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POPULATION-BRAZIL: Reaching Out to Young Men to Fight Gender Violence

Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 12 2005 (IPS) - Watching his mother receive frequent beatings at the hands of his stepfather, until she finally lost her hearing in one ear, made him a quiet teenager who keeps his gaze glued to the floor.
     But he decided that he was not going to become a violent man himself, and he poured his experiences into the script of a play that is now used as a tool in the fight against domestic violence in Brazil.

Watching his mother receive frequent beatings at the hands of his stepfather, until she finally lost her hearing in one ear, made him a quiet teenager who keeps his gaze glued to the floor.

But he decided that he was not going to become a violent man himself, as often occurs in such cases, and he poured his experiences into the script of a play that is now used as a tool in the fight against domestic violence in Brazil.

“He channelled his built-up hatred not towards others, but into his social work,” said Gary Barker, executive director of the Promundo Institute, who pointed to the young man as a positive example of the effects of Programme H, which holds workshops aimed at changing young men’s attitudes on gender equality.

The young man became a peer promoter, taking on a leadership role after a one-year course offered by Programme H (for the Portuguese “homem” or man).

The educational and consciousness-raising workshops usually last four months, and involve hundreds of teenagers and young men between the ages of 15 and 24, said Barker, an expert in child development.


Programme H is one of the innovative projects focusing on men to foment gender equality and reproductive health that was cited by the “State of the World Population 2005: Promise of Equality; Gender Equity, Reproductive Health and the Millennium Development Goals” report released Wednesday by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The methodology, designed by the Promundo Institute and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Brazil and Mexico, is already being used in a number of countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

It encourages changes by questioning stereotypical definitions of masculinity and urging young men to consider the costs of these traditional norms and the benefits, in terms of life, health and happiness, of modifying certain behaviours.

Initiatives focusing on men emerged in recent years in response to the recognition by the International Conference on Population and Development held in 1994 in Cairo that “Men play a key role in bringing about gender equality since, in most societies, men exercise preponderant power in nearly every sphere of life.”

The problem, according to the UNFPA report, is the limited reach of these programmes given the magnitude of the challenge of modifying masculine behaviour on a large-scale in order to address pressing reproductive health questions like the spread of HIV/AIDS, and gender equality issues.

In Brazil, around 30 NGOs take part in Programme H, some of which reach up to 20,000 men in their workshops, while others are much smaller. But the aim is to have a multiplying effect by training teachers and health professionals and fomenting public policies, Barker told IPS.

In other countries, Programme H is used by large companies that employ thousands of workers, and even by the military or police, with the aim of achieving modifications of behaviour on an even larger scale.

Teenagers and young men are the targets of the campaign because during the younger years, “one’s identity is formed, the way one acts in interpersonal relations, sexual relationships begin, couples are formed,” there is greater flexibility and a willingness to “reconsider” values, said the head of the Promundo Institute, which is based in Rio de Janeiro.

AIDS prevention requires a focus on men, who generally become sexually active at an earlier age, have a greater number of sexual partners and have greater power in their relationships with women, besides having a stronger tendency to engage in high risk behaviours like intravenous drug use, the UNFPA points out.

But studies on population and reproductive health have almost exclusively focused on women, which means sexual health information and services targeting men are scarce despite the fact that they are primarily responsible for spreading sexually transmitted diseases.

Brazil’s public health services are mainly visited by women, children and the elderly, while young and adult men only seek care in case of emergency, Barker pointed out.

The need to work with men is now widely recognised, and the UNFPA calls for an alliance with men against HIV/AIDS and other health problems like maternal mortality, and in favour of more equal gender relations, which is a factor in development.

“Men are also participants in the fight against gender violence,” said Telia Negrao, coordinator of the Plural Women’s Collective in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre.

“Equality requires a dialogue on the nature of violence, which is a product of how relationships are formed,” she told IPS.

The world has changed, modifying male and female positions in society. But “culture changes at a slower pace,” and men need “affective education” that is more in line with today’s reality, said Barker.

Many men still miss out on the joy of having a closer relationship with their children or have a hard time accepting a female boss, he noted.

But women, and society as a whole, need to be “re-educated” to overcome concepts and values that justify the persistence of relations based on dominance, inequality and hierarchies, between men and women and between generations and ethnic groups, said Negrao.

Even the educational system must change, because schools reinforce the idea that “boys are stronger, more intelligent and more important” than girls, and that “men have power in the public sphere and women in the private,” she argued.

 
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POPULATION-BRAZIL: Reaching Out to Young Men to Fight Gender Violence

Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 12 2005 (IPS) - Watching his mother receive frequent beatings at the hands of his stepfather, until she finally lost her hearing in one ear, made him a quiet teenager who keeps his gaze glued to the floor.
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