Savannakhet: engaging men to champion violence prevention

The Lao Women’s Union (LWU) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) are jointly piloting the “Manual for Engaging Men in Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Sexual and Reproductive Health Promotion”.

The Manual was developed last year and selected community facilitators were trained as Master Trainers to pilot its use. Village authorities, elders and health representatives from district health office all participated.

Last week, community facilitators and male participants in Donxang, Pakka and Thaxano villages in Savannakhet gave feedback on the manual content and methodologies, to allow LWU and UNFPA finalise the contents and streamline the roll out of the manual in other communities. The manual development, training and piloting is funded under the UK-UNFPA effort for ‘Strengthening Gender-based violence prevention and response during COVID 19’. Subsequent roll out of the manual is supported by DFAT Australia through the ‘Referral pathway in place for women and girls’ victims and survivors of violence in the Lao PDR’.

Both interventions fall within the broader UNFPA support to the Lao PDR to roll out the Prevention of Violence against Women and Essential Service Package for survivors of violence, which is also supported by KOICA and SDC. Globally and locally it is recognised that strengthened efforts for engaging men as partners on preventing and responding to gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) promotion is essential for more gender equal societies.

The manual successfully sensitised males in the piloted villages to the inextricable links between gender, power and human rights; built on their existing knowledge of SRH; and paved the way for villages to challenge and transform harmful gender norms.

Mr. Phitsadan Somchit, Deputy Village Chief and Master Trainer in Thaxono village, noted the behaviour change in his community: “Since the training, we have monitored the positive change in my village. Men who had never assisted their wife doing household chores now assist them, young men of reproductive age who didn’t know about birth control now do, and some of the male villagers who previously hit their wives have now stopped”.

These shifting attitudes and behaviours in the pilot villages will be a platform for long-term impact. By integrating the learnings of the manual into everyday life of the villages, harmful social and gender norms can be dismantled. A village announcer in Thaxano reported that he will disseminate the messages through the loudspeaker; a teacher from the same village said that he would apply the knowledge into his school teachings; and two male elders serving on the Mediation Unit in Donxang village advised that their new knowledge of gender, violence and power would inform their future decisions and mediations.

Community based efforts such as this one are known to improve men’s and boys’ own wellbeing and SRH as well as enhance their capacity to support women’s and girls’ SRH. During times of crisis, strengthening community awareness raising on the prevention of violence and promotion of SRH is even more critical. Data from LWU demonstrates that instances of child sexual abuse in the Lao PDR, particularly affecting girls, have increased amidst COVID-19 due to the associated lockdown measures. The number of reported rape cases has also increased, as have the counselling requests by girls under the age of 18 who have been sexually exploited, mainly by family members. Many women and children are confined at home with their abusers while services to support survivors are being disrupted or made inaccessible due to the lockdown.

Engaging males at the village level to reduce incidents and impact of violence and promote health-seeking behaviour is a critical element of the joint government of Laos/UNFPA COVID-19 response and recovery strategy.

Beyond the COVID-19 recovery, it is known that long-term positive impacts are linked to actively engaging men – inequalities are reduced, health and wellbeing is improved, and access to education is increased. These objectives fall within Laos’ broader international commitments, including CEDAW recommendations, Beijing+25, ICPD 25 and SDGs, which have been integrated into the development of the new phase of the 5-year National Action Plan on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women (2021–2025) and the 5-year National Action Plan on Gender Equality (2021–2025).

By strategically engaging men at all levels – from the villages to parliament – as partners and champions of gender equality, men and women can tackle the critical task of preventing and reducing violence against women and girls, together.

Source: Lao News Agency