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In Botswana, men work to change attitudes and confront gender inequality

Olepolotse is one of the many men in the country who grew up with absent fathers, and he is now among the generation that wants to be part of a family. This is owing to a programme by Men and Boys for Gender Equality (MBGE) supported by UNFPA Botswana, which is helping to change minds about the value of women and what it means to be a man, engaging men and boys in reducing gender inequalities, gender based violence, preventing HIV, and promoting the health and well-being of women, men and children.

In Botswana, only 2 out of 5 men have been raised in families with fathers. Research has shown that one of the main factors reinforcing the prevalence of gender based violence (GBV) is patriarchy, which gives men power over women. Violence against women is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world, and Botswana is no exception. About 67 per cent of women in Botswana have experienced physical violence, and the most common perpetrator of this violence is an intimate partner. Approximately 15 per cent of women experience sexual abuse within intimate relationships.

Olepolotse says that his father used to abuse alcohol and left his mother. But, after participating in the MenCare program, the father of a two month old baby sees the value of spending time with his partner and child. Having grown up in a family with an absent father, he now realizes that men have a bigger role to play in a family.

This makes it important that men and boys are engaged to end the cycle of GBV. The link between witnessing and experiencing violence and using it with partners is significant. It has also been shown that men with more gender inequitable attitudes are more likely to abuse alcohol, which in turn contributes to increased levels of GBV.

Learning to be better men

In April 2015, MBGE introduced the MenCare program in three villages in the Mahalapye District and began working with men to increase male involvement as equitable, nonviolent fathers and caregivers in order to achieve family well-being. MenCare is a global fatherhood campaign which seeks to promote men’s involvement as equitable, nonviolent fathers and caregivers in order to achieve family well-being, gender equality, and better health for mothers, fathers, and children.

The 8 week program which is targeted at expectant men and fathers is delivered through the 3Ps of fatherhood. Presence. Partner Support. Positive Discipline. The fatherhood training program facilitates lessons with fathers, and participant-led community campaigns which spread positive messages around men’s caregiving and share fathers’ stories of change. Upon completing the program, the participants graduate from the MenCare program in a ceremony, and pledge to be loving fathers and caring partners.

Many men like Olepolotse, who participate in the MenCare program are inspired to become involved in efforts to end gender-based violence in their own communities, and to be more involved in raising their kids, changing long-held views about the role of men in a family. "We are learning to be better men and to be better parents," Olepolotse said. Real change must start at home. "If a boy sees his father treating his sisters and mother with respect, he will pick up on it; if he sees his father beating his mother up, there's a much higher chance that he too will be abusive," he added.

Such efforts are already making a difference. Olepolotse is now a MenCare champion and encourages other men to change their behavior.

Men take healthcare into their hands

As a result of these efforts, a significant increase in the involvement of men in their partner lives and the uptake of health services has been realized at the Otse Health Post alone. According to Lesego Mpudi, a registered nurse at the health post, access to health care by men has significantly improved.

In 2014, only 36 men accessed safe male circumcision (SMC) services, and in September 2015 alone, over 80 men have been circumcised. The increase in access to family planning services and HIV testing is testament to the impact it will have on women’s health and wellbeing. Research has indicated that family planning has an impact on immediate health benefits, investment savings in the health and education sectors, and social and environmental benefits that extend well beyond a single generation.

Family planning also reduces deaths from AIDS. The consistent and correct use of condoms can significantly reduce the rate of new HIV infections. By averting unintended and high-risk pregnancies, family planning reduces mother-to-child transmission of HIV and the number of AIDS orphans.

Men who have gone through the MenCare program have reported long-term changes in their families as a result of the fatherhood trainings. They spend more time with their children and share a greater portion of the care and domestic work with their partners, demonstrating the program’s success in questioning and transforming rigid gender norms, particularly those related to housework and childcare. Some have become trainers, ensuring the sustainability of the program in the Mahalapye District.