OTSE, Mahalapye Sub District, Botswana – “We are learning to be better men and to be better parents,” said Olepolotse Othuseng, a young man who grew up without a father present. After completing a UNFPA-supported programme sensitizing men and boys on gender equality, he wants to be the change he had hoped for as a boy.
Olepolotse is among many young people in Botswana who had absent fathers. His dad abused alcohol and left his mother. Now Olepolotse, who is the father of a two-month-old baby, ranks among those who want to be part of a family. This change in attitude is due to the MenCare programme, which is helping to change minds about the value of women and what it means to be a man.
In Botswana, only two out of five men have been raised in families with fathers. Research1 shows that one of the main factors reinforcing the prevalence of gender-based violence is patriarchy, a system that gives men power over women.
He knows now that 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.”
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 here 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.1
MenCare for women
Run by Men and Boys for Gender Equality (MBGE), and supported by UNFPA Botswana, the MenCare programme targets men and boys with the aim of helping to reduce gender inequalities and gender-based violence, prevent HIV, and promote the health and well-being of women, men and children.
After participating in MenCare, Olepolotse sees the value of spending time with his partner and baby. Having faced the loss of his father as a child, he now realizes that men have a bigger role to play in the family.
This includes engaging men and boys to help end the cycle of gender-based violence (GBV). The link between witnessing and experiencing violence and using it with partners is significant. It has also been shown that men with 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 programme in three villages in the Mahalapye region and began working with men to increase male involvement as fathers and caregivers. MenCare is a global fatherhood campaign that 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 eight-week programme, which is targeted at expectant men and fathers, is delivered using the ‘3Ps’ of fatherhood – Presence, Partner support and Positive discipline.
The fatherhood training programme facilitates lessons with fathers and encourages participant-led community campaigns that spread positive messages around men’s caregiving and share fathers’ stories of change. Upon completing the programme, the participants graduate in a ceremony and pledge to be loving fathers and caring partners.
Ending gender-based violence
Like Olepolotse, many men who participate in the programme 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.
Such efforts are already making a difference. Olepolotse is now a MenCare champion and encourages other men to change their behaviour.
Men take healthcare into own hands
As a result of these efforts, a significant increase has been realized in the involvement of men in their partners’ lives and the uptake of health services at the Otse Health Post in Otse, Mahalapye Sub District. According to Lesego Mpudi, a registered nurse at the health post, access to health care by men has improved significantly.
In 2014, only 36 men accessed safe male circumcision (SMC) services, while in September 2015 alone, more than 80 men were 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 well-being. Research2 indicates 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 graduated from the MenCare programme have reported long-term, positive changes in their families as a result of the fatherhood training. They spend more time with their children and share a greater portion of the care and domestic work with their partners. This demonstrates the programme’s success in questioning and transforming rigid gender norms, particularly those related to housework and childcare. Some of the graduates have even become trainers, ensuring the sustainability of the programme in the Mahalapye region.
By Nchidzi Smarts