women without diving deeper into the greater societal constructs that leads to that behavior.
And strong, empowered women can flourish better surrounded by educated, supportive men.