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Young men advocate for gender equality in Lebanon

by Nina Ford, Antonella Notari Vischer and Anthony Keedi
Monday, 20 October 2014 20:39 GMT

Program H has been adapted in more than 25 countries. Youth pictured here are part of the Young Men’s Initiative in the Balkans. Credit: Ivan Stojiljković/Centar E8

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The role of men in re-examining long-held beliefs about gender roles is critical if we are ever to realize full equality.

By Nina Ford, Antonella Notari Vischer and Anthony Keedi

In Lebanon, inequitable relationships between men and women are deeply rooted on many levels - from the nearly nonexistent presence of women in government down to the familial unit, where marital rape goes unrecognized as a crime. Domestic violence in the country is widespread and largely unreported, despite the recent advent of protective legislative measures. Since forcefulness is an accepted notion of masculinity, both men and women tend toward the assumption that courts will side with the man in cases of gender-based violence.

Amplifying women’s voices and participation, and ensuring that women have access to quality education and knowledge about their rights, is extremely important to advancing gender equality in Lebanon. The role of men in re-examining long-held beliefs about gender roles, however, is also critical if we are ever to realize full equality.

 Where many have seen men and boys as the source of the problem, ABAAD, a Beirut-based NGO, views them as potential advocates for change. The organization has launched a center for men - and a companion media campaign - to provide spaces  for discussion that aim to mitigate violence. ABAAD also works on primary prevention by using games that give boys and girls the tools to identify inequalities in existing gender constructs, along with the confidence needed to redefine them.

ABAAD and Promundo, an NGO that works with men and boys to promote gender equality and prevent violence, aim to scale up this type of innovative programming with youth in the Middle East. With the support of the inaugural Womanity Award from the Womanity Foundation, the two organizations will partner over a three-year period to adapt, deploy, and evaluate Promundo’s Program H in Lebanon to promote equitable gender norms with young men - most notably in refugee camps.

“Undergoing this work at a point in these young men’s lives where they are still formulating their identities and understanding how to interact with others - specifically members of the opposite sex - will prevent countless cases of gender-based violence in Lebanon,” says Anthony Keedi, Program Manager of ABAAD’s Masculinities Program.

 Program H (“H” for homens, or men, in Portuguese, and hombres in Spanish) is a methodology developed by Promundo and partners to start conversations with young men and their communities about norms related to manhood.

It focuses on group educational activities like dramatizations, games and debates that stimulate individual and collective reflection about how men and women are socialized. Among the themes addressed are sexual and reproductive health, mental health and gender-based violence. These activities are often accompanied by youth-driven, community campaigns and assessed using an innovative evaluation tool called the Gender-Equitable Men (GEM) Scale.

 The centerpiece of the Program H approach is same-sex group discussions, generally with male facilitators who serve as role models. The discussions focus on creating a safe space to allow young men to question traditional views about manhood, and to reflect on injustices and rigidities related to gender.

Major international organizations have taken note. UNFPA recognized Program H as an effective strategy for engaging young men in the promotion of sexual and reproductive health in its 2008 State of World Population report. The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Bank have all named Program H a best practice in integrating gender in their programming, while in 2011, former UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet named Program H a good practice in the prevention of violence against women.

Born in Latin America, Program H has since been tested, implemented and adapted to local cultures in over 25 countries by partners in South and Southeast Asia, the Balkans, the US and  sub-Saharan Africa. However, the partnership between Promundo and ABAAD represents the first time that Program H will be implemented in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and with displaced and refugee populations.

 Compounding the challenge of transforming deeply rooted patriarchal norms in the Middle East is the fact that Lebanon - and the region more broadly - is continuously affected by conflict, which helps perpetuate these traditional concepts of manhood based on dominance and violence. Additionally, the displaced and refugee populations with whom Program H will work must cope with the loss of their homes, separation from family and loved ones, hostility from host populations, unresolved trauma from their homeland, and lack of basic services. When these individuals’ most basic needs are not being met, not only does violence increase, but equitable gender relations, although essential for restoring peace and social relations, also fail to be seen as a priority.

 Promundo has experience in transforming gender attitudes and behaviors in post-conflict settings with programming that integrates psycho-social support, and it will use these experiences to inform the adaptation of Program H in Lebanon. In addition to critically reflecting on harmful gender norms, questioning violence, and encouraging positive communication between men and women, the program must be adapted to provide a space to reflect on and heal from trauma specific to conflict and post-conflict environments. The project will build off of lessons learned from similar programs in other post-conflict settings, like the Young Men Initiative’s adaption of Program H in the Western Balkans and Promundo’s Living Peace Groups in Central Africa. The goal is to create a culturally adapted version of Program H that includes the psycho-social support necessary to carry out the project in a refugee setting.

ABAAD will use the Gender Equitable Men (GEM) Scale to evaluate changes in attitudes in order to use this program as a foundation for the development of best practices for organizations educating displaced youth in Lebanon. The project staff will work with school administrators, religious leaders, and community leaders to expand the reach and increase the effectiveness of the intervention, building a model that can be replicated throughout the North Africa and Middle East region and elsewhere.

 ---Nina Ford is a communications assistant with Promundo, a non-profit engaging men and boys to promote gender equality. Antonella Notari Vischer is director of Womanity Foundation which is dedicated to empowering women and girls. Anthony Keedi is director of the Masculinities Program at ABAAD, a gender equality NGO in Lebanon.


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