How a broken man became a ‘gender champion’

Community EmpowermentGenderInjustice

I met Bura last year, towards the end of September, in a small village called Ngiri, about eight hours drive from Bunia in Orientale province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I clearly remember his face when he shared with his peers his wife’s response to a reflective exercise that involved asking her the following question: “If there was one thing you would want me to change, what would that be?” Her response was heavy with anger and sadness: “Why are you asking this question now? We have been married for 14 years, and you have never asked me this, not even once, but why now?”

An activity using playing cards to unpack concepts of power, status and privilege in Ngiri, DRC, September 2015. Photo: Prabu Deepan

He was in tears, a broken man, bound by the same social norms that prevent millions of men from expressing their feelings, communicating or being emotional. Such repression is harmful to men like Bura and to others around them, especially when it is expressed in the form of physical and/or sexual violence. Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the DRC is among the highest in the world. It is estimated that over 1.6 million women have reported being raped in their lifetime, and over 3 million report of intimate partner violence. 

Bura was broken, because he had never expressed his feelings to his wife before, but taking an active part in our Transforming Masculinities training has changed his life. It has helped him to self-reflect and work together in groups on harmful norms and practices around gender, masculinities and SGBV. The group has created a space where the men and women can aspire to an alternative society based on values of gender equality and positive masculinities. 

Bura in a group reflection session during their initial training, Ngiri, DRC Sept 2015. Photo: Prabu Deepan

As a “gender champion” Bura has journeyed with 30 men since October 2015, facilitating community dialogues with them. Other couples now reach out to him and his wife for help. Here’s what he had to say about how this work is inspiring transformation: 

“Before, the situation was not good, even in my own home. When I attended the training it changed our behaviour and the role we play for the good of our community. Physical violence decreased in the community and it has become rare. If there is a risk of conflict, people avoid resorting to violence to solve their problem.”

Tearfund’s approach is unique and meaningful to people like Bura because the curriculum also uses relevant biblical scriptures to explore these concepts. This brings the conversation on gender equality and SGBV from within people’s understanding and experiences of their faith and cultures. The Transforming Masculinities process and tools are being used and adapted in many countries, including Myanmar, Colombia, and Liberia. Our journey continues, and together we can envision a better world for both men and women, where equality is not an agenda or question, but a reality. 

Exploring the linkages of gender, masculinities and faith, a qualitative research report on sexual and gender-based violence in Liberia, has recently been published by Tearfund. 

This project was funded by UK aid from the UK government, via the What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls Global Programme (www.whatworks.co.za)

Prabu Deepan
Prabu Deepan works for Tearfund’s SGBV and Peacebuilding Team and is based in Sri Lanka.