A time for assessment
Teams measuring the impact of various positive-masculinity workshops have been at work since 2019, primarily in slums, where problems associated with toxic masculinity are exacerbated. They reconnect with the men who participated in these programs. Data collection had to stop at some point because of COVID‑19, but during this time, the researchers were able to begin their analysis and produce preliminary results.
The preliminary results are hopeful. After participating in awareness-raising efforts, men “find, for example, that it is important to have a good attitude and that it is possible that the role of provider in the family does not fall solely to the man,” says Marie-Gloriose Ingabire. “But we have yet to evaluate concrete changes in behaviour.” To do this, the researchers also talk to women to see if they feel the effects in their daily lives. Ultimately, they hope to draw lessons from it to build new positive-masculinity programs, more adapted to the realities of each country.
Lloyd Muriuki Wamai of the Africa Alliance of YMCAs is also collecting data on power spaces, including in Kitwe, Zambia. It soon became apparent that men had very little knowledge of family planning. A certain vicious circle has set in. Many women become pregnant and are abandoned by their partner. These single mothers do not want their daughters to suffer the same fate and they make it their duty to take them to the clinic so that they can have access to contraception. Family planning has thus become a “women’s issue.” “Men think that everything is decided in advance and they are not used to discussing it,” he says. “Moreover, religion, which is very present in Rwanda and Zambia, does not encourage them to learn about these issues.”
“So, we came up with the idea of creating a little educational video game where young adults can learn the basics of the topic,” says Lloyd Muriuki Wamai. “We believe that this strategy could be particularly effective in getting them to take responsibility, and we intend to measure the impact.”
Toxic masculinity doesn’t serve men either. “In patriarchy, only men are assigned roles and qualities that are valued and esteemed in society. Even though they seem to represent an advantageous position for men, these privileges have deprived men of a better knowledge of what the women around them are thinking and proposing; they have been forced not to show their feelings and skills; to deny the possibilities of seeking help; and to always present themselves as strong and capable even if they don’t feel that way inside,” reads a training book created for Mali by the Centre for International Studies and Cooperation, a Montreal-based organization.
Created in 2018, this training advocates a win-win approach to equality, where men can take care of their families, express their feelings, ask for help and acknowledge their weaknesses while being men, but better men.
For the betterment of everyone, man must find a new place in society and, to achieve this, it will be necessary to act on religion, according to Marie Fall. “Africa has experienced a lot of tragedy and religion, seen as a refuge, becomes more important when societies are in crisis,” she explains. “There is a great deal of religious fervour in Africa, and it has a huge influence on people’s behaviour.”
Chimaraoke Izugbara makes the same point: “Religious institutions play a big role in society and they reinforce the traditional role of the man as head of the family and provider, while the woman is seen as a subordinate. When you add this to poverty and unemployment, you realize that the possibilities of changing men’s behaviour are limited if you don’t act elsewhere as well.”
Marie Fall believes that a less violent and more constructive interpretation of religious texts is needed to revise social norms. “At the moment, religions prescribe the legitimacy — to a varying degree depending on faith, ethnicity, culture, age, social class — of violence against women,” she laments.
The researcher also stresses the importance of not falling into the other extreme: giving all power to women. “It is really in equality between men and women that a society truly wins. And of course, in order to do this, the major conflicts that plague African societies must be resolved, allowing people to finally live in peace and earn a living so that they can meet their basic needs and those of their families. You can’t make real progress if people are still in a survival situation,” she says.
The original French version of this article was published in the September 2021 issue of Québec Science.