Talking about gender issues with host country nationals here in Tanzania is not always easy; it is often a sensitive subject involving strong opinions and awkward pauses. That is why we’d like to spotlight a certain volunteer who is a strong gender advocate and has proved time and time again that he ain’t scared of nothin.
Meet Chris Lins.
Chris was a PCV in Paraguay from 1996-98, and then 20 years later he decided to join the Peace Corps again and Tanzania had the good fortune of receiving him. When asked why he rejoined he said:
“Because there are only certain windows in life when we can walk away from the US and have a pure volunteer experience embracing village life.”
Since arriving, Chris has implemented the Huru Re-usable Pad project twice for about 1,400 in-school and out-of-school girls. This is a project that is intimidating for a lot of guys to do, and understandably so. But by arming himself with two excellent female counterparts who attended the training and by being open and honest about the issue, the project was extremely successful.
Chris also threw an International Women’s Day celebration in his village that involved painting a huge mural promoting gender equality. He is also involved in Zinduka Skillz Girls and community theater.
But what really makes Chris a unique gender advocate is his absolute fearlessness when it comes to addressing sensitive yet crucial topics to at-risk populations. For example, Chris has been known to ride his bike from pombe hut to pombe hut, doing condom demonstrations for those present. At his Huru training with out-of-school girls, he had a couple of brave participants stand and give condom demonstrations for the others before the kits were distributed.
When asked what advice he could give about doing gender related projects, Chris said:
“Male PCVs can use their unique otherness to create a comfortable climate for discussing sexual topics. Don’t be shy, expect to be laughed at, but know you may be the first man to ever show a healthy interest in female Tanzanian sexuality.”
Chris is right; we should respect the cultural boundaries about sex, but we also should not be afraid to push them. If we perpetuate the taboo by refusing to talk about sex and gender issues amongst both men and women, life-changing conversations will be missed out on.
Let’s all take a leaf out of Chris’s book and try to be open and honest in regard to the challenges that Tanzanian women face.