Boys Take Action for Girls' Rights

Alex taking part in a gender-based violence
training at his school in Bugesera

“A group of us boys sweep the school compound for 10 minutes every day. People laugh and ridicule us because it is not common for a boy or a man to be seen sweeping since it is [traditionally a woman's role]. But for us we are not swayed – we’re doing it for a cause. We want to send a clear message about gender based violence,” says 15-year-old Emmanuel Wamungu from Ruhuha Complex School in Rwanda.

Emmanuel is one of many boys and men in Rwanda who are leading a crusade to fight the gender-based violence that has been caused by traditionally held patriarchal beliefs.

“Gender based violence cannot be alleviated without enlisting the support and involvement of men because they are the main perpetrators in most cases of violence against women,” Alex, 20, from Ruhuha Complex School in Bugesera in East Rwanda, contends.

The involvement of men and boys in the fight against gender-based violence is a concept that is being promoted by Plan and the Rwanda Men Resource Center using what they call the MenEngage approach.

The MenEngage concept focuses on boys and young men between the ages of 12 and 20 and trains them on issues related to their masculinity and how culture shapes their mindsets in a way that undermines women which can lead to violence. The boys have in turn formed clubs to educate their communities through debates, songs, and poems about the ills of gender-based violence.

“We are targeting boys studying in secondary schools in Bugesera, one of our areas of intervention, as the assimilation is easy and we believe in them as actors of change. Their influence is fast as they are young and have the will and energy to help in the fight against gender-based violence perpetrated against their sisters,” says Katherine Nichol, Plan Rwanda's Gender Specialist.

Recent research by the Rwanda Men Resource Center has revealed that in Rwandan culture men’s predominance over women is generally accepted. “Culture has played a bigger role in so far as male predominance over women is concerned and women have conceded that that is how it is meant to be,” says Munyamaliza Edouard, the Executive Secretary of the Rwanda Men Resource Center.