“Now I know that women and girls can be our partners in the world. They deserve to have rights and opportunities, and our lives are better when we can work with girls and women as partners.”
- SERniño Program Participant, 2017
Seeing this young boy bravely challenge the long-standing “machismo” culture in his community and country was proof that we were on the right track with our work with boys, and since then, we have only continued to deepen our work with boys and men and see the positive ripple effect of doing so.
Our Whole Family Healing Program put into action a number of innovative new practices to most effectively support our mission to create gender equality, reduce gender-based violence, and support girls’ empowerment. Today we will focus on one of our transformative approaches to best advancing the empowerment of girls and women: the critical importance of including boys and men.
Why Include Boys & Men in Gender Equity & Girls’ Empowerment Work?
During our FIT Testing Project we were able to deepen our work with boys and to include men (fathers) for the first time. The results were nothing short of remarkable and we’re eager to share our approach and outcomes so that other organizations and the populations they serve may also benefit.
It is the responsible and ethical thing to do:
Involving boys and men in the mission to achieve gender equality and end gender-based violence is still a new approach. The vast majority of girls’ and women’s empowerment programs focus only on empowering women, ignoring the role boys and men must play in the creation of safe and equitable communities.
The reality is that the vast majority of violence cases have a male perpetrator. Failing to include boys and men is not only less effective, but also dangerous. Girls’ empowerment work equips girls and women with the language, tools, and confidence to advocate for themselves and use their voice. Applied in a context where deeply rooted patriarchal norms often dictate that girls and women are to accept and remain in their subjugated positions, these tools of empowerment can be viewed as a direct threat to the men in their lives, who have historically held power and control over them. If these men react with violence, these dangerous reactions compromise the safety and the lives of the very girls and women we are endeavoring to serve.
At REALgirl (SERniña) we firmly believe that including boys and men in our work is not an “add on”, but a critical component and ethical responsibility of our girls’ and women’s empowerment program.
It is the effective thing to do:
The truth is that in almost all countries in the world, men still hold more power than women. They have greater access to education, better job opportunities, higher incomes, and occupy more seats in leadership and government. There is power in this privilege. When women advocate for justice, rights, and empowerment, they are too often ignored. In countries such as Guatemala, men’s voices still garner more respect. By encouraging men to step up as advocates for girls and women, they are often able to foster greater and faster buy-in from other men (and boys), and their communities at large. In short, to fight this uphill battle without male allies is unnecessary and ineffective.
What specific goals do we have when working with boys and men?
- To support their personal growth, healing, and genuine empowerment (in depth versus on the surface)
- To foster within them a sense of authentic respect for and commitment to valuing, respecting, and advancing the girls and women in their families and communities
- To inspire the desire to step up as powerful advocates for gender equity
How do we ‘start the conversation’ and foster authentic buy-in from boys and men?
We must engage in meaningful dialogue that helps boys and men to see how they will also benefit in a more gender-equitable society that utilizes the resources and fullest potential of men and women. It is essential to shed light on how the patriarchal paradigm (including limiting gender roles and the disempowerment of girls and women), not only holds back women and girls - but also holds back boys and men, whole families, and communities.
With boys, who are still very much finding their identity and place in society, we have often found an eagerness to be less burdened by patriarchal norms and expectations that limit their full expression as human beings. The notion of girls and women working in partnership to “share the load” can be a profoundly appealing proposition. With boys and men, who are often socialized to keep these sources of vulnerability tucked away, this is a tall order that must be carried out with patience, compassion, and perseverance.
In addition to attending weekly/monthly workshops, boys and men also receive the support of our Family Therapists and Psychologists, multiple of whom are men specially trained in positive masculinity and restorative justice (more on our restorative justice approach next week!)
What offerings and content are included in our programs for boys & men?
- Critical thinking and active listening
- Discovering your true self
- Understanding and protecting your rights
- Becoming the author of your own story
- Identifying and overcoming gender roles
- Sexual health for males and females
- Bodily Autonomy & Consent
- Healthy relationships with self and others
In our new “Whole Family Healing Program”, which was tested through the support of FIT, we continued to run our weekly SERniño programs, but also developed a program for men/fathers which is now called ‘Cosechando Ternura’ (‘Weaving Tenderness’), which provides men with in-depth healing and equity workshops, run on a monthly basis.
In our new ‘Whole Family Healing Program’ programs for boys and men include:
1. Positive Masculinity workshop programs which run parallel to our girl/women empowerment programs
2. Specialized healing therapies for boys and men
3. Comprehensive violence response services for male victims of violence
4. Restorative justice-based programs for male perpetrators of violence (Beneficiaries and local staff all acknowledge this piece of the innovation as a critical component to the project’s success)
What impact have we seen since increasing our work with boys and men?
- The number of reported cases of violence among participants* dropped by 45%
- 79% of participants* reported experiencing less violence in their homes after the Testing Period
- 73% of participants* reported feeling safer in their homes after the Testing Period
- 70% of individuals in the Family Interventions Program report improved relationships between spouses after the Testing Period
*The vast majority of “participants” in these impact indicators are girls and women.
These outcomes echo what an increasing number of studies are showing. Though it is still a rare approach, studies show that including boys and men greatly improves the impact of gender equity programs. In fact, according to the Harvard Business Review “the evidence shows that when men are deliberately engaged in gender inclusion programs, 96% of organizations see progress — compared to only 30% of organizations where men are not engaged.”
Consequently, it has only become more clear to all of us at REALgirl (SERniña) that to ensure lasting change when it comes to advancing gender equity and ensuring the safety and empowerment of girls and women – we must include all individuals who make up a community and interact with and impact the lives of girls and women.