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In-Depth Reading Time: 4 minutes

Empowering Change: Breaking Down Gender Norms through Positive Masculinity in the DRC

YARH-DRC's Transformative Approach to Engage Men in Breaking Down Gender Barriers

Unveiling Gender Inequality in the DRC: The Role of Patriarchal Culture

Engaging men and boys in promoting gender equality is rooted in the belief that achieving gender parity involves transforming the existing unequal power dynamics between men and women. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), particularly in the war-ravaged North Kivu region, the persistence of a patriarchal culture is a primary driver of women’s rights violations. Instances of violence against women and girls are widespread across all societal levels, notably in the displacement camps of Eastern DRC, where the impact of war intensifies existing inequalities amongst internally displaced people (IDP). Various forms of violence, such as rape, physical abuse, harassment, discrimination, and sexual exploitation, perpetuate the denial of dignity to women and girls. This article underscores the crucial need to address the specific requirements of women and girls, emphasizing gender-sensitive responses in humanitarian contexts to fortify accountability frameworks against gender-based violence and enhance access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services.

Positive Masculinity: Challenging Norms and Fostering Change

Positive masculinity entails challenging preconceived notions of masculinity and traditional concepts of manhood. It necessitates men to critically assess power dynamics in their actions and words across personal, interpersonal, and societal levels, fostering a sense of responsibility for meaningful change. Men and boys, often holding decision-making power, have been identified as barriers to girls’ and women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning choices.

In North-Kivu’s Humanitarian settings, the Youth Alliance for Reproductive Health (YARH-DRC) is actively engaging men in traditionally male-dominated spheres, aiming to instigate social change by challenging gender norms that undermine women’s empowerment. YARH-DRC employs an evidence-based approach geared towards transforming detrimental perceptions of reproductive health and masculinities, while advocating for increased access to SRH services, including contraceptive methods.

By guiding men and boys through a transformative journey, this initiative promotes a lifestyle reflective of positive masculinity and acknowledges women’s bodily autonomy. Small groups convene weekly for three weeks in communities, with community leaders (Mashujaa) facilitating discussions during the first two weeks in single-sex groups and the third week in mixed groups. Recognizing the potential of men and boys to contribute to the health and rights of women and girls, implementing a gender-transformative approach in humanitarian settings becomes imperative to challenge gender inequality, alter harmful gender norms, roles, and relations, and strive towards a more equitable redistribution of power, resources, and services.

YARH-DRC completing a training in a classroom
YARH-DRC completing a transformative training in a classroom in DRC.

“We received information on positive masculinity, a training that helped us a lot and contributed to bring a positive change in my life. I was trained as a champion to engage men and boys in dialogues for gender transformation and we have seen positive change as before where we were not allowing our women to go for family planning services as we want more children, but imagine with the situation in camps with no job, no place to sleep, having more children who can’t afford basic needs like food and education will put us in a hard situation’’. Bahati -Bulengo IDP camp.

Interventions focused on men and boys can broaden the possibilities for challenging gender norms and masculine ideals that can hinder sexual reproductive health and mobilize advances in gender inequality in humanitarian settings where gender-based violence is a issue. 

“Before, I knew that a woman’s role was only to be a mother and to provide for some of the family’s needs, but I didn’t know that men and women could help each other. I’ve learned to be a champion of positive masculinity. I’m going to engage men and boys towards supporting women and girls as we promote sexual and reproductive health, preventing gender-based violence towards our women.” – Baraka IDP in Kanyaruchinya.

Transformative Approaches in Humanitarian Settings: The Role of Men and Boys

Addressing the humanitarian conditions in the Eastern region of the DRC, the positive masculinity approach has proven effective in breaking down barriers to accessing SRH services, particularly family planning, for girls and women in IDP camps. Interventions involving men and boys must be intentionally geared towards promoting equality between genders, explicitly challenging harmful gender norms, including toxic masculinity, and dismantling unequal power structures that privilege males while subordinating women and girls.

Men and boys are crucial allies in this endeavor, playing diverse roles as users of SRH services, decision-makers, and contributors to improved access to SRH services, including family planning methods and sexually transmitted infection prevention and treatment. Recognizing their significance as partners, YARH-DRC actively involves men and boys to break the limiting perspectives and promote balance in communities plagued by inequalities. Shifting the perspective involves working collaboratively with men and boys to actively change their roles in the promotion of SRH, ensuring improved access to information and services for everyone.

To implement gender-transformative approaches, YARH-DRC has undertaken several initiatives, including:

  1. Awareness Generation: Addressing the need for increased awareness on the magnitude of gender-based violence and stereotypes in the targeted implementation areas.
  1. Safe Spaces and Confidential Services: Responding to the need for a secure environment by establishing safe spaces and confidential services for survivors of violence.
  1. Holistic Support for Violence Survivors: Recognizing the multifaceted needs of violence survivors and providing not only legal and medical assistance but also socio-economic support.
  1. Community Financial Support: Enabling survivors to access emergency assistance through a basic insurance fund, meeting their urgent financial needs.

Additionally, advocacy and campaign initiatives can further mobilize community leaders and humanitarian workers to address masculinities hindering support for women and girls in accessing SRH services. By addressing critical needs, YARH-DRC aims to create a comprehensive support system for survivors of gender-based violence, ensuring a path to their recovery and empowerment.

Engaging men and boys in community dialogues challenges social norms, stigma, discrimination, and attitudes, fostering a transformative approach to gender roles and stereotypes. By encouraging men to become gender advocates who actively speak out against discrimination and inequality, the initiative aims to empower both men and women with accurate information about reproductive healthcare, benefiting the entire community.

Simon Bine Mambo, MD, MPH

Executive Director YARH-DRC

Simon is a medical doctor, researcher, and advocate for young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. His daily goal is to contribute to the quality of life of young people through advocacy and the promotion of health services. A young-FP champion, Simon is Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Youth Alliance for Reproductive Health(YARH-DRC) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has published several articles in peer reviewed journals. He devotes his time to research, promote quality health and well-being of young people in fragile and humanitarian contexts.

Kiya Myers, MPS

Managing Editor, Knowledge SUCCESS

Kiya Myers is the Managing Editor of Knowledge SUCCESS’ website. She was previously the Managing Editor of CHEST journals at American College of Chest Physicians where she worked to transition the manuscript submission platforms and launched two new online-only journals. She was the Assistant Managing Editor at the American Society of Anesthesiologists, responsible for copyediting the column “Science, Medicine, and Anesthesiology” published monthly in Anesthesiology and ensuring adherence to peer review policies by reviewers, associate editors, and editorial staff. She facilitated the successful launch of Blood Podcast in 2020. Serving as the Podcast Subcommittee Chair of the Professional Development Committee for the Council of Science Editors, she managed the successful launch of CSE S.P.E.A.K. Podcast in 2021.