Male role models can change society

Monday, January 28, 2019 - 15:42

U Than Htay used to consider housework to be a “woman’s job”. He’d never done any household work and when he was younger it wasn't necessary for him to help with cooking or washing clothes. Even though he was never a violent person himself, stopping other men from violent behavior never crossed his mind. His parents favored him over his sister from childhood simply because he was a boy. 

Men being favored and not doing household work has been normalized for decades and we continued those norms in our family. My wife and I would scold our daughter if she went out at night and let our sons do whatever they want.

U Htay is from Dai Su, Hlaing Thar Yar township in Yangon. He is a 55 year old man who provides for his wife and five children. Everything changed after a chance encounter with ActionAid Myanmar’s women’s rights team, when he enrolled in the male role model programme. His engagement with the programme was the start of a transformative and empowering journey that would benefit U Htay as well as his community.

ActionAid is training men to be role models in Hlaing Thar Yar; one of the biggest and most populated townships in the country. It contains slums inhabited largely by immigrants from other states and towns, and is primarily an industrial area with garment and light factories. Violence against women is unfortunately common and the support available for survivors is limited. Our approach to addressing this situation is to educate men about the endemic social attitudes surrounding gender and what positive masculinity looks like. This male role model approach is part of the "My Justice" programme, funded by the European Union and implemented by the British Council. The programme plays a big role to change society - in order to change the culture of patriarchy and change norms, having men’s engagement to join the fight against gender-based violence is vital.

The issues previously mentioned had never been brought to U Than Htay’s attention until he attended the training, workshops and campaigns on community mobilisation. He stressed that Myanmar is dominated by a patriarchal culture and that men need to take responsibility to reduce violence. He is a passionate volunteer, believing that there has been significant progress in Hlaing Thar Yar -particularly related to less human trafficking and violence against women in his ward. But there is more work to be done, and he has a big role to play.

U Htay is now much more aware of gender inequalities, patriarchal power structures, the lack of educational opportunities and other inequalities that affect violence against women and girls. He says that the lack of awareness of the laws against violence and discrimination are often a barrier for survivors of violence to pursue justice. 

His family has also made significant progress. He and his wife have regular, open conversations with their children: 

Through stories, my wife and I share what we have learned in our life to try and teach them. We share our experiences to try and explain and not just instruct. We want them to learn to be respectful and treat women equally.

"I understand their perspective more and they understand mine too and it brings my family closer than ever. Being part of the male role model training has helped me to see more clearly about violence against women and I am now more willing to speak up and help. I think it is important to share this with children too. My wife and I used to only scold our sons: “Don’t go out!”, and “Don’t drink!”. But now, we have conversations with them together."

"I have regular Monday conversations with my community and I share messages of equality. I tell them that other countries are here and willing to help us and we must also help ourselves,” said U Htay.

He also added that it can still be challenging to work with the government. He believes that if the government and police collaborated more closely with the community, it would be a better change for men and women in general. It is not enough for male role models to work alone. “A prosperous nation will only be built if we work hand in hand with the government and all the citizens,” said U Htay. 

Finally, he said: “I am a firm believer that we can break barriers and have a significant impact. If it wasn’t for ActionAid Myanmar, I wouldn’t have had my eyes opened.”