The Uncommon Man

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October 22, 2007

Men as Allies

by Zainab Salbi, President and CEO of Women for Women International, a non-profit that helps women in war torn regions rebuild their lives.

I will never forget the day that two turbaned, bearded strangers approached me as I stood in the midst of a camp for internally displaced people on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan. My mind instantly flooded with stereotypes of the Taliban -- whose misogynist interpretations of Islam resulted in the brutal oppression of Afghan women -- and I braced myself for the ways they could express their disapproval for the women that were gathering to enroll in Women for Women International's program. But, to my absolute surprise, the men had come to thank me for the opportunities that our organization had brought to the women, their families, and their community.

As evidenced by our name, Women for Women International is a women-led organization that serves to empower socially-excluded women in conflict-affected parts of the world. Thus, perhaps like so many other women-oriented organizations, we are constantly discussing the issue of reaching or not reaching out to men, involving or not involving men, and discussing or not discussing with men the work we do for women. During the last 14 years of working in conflict and post-conflict areas, I have come to realize that just as the images of women in war that are shown in the mainstream media overwhelmingly show downtrodden victims, the images of men in war are equally confined to that of the violent aggressors, rapists and warmongers. Neither stereotype is fair. ...

Read the entire article.

Posted by Daniel at 04:55 PM | Comments (0)

October 11, 2007

Emiliano Diaz de Leon Writes About Domestic Violence Awareness Month

In 2006, 120 women, including 5 from the Rio Grande Valley were killed in Texas by an intimate partner. For the majority of these women, their deaths were a result of escalating acts of domestic violence.

Unfortunately, it is often only the death of a victim that brings attention to the issue of domestic violence because of the media coverage that it garners. There are many others, however, whose stories do not make it onto the front pages of the newspaper, who are subjected on a daily basis to different forms of abuse.

Every fifteen seconds in the Untied States, a woman is battered by someone who tells her he loves her. Half of all women in this country will experience some form of violence from their partner during their relationship and more than one third are battered repeatedly every year.

The word "domestic" refers to home or family. Domestic violence, therefore, is often seen as something that happens behind closed doors. Some people even believe that it should remain there. Because of the private nature of most domestic violence incidents, the epidemic tends to become almost invisible. It happens every day without notice.

Throughout the month of October, however, there is a national effort to increase public awareness about the realities of domestic violence and encourage individuals to take action by helping to prevent violence before it occurs. Locally, Family Crisis Center will hold a Candlelight Vigil on October 24, 2007 at 6:30PM at TSTC to remember and honor the 120 women who were killed this past year.

By and large, men have historically not been engaged in the issue of preventing violence against women and children. Yet, men can play a key role in setting social norms for other men – whether it be by permitting and perpetrating inappropriate male behavior, or conversely, by promoting more positive attitudes and behavior. We, at the Men's Resource Center of South Texas, believe men-as fathers, brothers, coaches, teachers, uncles, and mentors –are in a unique position to prevent domestic violence through action and conversation. We invite men of all ages to stand with us as we support both victims and survivors at the Candlelight Vigil on October 24, 2007.

Cesar Chavez once said: "Nonviolence is not inaction. It is not discussion. It is not for the timid or weak…Nonviolence is hard work. It is the willingness to sacrifice. It is the patience to win." We must all become aware of domestic violence, but more importantly, we must all become involved. Help take a stand against domestic violence. Together, we can win!

Posted by Jorge at 03:34 PM | Comments (0)

October 09, 2007

Steven On the CARE Training

After packing our bags, we traveled to the CARE office where we met with staff from CARE and representatives from other community organizations who had attended the training for a follow-up strategic planning meeting. We began with a rich discussion about the lessons learned from the training, which produced many valuable ideas about how to apply the MRI approach to engaging men in Rwandan contexts.

The conversation then moved to how to provide follow-up support and accountability for training participants, especially in accomplishing the personal goals that they had committed to on the last day of the training. After discussion about the relationship between personal and professional work, it was decided that an email group will be established, and a check-in meeting with be scheduled in several weeks. One of the men in the meeting reported that last night he had already talked with his wife about the ways he has been abusive, and how he will be changing.

We had to leave the meeting early, because our airplane flight had been rescheduled for an earlier departure time. We look forward to hearing what came out of the discussions about next steps for CARE program development and national networking.

As we left CARE offices with heartfelt good-byes to Delphine, Maimouna, Fidel, Peter, Frederic, Jeannette, André, Kushbu, and Charles, they affirmed their desire for an ongoing consultation from Men's Resources International. We know that they are building a very special collaboration that has the potential for significant impact throughout the country. And we know that we will be back in Rwanda to continue to support this journey.

Posted by Jorge at 11:16 AM | Comments (0)

October 05, 2007

Adin Reflects on the Trip to Rwanda

I joined Steven and James' co-facilitation team on this trip as a woman with a background in peacebuilding as well as gender, and several years' experience working in Rwanda. It's been an amazing experience on multiple levels. Taking such a journey together for the first time, two men and a woman, to work with men and women in a culture not our own with issues that have affected all our lives, was a big undertaking. We are flying home as I write, and there is more to look back on than I can describe, so I'll mention only a couple of things.

First, about Steven and James and the work they do as Men's Resources International. They are extraordinary facilitators, distinctly different from each other, each bringing a powerful distinctive perspective. Their work is very emotional, designed to open men to a deep experience of their impact on women, and the way this impact has harmed themselves as well as their loved ones. They honor the experience of men as they simultaneously hold them accountable for their non-awareness of their violence and its impact. My role as it evolved was to weave in aspects of the perspective of peacebuilding, exploring the links between intimate violence and global violence, and the ways violence wounds identity, for example. It was also useful to have me there as a woman, responding as a woman, articulating truths not yet emerging from the women in the group, and working directly with them.

The second striking aspect of Steven and James' work is their commitment to turning it over to the people they're working with right from the beginning. While their engagement with others includes training, the training is a process of lighting a fire (as they say at the beginning, working with head, heart and soul, in order to understand, feel, and believe), with faith that the tinder to keep it going will be found in the room. Thus, each training evolves into a process of discussing next steps in building a grassroots movement with the energy and commitment awakened in the group. They are respectful conveners of this process of planning. In each workshop they share information about similar groups which are working already in other places. Dreams emerge from participants, such as developing an Africa-wide network of groups working to engage men in working with women on gender based violence, with teams on the group who could go when called to new communities.

The work was intense, exciting, fun, and moving, in new ways for me. While I carry questions always about the impact of people like us coming from other countries to "help" in Africa, there's an undeniable hunger for support to address this violence so inherent in culture here, and we bring not so much "expertise" as ourselves as men and women, albeit embedded in our own cultures, to work that has many similarities world wide.

Posted by Jorge at 11:12 AM | Comments (0)

October 04, 2007

The CARE Training Ends with a Goodbye to Rwanda

Today, the last day of the training, focused on deepening the honest dialogue between women and men about the emotional experiences and gender issues raised in yesterday's activities. It is both painful and heartening to watch the group struggle with this process. The powerful commitment to ending violence and creating healthy families in Rwanda was evident as they continued to build a new foundation of trust among themselves.

The action commitments that were generated as a result were deeply personal and very encouraging. Many men said they will be immediately changing the way they are relating to their wives and children. And many women said they will be going home to talk with their husbands about their experiences and needs, and about how to raise their children with more gender equality. Staff from Burundi also committed to bringing Men's Resources International to their country.

As we ended the day with certificates for all participants honoring the work they have done in this training, we knew this was an important step on a long journey. And as we completed the closing ceremony, wrapping the bamboo pole in our multicolored ribbons, and remembered the pole created last week at the Rwanda Men's Resource Centre, and the poles in Zambia and in Nigeria, and the nine poles in communities throughout Liberia, and the one at the MRI office in Springfield, United States, we knew we were witnessing the growth of a movement.

Posted by Jorge at 09:40 AM | Comments (0)

October 03, 2007

CARE Training, Day II

The second day of the training focuses on the themes of listening to women's and men's stories, breaking the silence about violence, and understanding the social and emotional dimensions of male socialization. It is a highly emotional process that engages the head, heart and soul.

Men are coached to listen to women and to become vulnerable about their own experiences with violence. Women are supported in their need to be heard and respected by men, and their demand for men as partners in change. Together, we learn how to cultivate this delicate, intimate and profound social change process among ourselves, laying the foundation for taking this work into our families and communities.

In the evening, Adin met with Rwandan students enrolled in the School for International Training program where she teaches (in Brattleboro, Vermont). James and I met with Fidel and Theogene for another expansive brainstorming session about possibilities for collaboration on program development and evaluation, and economic sustainability for the Rwanda Men's Resource Centre. The intersection of our resources and areas of expertise holds many intriguing prospects.

Uduma, James, and Ugo at the Wedding on Saturday

Posted by Jorge at 12:44 PM | Comments (1)

October 02, 2007

The CARE Training Begins

Today was the first day of our training on Engaging Men in Ending Violence and Promoting Positive Masculinity with CARE Rwanda. It seems fitting that the United Nations has declared today, which is Gandhi's birthday, International Non-Violence Day.

Recognizing the cross-cutting importance of this training, CARE staff from many different programs in Rwanda were present, as well as CARE staff from neighboring Burundi and Tanzania. Participants also came from other local NGOs, including two from the Rwanda Men's Resource Centre. In all, 25 men and women expectantly gathered in a Kigali meeting hall.

As usual, giving people an opportunity to stand and introduce themselves, with the bamboo pole, is a moving experience. To help set the context for the training, Delphine Pinault, Health & Orphans and Vulnerable Children Sector Coordinator did a presentation on GBV in Rwanda, and Maimouna Toliver, Maternal and Newborn Health Fellow, did a presentation on reproductive health in Rwanda. The following activities brought forward lively discussions about violence, and the group was very interested in exploring the subtle power dynamics in gender relations, such as whether withholding love or sex is a form of violence.

This unique opportunity to talk honestly about these issues among women and men was reflected by the intent eagerness in the room. And the ability to learn and practice these skills with each other was noted as a foundational part of a social and cultural change process.

We ended the day asking participants to place themselves on an agree-disagree continuum in response to a series of questions. It was a beautifully instructive experience to see the range of opinions about who should be responsible for contraception and pregnancy, whether men should defend their honor with force, if necessary, and if a man's word should be the final decision in the home. The honesty and vulnerability is allowing us to support them in learning how to dialogue across differences, and begin to address some of the deepest challenges in the work of engaging men.

Posted by Jorge at 12:04 PM | Comments (0)

October 01, 2007

Preliminary Visits with CARE, and Some Time with IRC and PROFEM

James, Adin and I spent this morning at the headquarters of CARE International where we met with key staff in violence prevention, health and education to prepare for tomorrow's training. We learned more about CARE's commitments to engaging men in these program areas, and they listened eagerly to our descriptions about our experiences in different African countries and Men's Resources International's approach to training and consulting.

In the afternoon, Fidel, James and I visited the International Rescue Committee headquarters, sharing with the executive director and chief officer our experiences with IRC in Liberia, planting the seeds for potential future collaboration with the Rwanda Men's Resource Centre.

Upon returning to the hotel in the evening we joined Adin in a meeting with two leaders of PROFEM, the national network of women's organizations. Agnes Mujawayezu, executive director, had attended the opening ceremonies of the training, and Suzanne Ruboneka, country coordinator for action campaigns, expressed their appreciation and support for the existence of the Rwanda Men's Resource Centre and the importance of getting men involved in the efforts to end gender-based violence, They repeatedly embraced the concept of "positive masculinity" as an valuable approach to gender equality. And together we began developing strategizing for most effectively collaborating on social change in Rwanda.

It was another profoundly satisfying day.

Posted by Jorge at 12:00 PM | Comments (0)

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