Repost: USAWA-An Open Letter to Male PCVs

Hey everyone! This is Branden, the token male on the USAWA committee!

This blog is a repost that I posted a long time ago on my own blog outlining the reasons that males should get involved with gender equality while in Tanzania. Enjoy!

When people hear “gender equality,” the phrase is often connected with feminism, female empowerment, and women’s rights. While it isn’t wrong to associate those things with the over-arching theme of gender equality, the truth is that gender equality is much more than a focus on women and girls. It is much more than showing women that they can do the same things as men. It is much more than showing girls that they are just as valued as boys. And it is with those things in mind that Peace Corps Volunteers in Tanzania should be reminded that the USAWA Committee is not just for women.

As one of two male members of the founding group of USAWA, I’ve noticed a big gap in the awareness of gender issues between male and female Volunteers, as well as a gap in initiatives to address gender equality. Gender equality is not only about women. Indeed, many times, gender equality is equated with feminism and feminism with misandry. Often times, hardline support of feminist issues becomes inherently anti-male. Gender equality is a two-sided coin, and it is important to treat both sides equally in order to achieve true gender equality.
As we all know, a big issue with each program or project we undertake as Volunteers is behavior change. How do we demonstrate models of sustainable behavior change? How do we inspire people to change things they’ve lived with for years? How do we make things, in our eyes, better? And how do we make people realize that things can be better? In Tanzania, we have four sectors: Education, Agriculture, Health, and GHSP. Youth empowerment and community development aren’t specific sectors for PCTZ, but through our work, we can all be directly involved in youth empowement. Most of us deal with kids every day in our projects, especially those of us living or teaching or working with schools.

Why should males care about gender equality in this country? Focusing solely on female empowerment will not, in my opinion, help the overall situation of gender equality. Empowering females while the failing to educate males creates more, not less, social tension. Failing to tear down gender stereotypes and preconceptions with both genders will only lead to conflict between empowered females and misogynist males. Failing to create a generation of gentlemen among boys who are mindful of gender equality issues will only perpetuate the cycle of social inequality for generations to come. Failing to inspire males will result in the failure of all of our gender equality initiatives.

This might be a strong assertion, but I believe that is why it is important for us male PCVs to step up to become strong role models for the young men in this country. And it will help to have male representation on USAWA to provide male perspectives on the issue of gender equality as female Volunteers will have their own opinions and thoughts on gender equality. Those opinions and thoughts will strongly be influenced by their experiences, and because gender equality is a two-sided coin, we need to play both sides of the coin.

We know PCVs operate better with a framework for action, ideas for projects and what-not already existing. Most of the gender-equality related projects are geared towards females; Maua Mazuri and Huru International are the flagship projects of the USAWA Committee and both are focused on female empowerment. Zinduka has an HIV/AIDS message for both boys and girls, but now with the introduction of Zinduka Girlz, there is yet another female-oriented project out there.

Together with USAWA members and partners in the USA, I’m working on developing a program for boys’ empowerment using volleyball. The program is called “Tuko WAVUlana.” Volleyball in Kiswahili is “mpira wa wavu,” so it connects being a boy with the volleyball program. Using lessons through sports, boys will gain leadership experience and character development and will also learn volleyball at the same time! This is a great opportunity for male PCVs to help develop this program in order to make a project soley devoted to the education of boys, promotion of strong male leaders, and healthy living. These boys can then learn about various health and social issues and be used as leaders in the community or school for other projects. This is an example of a way in which male PCVs can have a huge impact on the USAWA Committee by creating male-focused projects to support gender equality.

So, what are you waiting for? Gender equality isn’t just an issue for women. Don’t shy away from being the male voice on a primarily-female committee. Apply for USAWA today!

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