Rohingya men lead the fight against gender violence

August 24, 2019
August 24, 2019

Reading Time: 2 minutes

A programme in the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar is giving men and boys the skills and knowledge to make powerful changes to sexual and gender-based violence in their communities. Meet Jahidur Rahman, who is leading these changes.

Maulana Ayub, 33, has just finished leading the prayers at a mosque in one of the camps for Rohingya communities in Cox’s Bazar. Before his congregation leaves, he takes the time to talk about important issues. This week he covers sexual and gender-based violence.

Ayub is one of 107 Rohingya males engaged in educating other men on sexual and gender-based violence, talking about practices such as dowry, positive masculinity, child marriage and polygamy.

BRAC, together with UNHCR, initiated the ‘Engaging Men and Boys in Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Response programme’. The programme is led by Jahidur Rahman, a men and boys engagement manager at BRAC. “I noticed a dearth of initiatives regarding these matters that actually included men” he said.

The programme began engaging men in discussions on sexual and gender-based violence. “In most cases, men were either witnesses or perpetrators of violence. We felt they needed to lead the changes,” Jahidur says.

The facilitators went to tea stalls in the camps to begin the discussions. The men and boys who responded positively were selected to be part of the programme.

For three months, the selected individuals went through a ‘Journey of Transformation’, where they experienced change on an individual level. After the training, they were tasked with facilitating discussions.

Jahidur said they had to first find out what tools would be best for packaging messages. “We observed that if our messages used religious logic, they would be more quickly accepted,” he said.

They also had to decide which approach to use. “We opted for a community-based model. We set up six centres and those are taken care of by community members voluntarily,” Jahidur says.

Jahidur implemented the bystander to role model approach, primarily used for gender violence prevention and focusing on young men not as perpetrators or potential perpetrators, but as empowered bystanders who can confront abusive peers and support people who are abused. “I had seen that the bystander to role model working globally, so I tried it out here,” Jahidur says.

The 107 boys and men selected in the UNHCR-funded programme are now classified as role models.

Is the approach working? Maulana Ayub, one of the role models, believes so. “I have witnessed first-hand how child marriage has decreased in the camps, along with domestic violence. The men are also shying away from dowry,” he says.

Outside the mosque, a group of boys and BRAC programme organisers are walking out together. The conversation turns to sexual harassment of women and girls.  A couple of the boys snigger and suggest this is normal.  They catch themselves as the BRAC programme organisers look at them sternly, and turn away, shamefaced.  “Of course,” says one of the boys earnestly, “with the right guidance, we will change.”


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