Are men missing in gender and health programmes? An analysis of the Malawi human rights resource center, a non-governmental organisation in Malawi.
Nkosi, Chimwemwe Nyambose.
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Literature has shown that the involvement of men in gender and health programmes remains unclear on the ground (Esplen, 2006:1; Rivers and Aggleton, 1999:2-3). This has been happening in the midst of claims to have moved from the Women in Development to the Gender and Development framework which calls for the involvement of men in gender and development work. Furthermore, it has been argued that where literature exists, the work is generally based on studies done in developed countries and the relevance of such findings to the developing world still remains unclear (Abraham, Jewkes, Hoffman and Laubsher, 2004:330; Connell, 1987:235-236). This study therefore attempts to fill this gap by looking at the work of the Malawi Human Rights Resource Center, one of the non-governmental organisations working on gender and health programmes in Malawi. A qualitative approach was used. Six project staff and eighteen project beneficiaries were interviewed to assess their perceptions and experiences. The study found out that men involvement continues to be minimal and unclear in gender and health programmes. Although there is awareness of the importance of men’s involvement this was not implemented effectively. The few men that were involved continue to be intimidated and humiliated by both men and women. The issues of masculinities and patriarchal also continue to shape gender inequalities in the area under study. All these discourage most men from active participation in such work. Furthermore, the few that are involved meet a number of barriers which deter them from greater involvement. Such barriers according to this study include, among other things, cultural barriers, lack of men’s own space where they can discuss their own gender related issues, the view held by some gender activists that gender is equal to women’s issues and men resistance to change considering the benefits accrued by being men. All these have impacted on the way people, especially men, view gender and health programmes. The study further found that although men are regarded as the main perpetrators of violence, not all men are as such, some do acknowledge the effects of the practise. Furthermore, some men also do experience violence. According to the study findings, this is an area which has also continued to be overlooked by most developmental agencies. In Malawi, this is also exacerbated by the fact that there are no specific programmes that target men’s welfare. Nevertheless, the study argues that men’s involvement is crucial in gender and health work. In areas where men were involved positive indicators were noted and reported. The indicators include improved communication within most families, peaceful family coexistence, happy families and changes in sexual behaviour. All these give hope regarding the reduction of HIV/AIDS and development as a whole. This suggests that where gender equality is to be achieved, men need to be actively involved, both as partners and victim of gender and health related violence. When implementing such programme, there is also need to acknowledge that not all men are violent, some are actually willing to join the fight against the malpractice.
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