The motto on the front page of Spirit in Action’s website is “Supporting Grassroots Solutions.” That means we look to local organizations for solutions to problems in their communities. Our grant partners are “ears in the community,” listening to people’s challenges and getting creative about moving towards positive change.
Many of SIA’s grant partners are passionate about promoting equality for women. Grants to Pastoralist Child Foundation and Community Initiatives for Rural Development in Kenya fund girls’ empowerment seminars and help advocate against female genital cutting. CAP AIDS in Uganda houses groups of girls who have experienced violence at home, giving them psychological support and marketable skills training. Universal Love Alliance (ULA) in Uganda forms women’s self-help groups, which serve as savings clubs, communal animal husbandry projects, and emotional support groups for rural women.
An alternative rite of passage parade held in Maua, Kenya. During the workshops, girls are taught the value of education and about sexual and reproductive health.
These programs have a profound impact on the women and girls who participate. Yet, ULA and other grant partners have begun to notice that it’s not enough to bring awareness, support, and opportunity to women without changing the habits and practices of the men in their families.
“We conducted a study in 2020, and we found for women’s rights and empowerment to succeed, there needed to be an end to violence against women,” says Turinawe Samson, Director of ULA. “For that, we needed to target the men committing this violence.”
This year, ULA is hosting a series of workshops to talk to men about moving from a patriarchal mindset toward a mindset that centers justice, equality, caring, and empathy for women in the household. So far, they have held a workshop for fourteen older men with histories of domestic violence and one for twenty-two young men who are students at the local university.
The one-day workshops cover topics like:
· What is empowerment, and what is women’s empowerment?
· What are masculinity and femininity?
· What is patriarchy?
· Dangers of patriarchy to men and the general public
· Power and types of power
· Stereotyping and stigma
· Justice and human rights
At the beginning of the workshop, the ULA team administered a survey to gauge the baseline understanding of the topics. “Their responses were largely academic,” writes Samson, “as if they were in school, giving what they believed the teacher wanted to hear though they didn’t believe it themselves.”
Over the course of the discussions with the young men, Samson found that they were quick to grasp the range of topics and to question some of the cultural and social-constructed beliefs around gender and hierarchy.
“These young people love their mothers and sisters just like any other young person does. The vulnerability of seeing their fathers abuse their mothers makes them feel compassion for women, and they want to help to stop violence against women.”
By the end of the workshop, they had created a safe space where the men could talk about their own experiences of hurting women or witnessing violence in their homes. The post-workshop survey found that the men were newly committed to spreading the word about women’s empowerment and forming clubs at their universities for men about women’s empowerment.
“These young people are leaders of tomorrow,” concludes Samson. “Opening these discussions and empowering them to protect women is a good plan; soon, they will be husbands, fathers, executives, and political leaders.”
After the ULA workshop, some of the young men have agreed to continue meeting with ULA leaders to discuss how they can support the women in their lives.
This is just one example of SIA grassroots partners designing creative and effective actions for greater love and justice in the world.
A Spirit in Action grant funds the administration costs of Universal Love Alliance so that its staff has adequate support to run their impactful programs.