Muraho! I’d like to begin with a quick hello, and short introduction. My name is Caitie Gibbons, I’m one of GAD’s three new members elected in October from Health 4. Our training group arrived in Rwanda May 2012; we are the fourth group of health volunteers, and the seventh training group total in country. I’m thrilled to be part of the PC Rwanda GAD committee, and am greatly looking forward to working together in the upcoming year.
Last week I participated in my first camp. It was a BE camp (Boys Excelling), a PC Rwandan youth development club focused for boys. When I first heard about BE back in September I was hesitant to jump on board. My background seriously lacks any boys’ education, or boys’ development work. I’ve also worked with girls so much in the past that breaching to the other side gave me a fear-of-the-unknown type feeling.
Mulling the opportunity over, the importance of working with boys became clear to me. While the answer may be obvious to some, it took me some time to realize this: boys’ development is as essential as girls. After all, how can we achieve gender equality in Rwanda (and elsewhere) if we only educate the girls? Both sides need to understand the importance of empowering their own gender and each other; both sides need to be equal. Without the boys understanding what gender equality is, and why it is important, how can we achieve it?
With my new mindset I jumped on board with Camp BE, ready and willing to empower and educate. BE camp was an amazing experience for me for several different reasons, but it also opened my eyes to the Rwandan male perception.
At camp I taught a class on Relationship Building and Partnering in Gender Equality. During the class there was a list of scenarios asking boys what they would do in certain situations. The goal of these scenarios was to open different discussions with each other on gender equality. Scenarios included: your wife gets sick and is unable to cook, clean, take care of children, what do you do? Or, you want to have sex with your girlfriend but she does not, what do you do? Etc. I encouraged boys to think that there was no right or wrong answer. I wasn’t looking for a popcorn fluffy response on what teacher wanted to hear. The scenario that got the most attention and appall was: your wife wants to be president someday. She is a leader in her community, and loves to lead. It is her goal and her dream in life. How do you respond to her goal?
The most common responses were (verbatim):
- According to culture, it is not good. The husband has responsibility of taking care of family (financially).
- No you cannot support her. If she becomes president she will have a lot of money and no respect for you (her husband).
- You can converse about culture and ask her if she respects the culture, if she respects culture then she will understand no woman should be higher in the relationship then the husband.
They came from boys between the ages of fourteen and twenty-five. And yes, it broke my heart when one of my favorite students, who I brought to camp, stood up in class and said no he would not support her, or would want his wife to be a leader.
This is the current male perception of woman and their role in the culture. For women to be successful, and make more money than their husbands is more often than not seen as having bad culture.
I tried to stay as neutral as I could during the class discussion. But lets be real, I went to an all girls high school that started pumping feminism into me at age fourteen. My final plea to my students was for them to communicate with their partners about their goals and dreams before marriage, and to reevaluate the relationship according to what each other wanted from life. To have an open mind, and understanding of what their partners want from life. A woman is not a machine, a relationship should be equal, and respected by both parties.
These discussions (and eye openers for myself) are why I am passionate about gender development and support BE and GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) camps and clubs. So I encourage you, in whatever area you work in, and wherever you are to create and continue the discussion.