There is no denying that women of all ages encounter a lot of injustice at the hands of patriarchal societies. As such, there are many efforts to address issues of gender parity, mainly focusing on women as target audience, leaving men trailing behind in the fight for the cause. In 2014, Desmond Lunga founded Men & Boys for Gender Equality – Botswana, with the aim to engage men to be active participants towards, as opposed to spectators of, a gender inclusive world.

Lunga had realised that most programmes, efforts and initiatives around gender equality only target women; with little interventions towards behavioural change targeting men. “With gender related issues such as abuse, teenage pregnancy the victim is taken for counselling and other interventions, while the perpetrator gets punished by the court of law. Sending a man to jail or to get a lashing at the customary court does not change a man’s behaviour. It is therefore crucial to engage men to understand the impacts of gender issues to encourage men to be part of the solution – this is what MBGE Botswana has set as one of their mandates” explained Lunga.

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MBGE’s primary target is men and boys, but all interventions targets both genders. The organisation develops various strategies to engage men and boys. The team behind the organization benchmarked from other countries and localised the tactics, bringing them home.

Speaking to Pristine, Lunga emphasised that behavioural change is not a small issue. “many aspects that have led to gender inequality come from how the man has been socialised, that is, society has allowed and encouraged men to have patriarchal mentalities; they have certain privileges that come at the cost of women and girls.”

Challenges

In a society that is influenced by traditional values, initiatives that promote gender equality face barriers. These barriers often come in the form of resistance associated with cultural beliefs and the socialisation of boys. Lunga revealed that many people often cite tradition as a reason to get into, or back out of doing something.

When faced with such resistance, MBGE resorts to finding out the origins and reasons behind some of the cultural beliefs and practices from the elderly.

“An example would be taboos associated with being present in the birthing and nursing room during birth. The elders explain that during their days men were forbidden from the nursing room for reasons health and hygiene purposes; to reduce any risk of affecting the new born’s immune system. As a result, our findings allow us to come up with strategies and solutions that fit into the present times, without infringing on anyone’s cultural beliefs. The point is to establish the root cause of any man’s behaviour and implement a solution that would positively nudge their behavioural change in the right direction” he stated.
Solutions

To create the necessary shift in mindset will not happen overnight. “It will take many years for this transformation to occur. Bold action and interventions need to be taken now to build on to the possible future of gender equality…to groom the next generations of men understand the importance of both genders being equal in all aspects of life” he highlighted.

In comparison to global trends regarding gender parity, Lunga believes Botswana is not too far off, basing his observation on the fact that both genders have equal rights to education, which means both qualify for similar opportunities.

Furthermore, through engagements with youth in the community, MBGE promotes education and awareness at school level. Lunga believes that the seed of behavioural change if planted early and nurtured throughout a child’s life, is key to winning the fight against gender inequality.

Strength in collaboration

Gender inequality is a global concern, and it is therefore important for efforts made across the world to preach the same message. In light of this, MBGE Botswana has partnered with Men Engage, a global organisation that engages to address issues of gender. Through its affiliation with Men Engage, MBGE Botswana implements programmes such as the ‘Men Care’ and ‘One Man Can’ Programmes, in a bid to reduce incidents of absent fathers as well as the need for them to be active in challenging issues that cause injustice and abuse of women and children in their communities.

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During “Men Care” launch

Lunga suggests that men are proving to be ready to take bolder strides towards gender equality citing the impressive number of men who come to MBGE for assistance, as well as the public feedback on various media platforms – a sign that Batswana are becoming more open to the transformation.

MBGE aims to engage men and boys in reducing gender inequalities, preventing HIV, ending gender based violence, and promoting the health and well-being of women, men and children.