The Other Side of the Story: Engaging Men and Boys as Champions in Combatting Violence against Women
Building on the gained momentum of Egypt’s first innovation camp on violence against women (VAW)— fashioned by UNDP in cooperation with the National Council for Women (NCW) another innovation camp tackling VAW in Egypt was recently organized. This time, however, UNDP chose to focus on the other side of the customary discourse; men and boys.
- While the Upper Egypt region tends to be perceived as very traditional with regards to women’s empowerment and gender equality, most of the men and boys who participated in the innovation camp conveyed progressive views and an open attitude.
- The fight against VAW is still far from over in Upper Egypt and needs collective efforts to increase the momentum.
- It was essential during the formation of the camp’s methodology to avoid ending up antagonizing the participating men and boys. This eventually paid out as participants eagerly tried to understand and work together to find solutions, disregarding their different genders.
- Being surrounded by positive role models of both genders that advocate directly or indirectly for women’s empowerment and rights and also gender equality in one’s life, proved to be extremely empowering and influential for most of the participants.
Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls tend to act as the answers when it comes to searching and finding ways and means to combat VAW; it is crucial to engage men and boys in the conversation as they are part of the solution— contrary to the common belief that they tend to constitute solely the heart of the problem.
Henceforth, this camp was designed to serve as an opportunity and a platform to hear the voices and envisage the views of youth, so that we can collectively brainstorm about engaging men and boys as societal champions in contesting— and ultimately preventing —VAW in Egypt.
And what better place to roam to than at the heart of Upper Egypt, where patriarchy and gender norms are considered and perceived to be deeply rooted and enforced, and above all govern the daily lives of women and girls.
The camp was held on Thursday, 5th to Saturday, 7th March 2015 at a youth center in Luxor governorate and targeted youth aged between 18 and 35 of both genders as participants from the entire Upper Egypt region, with the presence of a number of experts on VAW serving as mentors, governmental representatives from the NCW, in addition to UNDP staff and external facilitators that led and mediated the conversations during the innovation camp.
During the 3 days, participants debated openly about the challenge of engaging men and boys in battling and ultimately averting VAW, and most importantly in envisaging scenarios and solutions to transform men and boys in becoming agents of change that play a lead role in this cause.
New ways of engaging men and boys were explored, whether by heeding the call for prevention, empowering and influencing other men and boys to have influential roles and take action, and first and foremost by safeguarding their families and communities.
“My mother overcame many obstacles to marry my father, he was the first in his family to marry someone he loves. My father would not have achieved anything without her, she used to work and left her job to take care of us and I always thank her for that.” —a young participant reflected, when questioned about influential women role models in his life.
Participants realized that VAW comes in diverse forms, practices and experiences; partakers also shared firsthand accounts and heard-of stories related to VAW and faulty gender-based notions, consequently leading them empathize due to the given focus on shared and experienced sentiments, and hence developing a better understanding and empathy for the experience of the other gender.
Further exercises aided participants in identifying the roles that men and boys can embody and carry out as active bystanders in discontinuing VAW, and also what kind of support that will assist in embracing such roles.
“My father was the first family member who encouraged and permitted me travel on my own away from home and to participate in extracurricular activities. He is illiterate that is why he wants his children to better him.” —One of the participating young women, when asked about positive men figures in her life.
Subsequently, participants worked on designing citizen-centric innovative solutions and practical models for users and make-believe tailored personas- in this case men and boys— experiencing or being part of the aforesaid impediments.
The self-named ‘Do not Force her’ team was the winner and awarded a prize by Microsoft Egypt, sponsors of the innovation camp. The team presented an integrated model targeting and boys with aim of reaching out to and empowering them in combatting and preventing forced marriages in their communities and depriving women and girls from their right to education.
The takeaway from this camp is very encouraging: Egyptian youth are very engaged and committed to influence positive change. Providing the right platform and tools can result is innovative solutions to address development and societal challenges.