Taking on toxic masculinity in Rwanda
Societal attitudes about what it means to be ‘male’ or ‘female’ shape how boys and girls grow up into men and women. Those who do not fit into societal expectations of how a man or women should think and behave, can be excluded, oppressed or ridiculed. This causes many men and women to change their attitudes and actions over time, in order to fit more easily into the world. These societal expectations, often called ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity’ have harmful and polarising consequences for everyone. Dominant masculinity in many cultures encourages male violence, dominance and absence of emotion, while encouraging female subservience, chastity and caregiving.
While gender equality programmes around the world are dedicated to freeing women from the confines of ‘femininity’, so they may go to school, achieve equal pay and run for positions of power, there are less dedicated to freeing men from the confines of masculinity, so that they may freely express their emotions without violence and escape the burden of being the sole provider and protector.
The Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (RWAMREC) was created by nine men who recognised the problems of gender inequality in their society, particularly violence against women, 90% of which was perpetrated by men, and that all discussions about gender equality were dominated by women, failing to engage men or address the central role of masculinity. They created RWAMREC to promote positive masculine behaviours and practices for men’s health and well being; engage men in ending men’s violence against women and children and themselves; and support women’s empowerment in all spheres of life.
They assert that men are naturally loving, caring and believe in non-violent, non-abusive, and non-controlling means of solving problems and conflicts. RWAMREC conducts sensitisation and education programmes, media campaigns, public lectures and mentoring to engage men and youth in Gender based violence (GBV) prevention, positive masculinity and positive attitudes towards women in daily life. Their school outreach programs against GBV aim to involve as many teenage boys as possible, focusing on techniques that encourage them to confront their peer’s attitudes about sex and violence.
"Usually when you talk about the gender issue, people consider it's a women's issue. But you can't achieve gender equality if men aren't on board," said Fidèle Rutayisire, chairman of RWAMREC, "It's easier for men to be changed by peers rather than by women."
Their MenCare programme teaches expectant and young fathers about parenting, reproductive and maternal health and couples communication. When Theoneste Nibatuze participated in the programme, he soon took his lessons home and began helping with housework, much to his wife’s surprise. He washed dishes and socks that he previously left in the basin for her to clean. He even pounded and cooked cassava and added vegetables and peanuts to meals to add nutrients for his pregnant wife. At first his wife was uncomfortable with this change, and was challenged by her sister and mother-in-law. But eventually the changes became a long lasting part of their family life. Nibatuze has now bonded more with the family. If he is away, his son asks for him. "Now he is enjoying the care of both parents," he said.
RWAMREC is making huge strides to reduce violence against women, by engaging with men and teaching non-violent solutions to conflict. By encouraging men to empathise with women and share responsibility of unpaid labour, they are creating happier and healthier family life.