09 Nov Embracing Gender-Transformative Change:
How EMBRACE Rwanda Engages Men and Boys to Defy Gender Norms
Guest blog post with EMBRACE Volunteer Program Development Coordinator, Vanessa Parlette
In my last guest blog post, I wrote about the EMBRACE project’s gender-transformative approach to improving maternal-child health – and correspondingly the health and wellbeing of all Rwandans. Tackling the root causes of malnutrition and poor health means addressing the deep challenges of poverty and limited resources. In remote areas of Rwanda, these challenges are compounded by stark gender inequality between women and men.
In Rwanda, men have traditionally assumed the role of economic provider and gatekeeper to resources – including those needed for health insurance and school fees. Women are seen as subservient to men and responsible for all household labour and childrearing. This means women spend long hours farming and fetching water for the household alongside cooking, cleaning, and caring for children. With little respect attached to these activities, women themselves are not respected in their roles and face limited access to economic resources, education, and community leadership roles. The result of this gender inequality is lower quality of life and reduced health for children, youth, and adults of all genders.
Gender inequality contributes to high incidence of gender-based violence and household conflict, along with difficulty meeting the social and developmental needs of all family members. For example, if women can’t access resources to pay for health insurance or household essentials, men are not involved in supporting family health and nutrition, and women are so burdened with farming and household labour that they’re unable to travel the long distances required to access health resources (for themselves and their children) then the whole family suffers. In the face of these intractable challenges, male engagement is essential to address and eliminate deeply entrenched gender inequality – not only in Rwanda, but across the globe.
EMBRACE actively works with male and female adults and youth to challenge traditional gender roles. These strategies contribute toward equitable household decision-making and access to resources alongside male involvement in family and reproductive health.
- Engagement of men and male youth through community-based mixed gender groups: Men participate in Mother Child Health Groups with partners and male youth participate in Community Health Clubs where they learn about key Maternal-Newborn-Child Health (MNCH) and Nutrition as well as Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). Through gender sensitive facilitation, both men and women build skills to develop positive gender roles and equitable relationships that promote health and wellness of each partner.
- Development of Male Champions and Role Models: Male role models, already demonstrating positive gender roles and behaviour, have been identified in each village and trained to build their knowledge and capacity for engaging other men around family involvement and the benefits of gender equality.
- Targeted Male Outreach and Consultation: Men and male youth from each village are engaged to discuss barriers and challenges men face to being more involved in SRHR and family life, how they can support more equitable gender roles in their households and communities, how they would like to be involved in MNCH activities, and how to engage other men. Through this consultation, men informed project staff that they did not see a need for separate male-specific groups and preferred to join existing mixed gender groups, though this preference may be different in other settings.
- Community Awareness Campaigns: Mass outreach is conducted through radio programs, print materials, and large events to promote male involvement in MNCH, the benefits of equality in relationships and decision-making, as well as to demonstrate (through theatre and role play) how men can be more involved to achieve benefits in their households.
Through these EMBRACE activities, men in Nyabihu are taking up the charge to be supportive partners and fathers. Fathers are demonstrating greater involvement in household and childrearing responsibilities, while male and female youth work together to educate and engage the next generation of families and community leaders. As a result, families are reporting the benefits of more equitable and stronger positive relationships that support health and wellbeing at home and in the community. This demonstrates everyone’s collective responsibility to take action in transforming gender norms toward an equitable future for all.
Vanessa Parlette has a PhD in Urban Geography from the University of Toronto and a Master’s and Honours in Communication Studies from Simon Fraser and York University, respectively. She has been working in community development, poverty reduction, and public health for 15 years and is passionate about mobilizing collective impact to achieve social justice and empowered communities. She is currently on leave from her position as a Health Strategy Specialist with a Canadian municipality to expand her expertise and contribute to sustainable development on a global scale.
EMBRACE is a four-year project designed to improve the maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) of vulnerable women, girls and boys in Cambodia, Myanmar the Philippines and Rwanda through improving access to essential health services, building the capacity of local health workers, and providing community education programs. Funded in part by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada (GAC), EMBRACE is a project led by ADRA Canada and implemented in partnership Youth Challenge International (YCI) and the Hincks-Dellcrest Centre (HDC).
For nearly 30 years, creating solutions for sustainable development, especially sustainable livelihoods and equality, has been deeply rooted in all of YCI’s work.
EMBRACE is generously funded in part by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada.