Engaging men to integrate gender into existing HIV programmes

Adapted from an original article written by Leoulseged Weldehanna, OSSA’s Senior Communication and Advocacy Officer, a participant in the training.

Around the world men continue to wield the power in the majority of sexual relationships; an imbalance that often robs women of the ability to make decisions relating to their health or HIV status.

In Africa, traditional gender roles often leave women with the sole burden of caring for those living with HIV-related illnesses. Gender inequality and gender-based violence (GBV) prevent many women, particularly young women, from protecting themselves against HIV. As the latest data from UNAIDS continues to show, young women, and adolescent girls in particular, account for a disproportionate number of new HIV infections among young people living with HIV.

And in the work environment, gender norms and inequalities leave many women feeling unsupported and unable to take on leadership roles.

The Organisation for Social Services for AIDS (OSSA) in Ethiopia is currently one of five Alliance Linking Organisations implementing Link Up, an ambitious project which is improving the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of more than one million young people in Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Uganda. In October they offered training on gender sensitivity for their male staff members in Bishoftu/Debre Ziet.

The training aimed to acquaint the participants with the basic concepts around gender sensitisation, and to highlight how gender inequality can hinder the contributions of women in the communities in which they live.

Ethiopia training

Trainer Mbulelo Dyasi, with staff from OSSA in their training session.

More than 35 participants took part. The participants were selected from all branches of OSSA across Ethiopia, as well as male staff members from the head office in Addis. They discussed the concepts of sex, gender, gender equality and equity, the feelings of patriarchy and masculinity, and their consequences. Gender roles in different societies, along with case studies of different community experiences were used as a basis for exploring men’s attitudes to women, and to contribute towards changing behaviours.

The training was conducted by the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) Men’s Sector Coordinator, and Brothers for Life Ambassador, Rev. Mbulelo Dyasi.

“Due to the feelings of patriarchy and masculinity that prevail in the family and the communities many of us live in, women experience a lot of challenges. In many societies, women are considered as wives and mothers, nothing else. They are denied access to education and training opportunities, equal work for equal pay. Many devote their lives to raising children, often alone, and to working for others.”

“Some women also face physical harassment, rape and beatings by their friends and husbands. This is because they are raised to accept the idea of male superiority, self-sacrifice and self-negations in the family as well as in the society.”

Rev. Dyasi stressed that men needed to stand by the side of women. He emphasised that men could do a great deal to facilitate women’s access to assets, resources, knowledge, skills and income in order to ensure their full economic participation in society.

Participants discussed the role of women in OSSA. They were encouraged to do more to support their colleagues to achieve leadership positions by creating an environment that was conducive for women to work in and in which they could succeed. 

The training ended with recognition that women also need support. Rights-awareness programmes can empower women to exercise their right to control their own lives in matters of marriage, reproduction and livelihood.

It is hoped that the participants will start to bring about change in their own roles at home and at work; they will inspire policies that favour women and motivate them to take part and contribute their share at household and community level.

Further training is planned to take place in other Alliance Linking Organisations, and is part of Alliance efforts to mainstream awareness of gender equity and the impact of gender based violence across all its programming under its 2020 strategy.