“When there is mutual respect among young men and women, they are looking at a bright future without violence, unwanted pregnancy, STIs.”
These are the words of Maurice*, the 22-year-old facilitator of a young men’s group on sexual and reproductive health and caregiving in Rwanda’s Musanze District.
“I am proud to teach other young men to adopt positive behaviors,” he says. “When people are changing, when there is positive change among youth, they are prepared to have good families with shared responsibility; they are looking towards positive development. When people are changing behaviors about gender-based violence, drug use, condom use, the family is stable and healthy.”
Educational groups in Rwanda – like the one Maurice facilitates – help men become better informed and make healthier choices regarding their sexuality, relationships, health and caregiving. They also help participants to challenge and change attitudes and ideas about what it means to be a man, which is critical for promoting nonviolence and empowering women and girls.
These young men’s groups in Rwanda are part of the MenCare+ project, which combines these sessions with those for fathers and for young women in Rwanda, Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia. The project is part of the broader MenCare Campaign. Active in over 25 countries, MenCare works to promote men’s involvement as active fathers and partners around the world.
Young men aren’t just learning how to take care of their own sexual health and improve their relationships; they’re also learning how to be better partners, husbands and fathers.
“We learned to care for the baby, starting during pregnancy. When a woman is pregnant, it is a critical period. We learned that we should take care of pregnant women,” says Jean, a fathers’ group participant in the Musanze District. “It was not the case before. It was a new thing for us.”
Men’s participation during their partners’ pregnancies can have an important impact on women’s well-being and health. Research has shown that women who have involved partners feel more emotionally supported than women with absent or uninvolved partners; when men are present in caring and in the birthing and pre-natal phases, women also experience less stressful deliveries and are more likely to have access to the best available health care.
Of course, women must have the right to decide when and where to have children, have access to high quality health services with or without a partner, and avenues and opportunities for economic and social independence. But for women to achieve full equality inside and outside the home, men must also be engaged as allies throughout the process: by taking equal responsibility for raising children, for completing domestic work, and for their own and their partner’s health and rights.
Although many still believe that child care and domestic work are a woman’s responsibility, men around the world, like Jean, are increasingly recognizing the important role that they can play by taking care of their children, and supporting their partners, and the benefits are clear. It has positive effects for women, children, and men themselves.
Decades of research show that children whose fathers are supportive, caring role models are more likely to be protected from violence, have more successful futures, and handle stress more easily. Men’s active involvement with caregiving also has positive effects on boys’ and girls’ health and development, and it makes children more open to questioning traditional gender norms.
And men benefit as well: Research shows that those who participate more equally in caregiving report better mental and physical health than those who do not.
Promundo, a co-coordinator of the MenCare Campaign, was founded to address the need to involve men and boys in promoting gender equality and ending violence against women around the world.