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MRI in Philippines
View of Manila from retreat center
MRI's Steven Botkin Co-Leads International Gender-Sensitive Active Non-Violence Training in Manila

Photo: View of Manila from retreat center.

Arrival in the Philippines

Hartford to Washington DC; DC to San Francisco; San Francisco to Manila (refueling in Guam). A total of 30 hours of transit and 12 hours of time difference highlights the fact that I really am on the other side of the world from the East Coast of the United States.

I landed in Manila at 5 am on Inauguration Day for the new President of the Philippines, Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III (son of Senator and martyr Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr. and former President Corazon Aquino.) It is a national holiday and the streets of Manila were uncharacteristically empty of traffic as I traveled to the retreat center on a beautiful hilltop outside of the city.

It is here that the 19 men from 17 countries in Central America, Africa, Asia and Europe will gather again for the second Gender-Sensitive Active Non-Violence Training: Exploring Masculinities, Violence and Peacebuilding. Designed and organized by the Women's Peacemakers Program (WPP) of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, in December I co-facilitated the first training for this group in the Netherlands (see their collective statement: "Together for Transformation". In the intervening six months, the men used the strategies and skills from the first training in their home contexts to develop ally relationships with women and conduct trainings in their communities. Trainings on gender-sensitive active non-violence were conducted for youth leaders in Kenya, Nicaragua and the Philippines, peace activists in Ghana and Liberia, religious leaders in Fiji, journalist in Nepal, and traditional leaders in Pakistan, among others. The Congo Men's Resource Centre was formed (with technical assistance from the Rwanda Men's Resource Centre), as was the Centre on Research and Training on field of Gender and Development in Burundi.

I have arrived two days before the second training will begin to make final preparations, recover from jet lag and adjust to the new time zone. The large building, filled with dormitory style rooms and meeting spaces, is surrounded by lush forest and bamboo groves with hidden paths and patios (perfect for tai chi). All of my visits to Africa have helped me acclimate to the tropical weather and modest facilities (no hot water).

Tonight, the director of a national Filipino non-violence organization, AKKAPKA (which stands for "the radical response to violence: the power of truth, the power of love, the power of justice") will take Isabelle and José from WPP and me out to participate in some of the inauguration day parties.

Tomorrow, my co-facilitator, Patricia Ackerman, will arrive from the U.S. (after bad weather delayed her travel by 24 hours), and training participants will begin to arrive. The reunions will be poignant and there will be many stories to share. I am honoured to play a role in building this global network of community activists, organizers and trainers for violence prevention, gender equality and positive masculinity.

- Steven Botkin

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Springfield Launches MOCA Initiative (Men of Color Health Awareness)

Note: An official Press Conference will be held at 11:00 am on Friday, June 11 on the steps of City Hall in Springfield, MA to outline the goals and strategies of MOCHA. The public is welcomed and encouraged to attend. Reception to follow the announcement. For more information, visit

Springfield, MA — The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has awarded community collaboration with a grant of $250,000 to reduce the health disparities among men of color in the City of Springfield.

Based upon a 2007 report by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Blacks and Latinos, men and women, suffer from higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, violence, obesity, HIV/AIDS, hypertension, substance abuse, asthma and pre-mature mortality (death before 75) than the overall state averages and their White counterparts. A community-wide initiative to reduce these health disparities among men of color was developed in collaboration with: Black Leadership Alliance, Black Men of Greater Springfield, Caring Health Center, City of Springfield Department of Health and Human Services, Community Health Centers — Baystate Medical Center, Greater Springfield Pro-Am Basketball League, Jewish Family Service, Mason Square Health Task Force, Mason Square Vet Outreach Center, Men's Resources International, Partners for a Healthier Community, Inc., New North Citizens Council, North End Campus Coalition, South End Community Center, Tapestry, TSM Design, Western Massachusetts Center for Healthy Communities and YMCA of Greater Springfield, Inc. (lead agency).

This effort known as MOCHA, which is an acronym for Men of Color Health Awareness, was developed in concert with a focus group of more than fifty (50) men of color, ranging in age from 18 to 71. MOCHA will provide a concrete health and wellness curriculum that seeks to supports healthy lifestyles through a lens of positive manhood. This community-based program will begin on July 1, 2010 and continue thereafter for a period of two years. The ultimate goal of MOCHA is to improve of the health and spiritual well-being of more 500 men of color and loved ones.

Helen R. Caulton Harris, Director of the Division of Health and Human Services for the City of Springfield, says: "The Springfield Department of Health and Human Services is pleased to be a partner with the YMCA, and its many community partners, in this effort to mobilize men of color to live healthy lifestyles. This initiative is critical because it serves as a catalyst for behavior changes that will prolong the lives of men of color."

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MRI "Be A Man" Workshop
Young Men's Leadership Institute
Men's Resources International in partnership with Community Youth presents Be A Man! An Introductory Workshop for Young Men and Young Women

February 17 18, 2010

Be A Man! An Introductory Workshop for Young Men and Young Women
Presented by MRI and Community Youth

Join us for this FREE dynamic workshop in Mason Square for youth who want to learn new perspectives on violence prevention, healthy relationships and community activism. FREE FOOD AND RAFFLE!

The Young Men’s and Young Women’s Leadership Institute will be an opportunity for young men and young women from Springfield, Massachusetts to receive training and coaching to become violence prevention advocates and role models for gender equality.


  • Wednesday, February 17, 2010, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm.
  • Thursday, February 18, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm.


  • Tapestry Health, 365 Bay Street, Springfield, MA 01109


  • James Arana (MRI associate director) has 30 years of community work experience in the Bronx, western Massachusetts and Africa
  • Steven Botkin (MRI executive director) has 30 years of men’s work experience in western Massachusetts and Africa


  • Applications for participation are due by February 5.
  • Printable applications can be downloaded here. (PDF)

For more information or to have an application sent to you by fax or postal mail, please contact James Arana at

This program is funded in part by the Mason Square Health Task Force.

Together for Transformation Training in Netherlands
Welcome sign in many languages.
19 men from 17 conflict and post-conflict countries participated in a 2-week training on Masculinity, Violence and Peacebuilding. The training was co-facilitated by MRI's Steven Botkin and Patricia Ackerman, and was sponsored by the International Fellowship of Reconciliation's Women's Peacemakers Program (WPP).

30 November 2009: A welcome sign reflects the diverse languages and cultures of the particiapnts.

Overcoming Violence Exploring Masculinities, Violence and Peace

The Women Peacemakers Program (WPP) — is convinced that in order to transform cultures of war and violence, women peace activists need to work together with male allies. In light of this, the WPP organized a Training of Trainers Program for men, entitled "Overcoming Violence - Exploring Masculinities, Violence and Peace".

From 30 November through 11 December, 19 male peacemakers and allies for gender equality from 17 conflict and post-conflict countries around the world participated in the two week training. The training was held in Egmond aan Zee in the Netherlands and was co-facilitated by MRI's Steven Botkin and Patricia Ackerman. This historic gathering will be followed by "gender-sensitive active non-violence" initiatives implemented in each of the home communities, and a follow-up training in July 2010.

A first powerful outcome of the training is the following statement produced by the ToT trainees to affirm their commitment to gender-sensitive peacebuilding.

Together for Transformation: A Call to Men and Boys

On the occasion of International Human Rights Day, December 10, 2009 we 19 men from 17 countries coming from Africa, Asia, Europe, America, the Middle East and the Pacific gathered here in Egmond aan Zee in the Netherlands for a Training of Trainers on Gender-Sensitive Active Nonviolence, organised by the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, its Women Peacemakers Program, collectively draft this document and express our commitments towards this statement/call.

We understand that men and women are socialised in a patriarchal system that legitimises use of different forms of violence to gain, restore and control power affecting powerless and marginalized sections of society. We fully acknowledge that women suffer far more than men from gender oppression.

We understand and recognize that women have always been active agents of change. Women worldwide are standing up against all forms of discrimination and violence to bring social and gender justice and peace to the world. Some men are standing as allies with women’s struggles and notions of dominant masculinities across cultures have posed challenges for gender equality and social justice. Both men and women are suffering in this system and they need to join hands to bring about transformative change. Men also have much to gain in health, general wellbeing and safety through this change.

We believe that all individuals have equal human rights irrespective of their gender, origin, nationality, age, religion, caste, class, race, colour, occupation, physical and mental abilities, and sexualities. All human beings have the right to a dignified life free of threat and discrimination. We assert our commitments to all international conventions and declarations, especially The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Economics Social and Cultural Rights, UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, UN Security Council Resolution 1325, 1820, 1888 and 1889. These need to be fully implemented in their true spirit and further steps need to be taken to improve policies and programs pertaining to women and gender justice.

We strongly speak out against gender inequality and discrimination towards women in all forms and show our deep commitment towards gender sensitive active nonviolence as a way of life. We are inspired by and committed to this work and the prospect of change in our lives and in our societies. We believe in people’s capacity to bring transformative change in nonviolent ways.

Therefore we call on all men and boys to:

• Adopt gender-sensitive Active Nonviolence as a way of solving problems

• End violence against women in any form

• Engage in constructive dialogue with women

• Provide space for equal and meaningful participation of women in private and public spheres including peace building processes

• Stop militarising resistance and peace processes

• Promote policies that bring dignity to all people

We call on men and boys to join us on this journey.

Gender Sensitive Active Non Violent Men
Women Peacemakers Program Training of Trainers

Egmond aan Zee, The Netherlands
December 10, 2009

Alphonse Ilot Muthaka
PEREXC: Mentoring Program and Socio Economic Reinsertion of Former Combatants
Democratic Republic of Congo

Alimou Diallo
West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP)

Anand Pawar
SAMYAK – A Communication and Resource Center

Ali Gohar
Just Peace International
Peshawar, Pakistan

Babar Bashir

Christian Ngendahimana
Fountain-Isoko for Good Governance and Integrated Development

Kapil Kafle
Institute of Human Rights Communication

Nixon Nembaware

Otim Tonny
Teso Women Peace Activists

Oluoch Dola
Active Non Violent Movement in Kenya

Owen Murozvi
Zimbabwe Council of Churches
Harare, Zimbabwe

Paulo Baleinakodawa
Pacific Center for Peacebuilding
Fiji Islands

Rob Fairmichael

Ruben Reyes Jiron
The Masculinity and Gender Equality Network

Samuel D. Darpolor
West Africa Network for Peace Building/

Sivarajah Bagerathan
Sri Lanka

Sothea Sak
Phnom Penh - Cambodia

Siad Darwish
Permanent Peace Movement
Beirut – Lebanon

Valtimore B. Fenis
Mindanao Peoples Peace Movement (MPPM)
Alyansa ng Kabataang Mindanao para sa Kapayapaan (AKMK)
Mindanao, Philippines

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Iran regime depicts male student in chador as shaming tactic
Young Men's Leadership Institute

A state media image depits Majid Tavakoli, the student activist arrested in Iran, wearing a chador and headscarf.
Treatment of Ahmadinejad critic backfires as his sympathisers post similar images of themselves on Facebook

The images are incongruous and unconvincing: a young man with heavy stubble looks shame-faced while forced to pose wearing Islamic chador and maghnaeh, the female headscarf.

The images were published by Iran's state-run media in an attempt to humiliate one of the theocratic regime's harshest critics, Majid Tavakoli, a student activist arrested last Monday in the latest demonstrations against the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Now the pictures have provoked an angry backlash from Ahmadinejad's opponents who claim they display his government's vindictiveness and contempt for women.

The semi-official Fars news agency reported that Tavakoli was arrested while trying to escape dressed as a woman after giving a speech at Tehran's Amir Kabir University. It posted his photo beside an image of the former Iranian president, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, who reportedly fled the country in female disguise after falling from official favour in 1981.

But far from discrediting Tavakoli, the move appears to have backfired by boosting his standing in the opposition movement.

A campaign on Facebook has seen more than 80 men expressing solidarity by posting pictures of themselves wearing hijabs and chadors. Similar displays of support have surfaced on Twitter. 

But the most daring mockery of the regime has appeared on a spoof website,, which depicts faked images of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wearing female dress.

Tavakoli was arrested after travelling to Tehran from Bandar Abbas to attend last Monday's student-day demonstrations, which were marked by clashes between activists and security forces. He has spent two previous spells in jail and was among a group of students arrested and allegedly tortured in 2007 following a demonstration that disrupted a visit by Ahmadinejad to Amir Kabir University the previous year. Human rights groups say he was beaten and tortured after his latest arrest.

UN's Network of Men Works to End Violence Against Women

Ban Ki-Moon  
UN chief Ban Ki-moon introduces a Network of Men Leaders to act as male role models in a campaign opposing violence against women.

24 November 2009: International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
UN chief Ban Ki-moon has unveiled a Network of Men Leaders to act as male role models in a campaign opposing violence against women. He urged all men to join the campaign, saying about 70% of women experience some form of physical or sexual violence from men. November 25th is the International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women, and this year marks the 10th anniversary of the founding of the day.

The 14 men currently in the network include Spanish PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho and Norwegian Justice Minister Knut Storberget are also among those chosen for the new list. They had all demonstrated a commitment to oppose violence against women, said Mr Ban, adding that the group was expected to grow. "These men will add their voices to the growing global chorus for action," he said.

Speaking at the UN headquarters in New York, the secretary-general called on men and boys around the world to join the campaign. "Break the silence," he said. "When you witness violence against women and girls, do not sit back. Act. Advocate. Unite to change the practices and attitudes that incite, perpetrate and condone this violence."

He said it was unacceptable that so many women experienced some form of physical or sexual violence from men - mostly from their husbands, intimate partners, or someone they knew. Men must teach each other that real men do not violate or oppress women - and that a woman's place is not just in the home or in the fields but in schools, offices and boardrooms.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African Nobel Peace Laureate, said: "You are a weak man if you use your physical superiority to assault and brutalise women. I will continue fighting until the end of my days for the right of women and girls to live a life free from violence and abuse."

To learn more, visit

MRI in Rwanda: Summer 2009
July 1 blog entry | July 2 | July 3 | July 7 |

photo from 2008 Springfield Training
MRI Executive Director, Steven Botkin visits a coffee cooperative in rural Rwanda

Back in Rwanda

July 1, 2009

After the long plane journey (through Detroit, Amsterdam and Entebbe), I arrived late last night in Kigali. Fidel and his wife, Christine, greeted me at the airport with big smiles and warm embraces. The lights of the city draped over the hills also welcomed me back.

It was only three years ago that Fidel Rutayisire, a young human rights activist, inspired by the Men’s Resources International website, sent us the following email:

“I really appreciate your great work and I am ready to work with you in order to achieve your noble mission. I am a human right activist, Rwandan by nationality and I want to join you. The purpose of this communication is to request you whether I can represent you in Rwanda.” 

With encouragement from MRI, Fidel recruited other men to serve as the steering committee for the formation of the Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (RWAMREC). They moved quickly to write a constitution and become recognized as a formal organization.

In November 2006, MRI sponsored Fidel to attend the Engaging Men in Eliminating Gender-Based Violence training we were conducting in Nigeria. [Read blog entries from Nigeria training here.] At the end of the three days, he stood and proclaimed, we must have this training in Rwanda!

Ten months later, James and I (along with our colleague, Adin Thayer) were in Kigali conducting the first MRI training in Rwanda for a group of 30 men and women members of RWAMREC. A year after that, MRI and RWAMREC collaborated on providing a similar training for rural coffee farmers, women and men who were members of a coffee cooperative called COOPAC. [Read blog entries here.] Supported in part by Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee , and accompanied founder and president, Dean Cycon, the experience demonstrated the power of this training and the value of these collaborations.

Based on these experiences, RWAMREC is now part of a four country study (Rwanda, Brazil, India and Chile) of the implementation and impacts of male engagement programs funded by the United Nations Trust Fund. In Rwanda the program is focusing on expanding the work with more coffee cooperatives, and MRI is providing training and technical assistance for this project.

In a very short time, the Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre, with Fidel’s leadership and support from MRI, has become a leading organization nationally and an international role model in this field. In January 2008 RWAMREC launched an online petition to show that men around the world are ready to publicly denounce the ongoing gender-based violence occurring in Kenya during the post-election violence. In June 2008 RWAMREC, with support from the United Nations Development Program, convened a meeting of organizations in Rwanda interested in engaging men where a national network was formed, an action plan was developed, and RWAMREC was elected as the first secretariat. 

So, now I am back in Rwanda for the third time. (On this trip, I’m alone). RWAMREC has adapted the MRI training and conducted it with two other coffee cooperatives. Beginning tomorrow I will attend a training with farmers from yet another cooperative. The MRI training handbook has been translated into Kinyarwanda (the indigenous language), and I look forward to seeing the program when James and I are not facilitating.

In connection,
Steven Botkin

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Dukundekawa Coffee Cooperative

Akagera River, Rwanda

July 2, 2009

Our early departure today meant waking at 5:15 am (which is really crazy because that s 11:15 pm at my home). The drive out of the capital with my five traveling companions, Leon, Emmanuel, Jean Claude, Napoléon, Charles - all members of the Rwanda Men's Resource Centre, quickly became a slow trek on a very rough dirt road. We followed the large and powerful looking Akagera River, and I learned that this is a source for the Nile. With a humorless laugh, Leon told me that during the genocide thousands of bodies were thrown into the river "as the fastest way to get the Tutsis back to their homeland (Abyssynia)."

For the last leg of the journey we climbed steeply into the Rwandan hills. Perched atop one of these is the town of Musasa and the Dukundekawa Coffee Cooperative.

We spent the day with 42 men and women farmers and officers from this cooperative squeezed together on hard benches in a very small open-air meeting room (sitting in a circle was out of the question). Our three-day training agenda was being squeezed into two days because Saturday is Rwanda's Liberation Day holiday. And, of course, my inability to speak Kinyarwanda added to the challenges of the day.

And yet, the people listened with great interest as we introduced the idea of men and women as partners in ending gender-based violence and creating healthy families. They engaged thoughtfully in the examples of violence brainstorm, and the discussion about impacts of violence on victims, witnesses and perpetrators. And they listened with rapt attention to the story of the little boy's journey to manhood. After lunch, Leon did an engaging and interactive presentation about the new Rwandan GBV law.

Much of the original MRI training is not being included, however, we are addressing the essentials and the participants are attentive, interested and involved. I look forward to seeing what tomorrow brings.

In connection,
Steven Botkin

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Second day in Musasa

Leon leading a training session.

July 3, 2009

Standing in front of the convent where we spent the night, I watched the people of Musasa beginning their day — children in school uniforms, women with babies on their backs and bundles on their heads, young men walking hand in hand, all greeting me with smiles, waves, and the words "mwaramutse" (good morning).

Our second (and last) day of training was another moving confirmation of the power of this work, in spite of the challenges of setting, time, and language. We continued to examine the question raised yesterday — "If men are born naturally loving, caring and desiring connection, what happens to make us violent and dominating?" We asked participants to say what comes to mind when they hear the phrase "be a man," and they identified many positive characteristics of masculinity. But when we asked if there were any of these qualities that had negative consequences both the women and men quickly and easily engaged in an insightful critical analysis.

We reflected on how boys and men use the "ticket" of masculinity as a way to feel powerful, and how it is possible to be powerful in ways that do not use domination or violence. After identifying listening to women as a very powerful skill for men, we invited women to talk about how it feels to live with gender-based violence and what they want from men, while men listened without speaking. The structured dialogue that follows this process, a unique aspect of the MRI training, is always a profound experience for both the men and the women. The discussion explored the courage that it takes to express feelings of love and connection and speak out about violence, and ended with spontaneous personal commitments to change from many of the men in the group.

After lunch, each of the three zones of the coffee cooperative met to develop action plans for how they could promote changes in awareness and behavior within their community. These included organizing clubs and cooperatives, meeting with community leaders, and conducting trainings. RWAMREC pledged to provide support for these follow-up activities. We ended the training in a large circle, feeling the power of women and men standing shoulder-to-shoulder as equals to make significant change in their families, community and country.

In connection,
Steven Botkin

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The Journey Continues...

July 7, 2009

Since returning to Kigali, I’ve been busy with many meetings and cultural events. Saturday, July 4th is Liberation Day in Rwanda. 15 years ago the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) gained control of Kigali, from the government that had been fomenting the genocide.

Watching the ceremonies in the national stadium on television was very moving for me. The government has done many amazing things since that time, guiding the country as victims and perpetrators are reintegrated at every level of society, created a legislature with the largest percentage of women in the world (more than half), promoted economic development, poverty and crime reduction while developing environmental protection policies. If the government can be a force for peace in the Congo, and allow for a peaceful transition of leadership when President Kagame’s term expires in 2017 they will truly be great.

On Saturday afternoon I attended a dowry ceremony for Fidel’s sister-in-law, a delightful event filled with traditional Rwandan singing and dancing, playful banter between the two families, and the gifting of cows to the family of the bride-to-be. And on Sunday Emmanuel took me to his church (each of us riding on motorcycle taxis!) where I experienced the uplifting spirit of a Pentecostal evangelical Rwandan service.

Monday morning Fidel took me to a women’s organization that provides support for vulnerable women and orphans throughout the country where I delivered a donation from a feminist Jewish women’s group in the United States. We then met with David Bucora from the Friends Church (Quakers) in Rwanda (thanks to a connection from colleagues in the U.S.). Fidel and David had a lively discussion about the potential for collaboration between the programs of the Friends Peace House and the Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre, and we arranged for a meeting with their staff the next day. This was followed by deep and personal conversations with Emmanuel and Jean Claude (a member of his church) about Christianity, Jews, Rwandans and genocide, and dinner with Napoléon.

Today Emmanuel and I went to the Kigali Institute of Education for a meeting about the new program on Gender, Culture and Development being developed. I had met the director, Shirley Randell, at this year’s United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women conference in New York. She is very interested in resources about men and masculinity, and in collaboration with MRI and with RWAMREC.

After this we went to the Friends Peace House for a presentation to their staff. They were excited about the idea of peace beginning in the home, with relationships between men and women. They were inspired by the MRI photos and stories from other countries, and the RWAMEC stories about our work in Rwanda, and eager to think about how to bring these ideas into their work.

Later in the day I began my long journey home. En route back to the United States, I stopped in Amsterdam, where I met with the Women’s Peacemakers Program to begin planning the 10 day male peacemakers training I will be co-leading in December. The journey continues….

In connection,
Steven Botkin

Rwandan Liberation Day billboard.

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MRI in Côte d’Ivoire

Journal Entries from Steven and James

Saturday, 2 May | Monday, 4 May | Wednesday, 13 May

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Sitting in the John F. Kennedy airport in New York, we are once again en route to West Africa. This time our destination is Côte d’Ivoire.

Based on our collaboration with the International Rescue Committee in Liberia, Men’s Resources International and the IRC are now partnering to create a male involvement component of their Gender Based Violence program in neighboring Côte d’Ivoire. During this visit we will provide training and consultations to staff, and facilitate a meeting with community leaders from the six rural villages where the initiative will be launched.

James and I are joined for this trip by Simeon Afouda, a native of Benin (another West African country). For the past few years Simeon has been a graduate student at the Center for International Education at the University of Massachusetts. His doctoral research focuses on school as an institution of cultural transmission and the impact of gender on girls’ school experience in West Africa. Simeon is also bi-lingual in French and English. In preparation for our work in Côte d’Ivoire, he translated much of the MRI training handbook, and he will provide valuable help in translating language and concepts while we are in the country. We are grateful to have Simeon as part of our team.

The next flight takes us across the ocean to Accra, Ghana, followed by a short hop to Abidjan, the capital of Côte d’Ivoire.

In connection,
Steven Botkin

Entering Abidjan, the capital of Côte d’Ivoire

Monday, 4 May 2009

Yesterday, after over 9 hours in the air, we arrived in Abidjan, the capital of Côte d’Ivoire.

Today we met many of the IRC staff in the Abidjan office. We were delighted to spend some of the morning with Monika, the GBV coordinator, on her first day back after three months of maternity leave. We also talked with Kevin (the interim GBV coordinator) and Mazeda, the project research staff from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Then, Kevin, Mazeda, James, Simon and I squeezed into a small van for the 3.5 hour drive north to Yamoussoukro where we will spend the next two weeks.

Arriving at the IRC office in “Ya” we met more staff, and the translators for the upcoming training. It was wonderful to see Tanou (national GBV coordinator) once again, and to meet in person Pascal, the “Staff Capacity Officer” for the Women and Men in Partnership for Ending Violence Against Women” (the official title for this initiative).

After a wonderful dinner together, where Pascal and Simeon shared some of their painful childhood experiences, we went to the moat outside the presidential palace to see the crocodiles asleep on the shores.

In connection,
Steven Botkin

On the road to Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Dear friends, family and colleagues, and greetings from the city of Yamoussoukro.

I apologize for my silence on this blog since arriving in Côte d’Ivoire nine days ago. The process of engagement in this work is profound, multi-dimensional, and all consuming.

As of today, we have now completed four days of IRC staff training, and a two day meeting with community leaders from the six villages where the Men and Women as Partners initiative will be implemented. So, now I’d like to catch you up on a few reflections on our experiences.

The primary objectives of this visit were to train the relevant IRC staff in the MRI principles and methodology for engaging men as allies with women, to enlist the support of the community leaders for this initiative, and to build consensus with the IRC on the implementation plan.

Six male IRC staff, one for each village, have been assigned to this initiative. They were joined by 10 other staff for the training. Since Côte d’Ivoire is a francophone country, we had a translator and Simeon’s assistance throughout. As was our experience in Rwanda, the simplicity and power message and the effectiveness of the popular education methodology engaged us all in a way that transcended language. Understanding that men are naturally loving and can be proud and powerful allies with men, were foundational tools for a new approach to ending men’s violence against women and children. The personal changes in attitudes and anticipated behaviors that the staff reported confirmed for us that this was not simply an intellectual process for them. We know this personal change is an essential component for their success as agents of social change.

On Tuesday of this week, the IRC brought together community leaders from each of the six villages for a two day meeting. Each village was represented by two men (the village chief and his assistant) and two women (leaders of the village women’s association). Although the city meeting room was not a familiar environment, they were clearly honored to be invited, and the grace and dignity they brought to the gathering honored us all.

Tanou and Pascal did a tremendous job of facilitation, modeling women and men working together in equal partnership, and respectfully engaging the community leaders as valued partners. One by one these men and women expressed their understanding of why this initiative is important, and by the end of the day they had generated lists of the benefits for women, men and families in their villages. On the second day they discussed in village teams the strategies and challenges for bringing these ideas to their communities. They all spoke about becoming role models for change, talking to their families and the village, and bringing together groups of women and men for raising awareness. The commitments for change expressed by the end of the two days, both personally and as village leaders, were sincere and passionate. And everyone understood that we were now engaged together in a profound transformational process.

As always, James and I are moved and humbled by power of this work and the honor of being welcomed so deeply into the lives of people here in Africa. We look forward to returning to Côte d’Ivoire to witness and support the ripple effects.

In connection,
Steven Botkin

Kenyan Conference to Address Role of Men and Boys in Addressing GBV and HIV/AIDS

19 April 2009

This May, the Coexist Initiative will host a conference in Nairobi, Kenya to address the role of men and boys in preventing and responding to gender-based violence; preventing the spread of HIV, and sharing in home-based care of family members with AIDS.

Its Time Campaign, 2009 Regional Conference
19 – 21 May 2009
Venue: Savelberg Retreat Center, Kilimani, Muriga Road, Off Elgeyo Marakwet Road, Nairobi, Kenya 

Theme: The first conference on engaging men and boys in addressing the intersection between gender-based violence, HIV prevention and AIDS management (home-based care).

For more information, visit:
Or contact Fred Wekesa, Programs Officer of the Coexist Initiative at +254-720586280.

Call to Action from Global Symposium
Global Symposium on Engaging Men and Boys in Gender Equality
Rio de Janeiro, March 29 - April 3, 2009

Part One: Preamble
We come from eighty countries. We are men and women, young and old, working side by side with respect and shared goals. We are active in community organizations, religious and educational institutions; we are representatives of governments, NGOs and the United Nations. We speak many languages, we look like the diverse peoples of the world and carry their diverse beliefs and religions, cultures, physical abilities, and sexual and gender identities. We are indigenous peoples, immigrants, and ones whose ancestors moved across the planet. We are fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, partners and lovers, husbands and wives.

What unites us is our strong outrage at the inequality that still plagues the lives of women and girls, and the self-destructive demands we put on boys and men. But even more so, what brings us together here is a powerful sense of hope, expectation, and possibility for we have seen the capacity of men and boys to change, to care, to cherish, to love passionately, and to work for justice for all.

We are outraged by the pandemic of violence women face at the hands of some men, by the relegation of women to second class status, and the continued domination by men of our economies, of our politics, of our social and cultural institutions, in far too many of our homes. We also know that among women there are those who fare even worse because of their social class, their religion, their language, their physical differences, their ancestry, their sexual orientation, or simply where they live.

There are deep costs to boys and men from the ways our societies have defined men’s power and raised boys to be men. Boys deny their humanity in search of an armor-plated masculinity. Young men and boys are sacrificed as cannon fodder in war for those men of political, economic, and religious power who demand conquest and domination at any cost. Many men cause terrible harm to themselves because they deny their own needs for physical and mental care or lack services when they are in need.

Too many men suffer because our male-dominated world is not only one of power of men over women, but of some groups of men over others. Too many men, like too many women, live in terrible poverty, in degradation, or are forced to do body- or soul-destroying work to put food on the table.

Too many men carry the deep scars of trying to live up to the impossible demands of manhood and find terrible solace in risk-taking, violence, self-destruction or the drink and drugs sold to make a profit for others. Too many men experience violence at the hands of other men.

Too many men are stigmatized and punished for the simple fact they love, desire and have sex with other men.

We are here because we know that the time when women stood alone in speaking out against discrimination and violence – that this time is coming to an end.

We also know this: This belief in the importance of engaging men and boys is no longer a remote hope. We see the emergence of organizations and campaigns that are directly involving hundreds of thousands, millions of men in almost every country on the planet. We hear men and boys speaking out against violence, practicing safer sex, and supporting women’s and girl’s reproductive rights. We see men caring, loving, and nurturing for other men and for women. We see men who embrace the daily challenges of looking after babies and children, and delight in their capacity to be nurturers. We see many men caring for the planet and rejecting conquering nature just as men once conquered women.

We are gathering not simply to celebrate our first successes, but, with all the strength we possess, to appeal to parents, teachers, and coaches, to the media and businesses, to our governments, NGOs, religious institutions, and the United Nations, to mobilize the political will and economic resources required to increase the scale and impact of work with men and boys to promote gender equality. We know how critical it is that institutions traditionally controlled by men reshape their policies and priorities to support gender equality and the well-being of women, children, and men. And we know that a critical part of that is to reshape the world of men and boys, the beliefs of men and boys, and the lives of men and boys.

Part Two: Plan of Action
The Evidence Base is There: New initiatives and programs to engage men and boys in gender equality provides a growing body of evidence that confirms it is possible to change men’s gender-related attitudes and practices. Effective programs and processes have led men and boys to stand up against violence and for gender equality in both their personal lives and their communities. These initiatives not only help deconstruct harmful masculinities, but reconstruct more gender equitable ones. Global research makes it increasingly clear that working with men and boys can reduce violence, improve relationships, strengthen the work of the women’s movement, improve health outcomes of women and men, girls and boys, and that it is possible to accelerate this change through deliberate interventions.

Working with the Women’s Movement : The work with men and boys stems from and honors the pioneering work and ongoing leadership of the women’s movement. We stand in solidarity with the ongoing struggles for women’s empowerment and rights in our commitment to contribute to the myriad efforts to achieve gender equality. By working in close synergy with women’s rights organizations, we aim to change individual men’s attitudes and practices, and transform the imbalance of power between men and women in relationships, families, communities, institutions and nations.

International and UN Commitments : Through the UN and other international agreements, the nations of the world have committed themselves to taking action to involve men and boys in achieving of gender equality. Policy makers have an obligation to act on these commitments to develop, implement and evaluate policy and programming approaches to working with men. These commitments provide civil society activists with leverage to demand rapid implementation.

These international commitments include:
* The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development
* The Programme of Action of the World Summit on Social Development (1995)
* The Beijing Platform for Action (1995)
* The twenty-sixth special session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS (2001)
* The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), 48th session, 2004

To achieve transformative and sustainable social change around gender inequalities, we must go beyond scattered, short-term and small scale interventions and harness all efforts towards systemic, large-scale, and coordinated action. The time has come for us to fulfill these commitments.

Part 3: Platform for Action
Violence against women: For too long, all forms of violence including humiliation and emotional violenceagainst women and girls has been seen primarily as a “women’s issue” and has been invisible, regarded as a private matter and been the concern of the women’s movement. Patriarchal structures sustain this impunity and endorses men’s silence on this issue. Men and boys’ accountability and engagement for social transformation is essential to bring violence free lives for women and girls.

Violence against children: Girls and boys suffer from abuse and violence, including corporal and other forms of humiliating and degrading punishment, in the home, , school and institutions that should protect them. Gender norms are implicated in this violence by condoning different forms of violence for boys and girls. Thiscalls for a life cycle approach, engaging with boys to understand the consequences for violent behavior and take positive action for violence prevention.

Violence Amongst Men: We also have to address different forms of violence amongstmen and boys that include armed conflict, gang violence, school bullying and homophobic crimes. Inequity is also at the core of these manifestations of violence, risk taking and seeking of dominance of other men. Men’s own experiences of violence have devastating effects on us all and create repeating cycles of violence. .

Violence In Armed Conflict: In wars, communal, ethnic based and other forms of armed conflict young men are treated as expendable and sent to their deaths in large numbers. Militaries and other armed groups that violate international laws on the treatment of civilians in conflict explicitly condone and even encourage the use of sexual violence as a method of warfare, explicitly privileging militarized models of masculinity and ensuring that those men who do refuse violence are belittled and subject to stigma including homophobic violence. Girls and boys are increasingly drawn into armed conflict, both as victims and perpetrators. We call on national governments, to uphold Security Council Resolutions including 1308, 1325, 1612 and 1820 and to proactively contribute to the elimination of all forms of gendered violence, including in times of armed conflict.

Men, work and the global political economy: Men’s roles are strongly influenced by the global political economy. The values competition, consumption, and aggressive accumulation and assertion of power – military, economic, financial, social or cultural, reinforce practices of domination and use of violence at the interpersonal and community levels throughout the life-cycle. The dominant economic models have led to increasing economic vulnerability, frequent forced migration and lost livelihoods .. We must challenge the economic and political policies and institutions that drive inequalities.

Fatherhood: Responsible, committed and involved fatherhood is an essential component of any attempt to transform families and societies into new norms that better reflect gender equity, child rights and shared parenting responsibilities and enjoyment. It is in the home that gender inequality is at its most powerful and sometimes most hidden. Positive fatherhood therefore plays an important part in challenging the intergenerational transmission of damaging stereotypes and power relations. More commitment must be demonstrated to strengthening father roles and supporting men to realize their potential to facilitate their children’s attitudes and practices and, as men heal themselves from damaging and restrictive negative gender roles.

Men as Caregivers: Societies expect women and girls to take responsibility for the care work that sustains and replenishes families, communities, economies and societies, including raising children and taking care of the sick and the elderly. This frequently prevents women and girls from accessing their fundamental human rights to health, education, employment and full political participation. Governments, civil society organisations, UN agencies, the private sector anddonor organisations must put in place strategies that shift gender norms and encourage men to share with women the joys and burdens of caring for others.

Sexual and Gender Diversities and Sexual Rights: There are profound diversities among men and boys in their sexual and gender identities and relations. Formal and informal patterns of sexual injustice, homophobia, social exclusion and oppression throughout the world shape men´s and boys’ access to civil rights, health care, personal safety, and the recognition and affirmation of their intimate relations. Constructions of masculinity in many contexts are based on ruthless hostility to gendered sexual behaviours that contradict dominant patriarchal norms, and policed through heterosexist violence. Programming and policy engaging men and boys must recognize and affirm sexual diversity among men and boys, and support the positive rights of men of all sexualities to sexual pleasure and well-being.

Men’s and Boys’ Gender Related Vulnerabilities: Men and boys die early from preventable diseases, accidents and violence. Most men have higher death rates for the same sicknesses that affect women. We need to promote health among boys and young men and enable them to acquire health seeking behaviours for themselves, as well as for their families. The emotional and subjective level and personal experience of men and boys has to be addressed to better understand the root problems like violence suicide, drug abuse, accidents and the lack of a health seeking behaviour. Though it is not often mentioned mental health dimensions are always present in other issues dealing with sexual and reproductive health, fathering and gender based violence. Gender responsive and socio-culturally sensitive mental health programs and services are needed to address and prevent these issues at community level.

Sexual Exploitation: Men’s use of sexual violence results from social norms that condone the exploitation of women and girls, boys and men. Objectification and commodification of women and girls and boys and men normalizes violent and coercive sexual behaviours. Ending sexual violence and exploitation requires holistic strategies from the global to local level to engage men and boys in challenging attitudes that give men dominance, and treating all human beings with dignity and respect.

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are largely considered as only a women’s domain, leaving women and girls responsible for their own sexual health, and that of their families and communities. In a sexual health context, men often do not have access to or use services although they behave in ways that put them and their partners at serious risk. It is essential that we work with men and boys to fully support and promote the SRHR of women, girls, boys and other men, and that health services address issues of power and proactively promote gender equality. Such services should help men to identify and address their own sexual and reproductive health needs and rights. This requires us to advance sexual rights, and to adopt a positive, human-rights based approach to everyone’s sexuality.

HIV and AIDS: HIV and AIDS continues to devastate communities across the world. Gender inequalities and rigid gender roles exacerbate the spread and the impact of the epidemic, making it difficult for women and girls to negotiate sexual relations and leaving women and girls with the burden of caring for those with AIDS related illnesses. Definitions of masculinity that equate manhood with dominance over sexual partners, the pursuit of multiple partners and a willingness to take risks while simultaneously depicting health seeking behavior as a sign of weakness, increase the likelihood that men will contract and pass on the virus. Governments, UN agencies and civil society must take urgent action to implement evidence-based prevention, treatment, care and support strategies that address the gendered dimensions of HIV and AIDS, meet the needs of people living with HIV and AIDS, ensure access to treatment, challenge stigma and discrimination and support men to reduce their risk taking behaviors and improve their access to and use of HIV services.

Youth: Young men and women have a right to early and active involvement in initiatives that promote gender equality. Societies must create an environment where girls and boys are viewed as equals, enjoy dignified labour and easy access to quality education, and live lives free from violence, including forced marriage, are supported to create equitable relationships,

Environment: One result of harmful masculinities has been the attempt to dominate nature. With catastrophic climate change and laying the oceans, the forests, and land to waste, this quest has had disastrous outcomes. All levels of our societies must urgently act to reverse the damage done and facilitate the process of healing.

Celebrating diversity: We stress that debate, action and policies on gender relations and gender equities will have the most effective and positive impact when they include an understanding and celebrating of our differences based on race, ethnicity, age, sexual and gender diversities, religion, physical ability and class.

Resources: Resources allocated to women’s equality must be increased. We seek not to divert resources from these initiatives but argue for the need to increase resources overall to achieve gender equality, including men and boys.

Strengthening the evidence base: It is vital to continue to build the evidence base for gender transformative programs through research and program evaluations, to determine which strategies are most successful in different cultural contexts.

Part Four: The Call To Action
1. Individuals should take action within their communities and be agents of change to promote gender equality.
2. Community based organisations should continue their groundbreaking work to challenge the status quo of gender and other inequalities and actively model social change.
3. Non-governmental organisations should develop and build on programs, interventions and services that are based on the needs, rights and aspirations of their communities, are accountable and reflect the principles in this document. They should develop synergies with other relevant social movements, and establish mechanisms for monitoring and reporting on government commitments.
4. Governments should repeal all discriminatory laws and act on their existing international and UN obligations and commitments, prioritise and allocate resources to gender transformative interventions, and develop policies, frameworks and concrete implementation plans that advance this agenda, including through working with other governments and adherence to the Paris Principles.
5. Private sector should promote workplaces that are gender equitable and free from violence and exploitation, and direct their corporate social responsibility towards inclusive social change.
6. Media and Entertainment industries role in maintaining and reinforcing traditional and unequal gender norms has to be addressed, confronted and alternatives supported.
7. Donors should redirect their resources towards the promotion of inclusive programming for gender equality and inclusive social justice, including changes to laws and policies, and develop synergies amongst donors.
8. The United Nations must show leadership in these areas, innovatively and proactively support member states to promote gender equitable and socially transformative law, policy and practice, including through interagency coordination as articulated in the One UN approach.

We must invest in men and boys to become engaged in changing their behavior and attitudes towards gender equality supported by communities, systems and national policies.

Men Matter: Scaling up Approaches to Promote Constructive Men's Engagement in Reproductive Health and Gender Equity

The USAID | Health Policy Initiative, Task Order 1, announced the release of Men Matter: Scaling up Approaches to Promote Constructive Men's Engagement in Reproductive Health and Gender Equity, a report that describes the process of developing and adopting national constructive men's engagement guidelines in support of Mali's national Reproductive Health Strategic Plan. It is available in English and French.

The report describes the process of developing and adopting national constructive men’s engagement (CME) guidelines in support of Mali’s national Reproductive Health Strategic Plan. This was done in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and built on previous work by the USAID Interagency Gender Working Group.

The project adapted the approach from similar work in Cambodia and pilot-tested it with a local NGO. The NGO trained community educators in counseling couples on joint decision making and communicating more openly on reproductive health matters. A brief field assessment found reports that men were coming to the health center for information and services and were paying more attention to their wives’ reproductive health.

For more information or to request hard copies of the report, please visit:

MRI in Tanzania and Rwanda

Journal Entries from Steven and James:
8 September | 11 September | 13 September | 16 September | 17 September | 20 September | 22 September: Guest Entry from Dean Cycon


Slideshow: MRI with IRC in Tanzania.

Click here and select slideshow to see full-size photos.

8 September 2008

Greetings from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania! James and I have been invited to attend the week-long annual conference attended by IRC staff from the thirteen different countries around the world where they are running GBV programs, as well as staff from their GBV technical unit based at IRC headquarters in New York. These programs provide services to GBV survivors, and work to prevent violence against women and girls

On Wednesday and Thursday we will be presenting a workshop on Working With Men As Allies. We are excited to share with this group of 45 people (about 7 are men) the strategies and skills we are using in our work, and the lessons learned from Liberia, Rwanda, Zambia, Nigeria and the United States.

We are honored to be participating with this remarkable group of people who work with people in conflict and post-conflict settings, from refugee camps in Thailand, Ethiopia and Sudan to rural communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda that continue to struggle with violence in many forms. The intensity of their work was painfully shadowed by the murder of four IRC workers in Afghanistan just last month.

And yet, their spirit, passion and commitment remain strong.

Many of the programs are asking the same questions about involving men. “How can we get men involved in a way that does not take scarce resources away from women or undermine our core mission?” Sitting at the open-air restaurant beside the Indian Ocean, we spent dinner and a good part of the evening with staff from Thailand and Ethiopia sharing our perspectives about this question. As the wind from the ocean and the sounds of the surf washed over us, we talked about the paradigm shift that is needed, and beginning to happen, in order to effectively engage men as partners with women.

At both the local and global levels, they are ready to engage with this question in new ways that open doors to new possibilities. And as leaders in the field of international work on ending violence against women and girls, the IRC is charting new territory that will help to pave the way for others. We are truly honored to be joining them in this process.

In connection,
Steven Botkin

IRC's GBV advocacy strategy

Our hotel

Indian Ocean and Dar es Salaam from hotel yard

11 September 2008
Early Thursday morning, Dar es Salaam

Sitting in on the first two days of the GBV conference (Monday and Tuesday) gave us time to get to know the International Rescue Committee staff who are here, and gain a deeper understanding of the organizational and programmatic issue they are grappling with. Sessions were conducted on program design, stress management, the IRC policy on sexual abuse and exploitation (by staff). Much of the second day was a joint session between the GBV program and the Child and Youth Protection and Development Unit (CYPD) to build better understanding and stronger collaborations.

Yesterday (Wednesday) James and I began our session on Engaging Men as Allies. We interspersed PowerPoint slides about the MRI theory and practice with small group discussions for staff from each of the country teams. The discussions were lively and the ideas were both challenging and well received.

After we ended for the day (around 4:30 pm) James and I went for a walk along the cliffs by the ocean next to the hotel. Unfortunately, as we walked, we were robbed by three or four men wielding knives. We were not hurt, they were just after things. I lost the camera, money and my passport.

The biggest hassle is dealing with the passport. The IRC team has been very supportive and changed around tomorrow's session so we will go to the U.S. embassy in the morning to start the process of getting a new passport. I’m hoping this can happen in time for our early Monday flight to Rwanda.

There are also some good things that are coming from this including a deepening of our relationship with IRC, so, as always, something is taken away and something is given. And we get to stay present and practice loving in each moment.

In connection,
Steven Botkin

13 September 2008

The IRC conference is now over. Most participants have left, often with long journeys back to the countries where they are working, many in remote areas of the globe. I am left awed and humbled by this vast network of humanitarian workers, and honored to have had the opportunity to participate in this gathering, and meet so many passionate and committed people.

It was fascinating to watch how this diverse group responded to our sessions on Engaging Men as Allies. There was a broad recognition of the importance of this topic. And a wide range of feelings, experiences and opinions about the theory and practice of how to make that happen. Many questions were raised about how to implement these ideas in the unique cultural and socio-economic environments where they are working. And the ongoing concern was expressed about whether male involvement would threaten the program focus on women. It was very helpful to have Gertrude and Ballah talk about their experience of the Liberia Male Involvement Project over the past two years. 

On a personal note, we were able to replace my passport at the U.S. Embassy the morning following the robbery, so we will travel to Rwanda on Monday as planned. We are taking the weekend to rest and recover from this eventful week.

In connection,
Steven Botkin


Slideshow: MRI and Dean's Beans in Rwanda.

Click here and select slideshow to see full-size photos.

16 September 2008

Greetings from Rwanda! James and I arrived in Kigali from Tanzania early Monday morning. We were very happy to be welcomed at the airport by our friend and colleague, Fidel Rutayisire, founder and director of the Rwanda Men's Resource Centre (RWAMREC).

After settling into our hotel rooms, we spent the morning catching up on each others' lives, and talking about the how far RWAMREC had come since Fidel first contacted MRI in 2006. We reflected on the development of the RWAMREC/MRI relationship from our first email correspondence, to Fidel's participation in the MRI training in Nigeria, followed by RWARMEC's hosting the MRI training in Kigali last year.

The success of this development was highlighted by RWAMREC being chosen by the UN agency UNDP and the global MenEngage network to host a national networking meeting for local and international NGOs interested in male involvement. At the meeting, RWAMREC was chosen to be the secretariat for this newly formed network.

And we discussed the exciting opportunities that lie ahead for RWAMREC as it becomes a leader on engaging men both in Rwanda and in Africa. They are one of four countries in the world to be included in a grant proposal on male involvement recently submitted to the UN Trust Fund by MenEngage, and are increasingly invited to participate in conferences throughout Africa.

Yesterday morning Fidel, James and I met with the director and deputy director of the Rwandan branch of Norwegian People's Aid (NPA). Ending domestic violence is one of the top priorities for these men, and, after discovering RWAMREC's website, they contacted Fidel. Steiner (from Norway) and Patrick (from Kenya) were excited to learn more about RWAMREC and MRI, and we were delighted NPA's current initiatives training couples to be community counselors and advocates. They recently secured funding for continued domestic violence prevention programs and expressed strong interest in seeing proposals from RWAMREC. They are sponsoring three program leaders from their Rwandan partner organizations to attend the MRI training this week, and are hoping to attend the final day themselves. In parting, we all recognizing the exciting potentials of the RWAMREC/MRI/NPA partnership.

The afternoon was spent with Fidel preparing for the training, and navigating the process of changing U.S dollars into Rwandan francs. (Note to self and others: U.S. currency dated before the year 2000 or with the smallest tear will be very hard to change.) We were delighted to reconnect with RWAMREC member Napoleon, who will be assisting us in the training, together with Fidel, and Bonheur, who will again be one of the interpreters.

We feel much more secure being here in Rwanda. The police have a very strong presence, and we are in the company of good friends who are looking after us. What a relief!

In connection,
Steven Botkin

17 September 2008
Tanzania and Rwanda Trip
From James Arana

By 10:30 a.m. on Monday September 15, Steven and I had traveled through three countries (Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda), and two time zones. I have spent some time trying to identify and process all of the different feelings my experience so far has generated. One clear feeling is excitement for being invited to sit at the table with the IRC, a giant organization with hundreds (thousands?) of staff. MRI, with its three staff members and interns, is helping to strategize how the IRC can move to engage men as allies. It is an incredible feeling of joy and anticipation, thinking about the different reactions we will receive in response to this way of looking at men not only as perpetrators, but also as possible change agents.

The conference began with GBV staff from fourteen different countries, including multinational program leaders. It was a pleasure to be in the presence of some old friends who we’ve gotten to know over the past two years from our work in Liberia and my recent visit to Cote d’Ivoire. 

By Wednesday, when it was our time to present, we were bombarded with questions from the field staff about what and how they could reach out to men in meaningful and strategic ways.  They were looking forward to getting direction from MRI’s learning from the U.S. and Africa.

The responses were mixed. Some were excited and wanted to know more and more, and some were skeptical and concerned about the impact of some of our sensitization activities and whether it would work in their settings. Participants responded both from their gut and their head. It was heart thumping to listen to the concerns others had and remembering to breathe and not react in a defensive manner. It was a growing experience, and helped to give direction to how we could further develop MRI’s approach to this work. The majority of the feedback was positive with some invitations to keep in touch.

About life in the big city of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania:
Steven and I were further challenged when we were accosted at knife point and robbed of our possessions (which we were willing to give up for our safety). The experience of going to report the incident to the local police was very educational. And we have new confidence and appreciation for the U.S. embassy, which were responsive and efficient in helping with a new passport.              

Today, Wednesday September 17, Steven, Fidel and I are waiting for Dean Cycon to arrive here in Kigali to continue our journey to Gesenyi,  Rwanda, where we will conduct an MRI training for the COOPAC coffee cooperative.

In peace,
James Arana

20 September 2008

Sitting on a wooden bench at a Benedictine convent on the edge of Lake Kivu, I am welcoming the day reveal itself. The sound of waves lapping at my feet mixes with the wisking of a broom sweeping the driveway. The calls of hawks and songbirds in the trees overhead dance with the songs of fisherman pulling nets from dugout canoes, and children playing on a nearby beach. Across the lake, the steep hills terraced with banana and coffee groves reflect the morning light.

We traveled to this remote location in the heart of Africa on Wednesday, after meeting Dean Cycon at the Kigali airport. MRI’s partnership with Dean, founder and president of Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company, has been growing since he sponsored four members of Rwandan coffee cooperatives to attend last year’s MRI training for the Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre. The enthusiastic responses to the training from these coffee farmers inspired Dean to sponsor this training for the COOPAC Coffee Cooperative in Gisenyi, a rural area in the mountainous region of Rwanda on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In addition to roasting and distributing organic, fair trade coffee, Dean’s Beans supports community-based development in the coffee farming communities where he purchases coffee beans. It was Dean’s vision of bringing the work of Men’s Resources International to coffee cooperatives that brought us to this place.

The journey to Gisenyi took more than three hours on rough roads through the beautiful hills of Rwanda. Although we arrived at night, officers of COOPAC, Emmanuel, Jean Claude and Simon, were waiting to welcome us, before the last 10 kilometers to the convent itself.

Training participants, farmers and community leaders of COOPAC, arrived Thursday morning from all around the region, along with representatives from several Rwandan NGOs involved in domestic violence prevention. As a bamboo pole was passed for each persons introduction, the men and women were already talking passionately about their commitment to ending family violence. The activities and discussions over the next three days deepened and solidified their understanding.

The honesty and sophistication of the dialogue about the realities of violence in their lives was impressive. Men acknowledged and took responsibility for their personal and collective forms of violence against women and children, and women spoke out about the many ways they have been abused. Together they began to construct a new vision of men and women as partners, and how they would work together as agents of change in their communities.

The closing ceremony took place on Sunday at one of the COOPAC coffee washing stations along Lake Kivu. As we arrived on Emmanuel’s small motor boat the drums and songs of 300 people welcomed us. In female/male pairs, participants from the training spoke about what they learned, how they changed, and what they will be doing next. Their neighbors and fellow farmers listened with great interest, as they watched these women and men standing shoulder-to-shoulder, sharing voice and power, and a commitment to non-violence and partnership. The excitement and power of the event was punctuated by the drumming, dancing and songs of the local cultural group.

After the ceremony Emmanuel took us on his boat to an island where he is growing thousands of coffee plants, and a school where COOPAC funded the building of new classrooms. And that night, we climbed into the hills high above the site of the closing ceremony to sleep in the home of Simon, a coffee farmer. After touring his coffee farm, we sat in his courtyard with the members of his family and more than 20 squatting children who were completely fascinated with us, which made sense when we learned that we were the first Americans to ever visit this village. As the darkness slowly enveloped us, no one wanted to move, and we knew that all of us were being blessed by this experience, each in their own special way.

In connection,
Steven Botkin

22 September 2008

Overcoming Gender Violence in Rwanda
Guest entry from Dean Cycon, founder and president of Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company. (Orignially published in Dean's Zine.)

I must confess that I was a little nervous driving from the Rwandan capital, Kigali, past the Hotel Rwanda and several markers noting churches, hospitals and schools where much of the genocide took place here in 1994. I wondered as we headed towards the distant, lush mountains, how many of the farmers (both men and women) who would be participating in our program "Men and Women Working Together to Overcome Gender-Based Violence" had participated in some way in the genocide, the ninety days of madness that resulted in the slaughter of a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

But Rwanda is a country that has tackled the genocide head on. They have worked so hard to achieve an inclusive government of national unity, to punish the leaders of the genocide and strive for formal reconciliation and forgiveness for those involved at the grassroots. It is sobering and impressive. People will talk about the genocide generically, but don't want to talk personal stories or details. It is too painful, the reconciliation process too fragile and emotional.

Last year, a wonderful organization called Men's Resources International was considering a gender violence training in Rwanda and we offered to pay for three coffee farmers to participate, paying their transportation, room and board and all fees for the workshops. Our idea was that if the trainings were a success and useful in the eyes of the farmers, then we would fund a full training for farmers from COOPAC, the cooperative we purchase from in the northwest of the country, on the shores of Lake Kivu and near the Congo border. After the training, I received a letter signed by the farmers stating that the work was life changing, and asking me to make it available to more farmers in Rwanda. We were on.

So, over a long weekend in September, Steven and James from MRI facilitated an experiential wokshop for fifteen men and fifteen women from COOPAC, exploring gender-based violence in their lives, examining the attributes of strong men and strong women in respectful relationships (economically, physically and socially). At first, few men acknowledged any violence in their lives, and only two had ever apologized to a woman for anything. They didn't consider it violence when a new bride came home and was beaten to show her what her place was and the expectations in her new home. Nor was it violence in some eyes to take the money from the family, spend it on alcohol or other women, and return to infect a wife with HIV or other STD's. A woman's ideas were not welcome, especially if she spoke up without receiving permission, and one Muslim woman in the group said that a strong woman is one who obeys her husband no matter what. But in the safe container created by Steven and James, the women spoke up. They shared their own views on what consituted violence, on what was culturally appropriate and what was simply abusive. The men listened and took responsibility for their behavior. I don't know exactly what happened, but within three days men were asking for forgiveness and women were forgiving. Men and women were sharing ideas and opinions and standing shoulder to shoulder, instead of having the woman standing behind the man and standing there passively while he did all the talking (I may get in trouble for observing this, but during the Republican Convention I was taken aback when a couple came out to state their support for McCain, and the woman stood quietly behind the man as he did all of the talking for both of them - we share a lot more culture than we are aware of.) One woman commented, "We have never seen sadness in a man around violence. Now we know that men feel, too."

At the end of the trainings, we held a big community gathering, full of traditional dancing and singing. Over two hundred community members witnessed the farmer participants stand up and tell what they had learned about gender violence in their lives. They saw men turn to women in a very public place and ask for forgiveness. They saw the women forgive. It was powerful modeling for the community, and many people in the crowd shouted encouragement to the participants, as if some deep pressure was being released. The men and women all vowed to take what they had learned back to their communities around the mountains, and COOPAC promised to create a Gender Committee to continue the work and give it formal approval. We also said that we would take the work to other coops around Rwanda, and that some of the men and women could come and share their experiences with other farm communities, reinforcing my belief that cooperatives can be a powerful vehicle for social development as well as economic.

Some members of the coffee industry shake their heads at this stuff, wondering why we bother to do this when all we have to do is buy coffee at a good price and be done with it. But as you know,we believe that the quality of the coffee is a reflection of the quality of life of our farmer partners, and the health and strength of their community is integral to our success. I live for this kind of work.

And by the way, the coffee from COOPAC received the top honors at the East African Specialty Coffee Competition. From the ashes of the genocide, these communities have come back to grow a great coffee and create a strong economic and social base for the resurgence of their lives. We are proud and humbled to be a part of this. We will be offering this great cup soon.

Amahoro na kubaha ("Peace and Respect" in Rwandan).

- Dean Cycon

MRI Springfield workshop a powerful experience of learning and connection.

  Men As Allies:
Promoting Positive Masculinity
A 3-day training for men & women.

June 25 — 27, 2008 |9:00am - 5:00pm
Springfield, MA
Personal Reflections from MRI Intern | 2007 Training Photos

On June 25 – 27, MRI presented the 2nd annual men’s leadership training at American International College in Springfield, MA. This year’s 3-day workshop was titled, “Men As Allies: Promoting Positive Masculinity.”

Nearly 40 men and women participated, representing teachers, coaches, program directors, social services professionals, youth mentors, and committed individuals. While most attendees live or work in Springfield, others traveled from Maine, New York, New Jersey, and as far as Hawaii and New Mexico.

MRI directors Dr. Steven Botkin and James Arana facilitated the workshop, which centered on connection, consciousness-raising, and experiential learning to: 

  • Explore the privileges and costs of traditional masculinity
  • Recognize the causes and impacts of violence in our relationships, families and communities
  • Learn to engage men and boys in issues of violence and compassion
  • Develop community leadership and mentoring skills
  • Plan and organize men’s initiatives
  • Build alliances between women and men

"We are still absorbing the profound experience of being together for the Men As Allies Training in Springfield," said Steven Botkin. "The connections, inspiration and lessons we shared will motivate us for much time to come. We thank everyone involved for helping to make this happen."

Many of the participants have expressed interest in ongoing practicum meetings, joining members of the 2007 training participants who gather monthly for continued support, consultations, and technical assistance in planning or implementing a men's initiative in a professional or community setting.

To read a personal account of the training experience from MRI intern and student activist, Aaron Buford, click here.

To learn more about MRI's work in Springfield, contact James Arana at 413.214.6797 or at

More stories are available in MRI news archives.

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