Engaging Men in Nigeria
Engaging Men in Nigeria
"When I inherit from my father, I know now how I will share amongst my children – with no discrimination. With help from this training we’ve had today, we’ll tell our leaders it’s time to make changes. We need to change things." Men's Engagement Participant in Nigeria
My name is Katie Allen, I am the Policy and Programme Grants Manager at Women for Women International - UK. I have recently returned from my second trip to Nigeria to visit Women for Women International’s work there, where I have been privileged enough to meet dozens of our participants. I have consistently been deeply impressed by their passion for learning and commitment to improve their families’ lives.
Engaging men as a path to progress
The women we work with have the capacity to do amazing things, but living in poverty and with practices that discriminate against them just for being a woman, they have not had the opportunity to reach their full potential. As women participate in our training programme they learn about their rights and the importance of their role in the community; however, many women we work with in Nigeria express concerns over how they will take forward what they have learnt if their husbands or male family members do not have the same information, and do not support them.
This is why Women for Women International - Nigeria began engaging men soon after working with women.
It all starts with a conversation
Whilst I was visiting a community in Enugu State, I was able to sit in on a workshop for male family members, supported by a grant from the UK Government’s Department for International Development. There were approximately 200 men there, in a big hall, although somehow it still felt like everyone was very close and engaged. There were four different speakers throughout the day, focusing on topics of gender based violence, drug abuse, family planning and rights and resources. These were not easy topics to try to fit into one day! It was also clear from the start that there was a lot of ground to cover.
During the discussion on family planning, for instance, men explained they had a problem in their community as the women kept producing female babies. When the trainer talked them through X and Y chromosomes and helped them see that it wasn’t actually the women’s “fault,” the men asked, “What can we do to pass on the Y chromosomes?” There is such a deep preference for male children.
As the discussions moved on, men began opening up to explain customs in their community that treated men and women differently. For example, if a woman beats a man, she will be banished from the community; but if a man beats a woman, there is no punishment. There are no women in their local cabinet or working as lawyers, and only one female doctor from their community, but there are many men in these positions.
In the final session on rights and resources, the professional lawyer who was leading the discussion outlined laws at the national level that grant equal rights to all for land and property ownership. She gave several examples of cases where the supreme court has overridden judgements from lower courts, and ruled in favour of women’s equal rights. This seemed to have quite a strong impact on the men.
Taking home lessons about next steps
At the end of the day, I spoke to one of the participants individually to ask him what he thought about it all. He said the first thing he will put into practice from the day was to treat every human being as equal, and he planned to start with him and his wife.
"When I inherit from my father, I know now how I will share amongst my children – with no discrimination. With help from this training we’ve had today, we’ll tell our leaders it’s time to make changes. We need to change things.” Men's Engagement Participant in Nigeria
My hope is that the powerful momentum of the women who have been trained in this community, and in others, combined with more open-minded men, will be enough to move towards sustainable change. The challenge now will be for this enthusiasm to be sustained. It’s easy to complete a training and feel the will to create change, but pushing that forward, in a local system set up against it, is much more difficult. Many of the men also still have more to learn before they will be convinced to fully support equal treatment of girls and women.