Since 2008, the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte has received funding from the Irish development agency Trocaire to carry out a violence prevention project in Jorge Dmitrov, a poor neighborhood with a violent reputation located in the center of Managua. While other projects in the neighborhood are working to curb street violence, the Center’s Trocaire Project focuses specifically on domestic violence against women and children, recognizing the connection between street violence and the more hidden forms of violence experienced in the home.
In addition to working with groups of women, adolescents, and children to carry out public awareness campaigns and violence prevention trainings, the Center began sponsoring a men’s group in early 2011. Moises Sanchez, one of the Center’s psychologists, facilitates the men’s group. Moisés has attempted to foster a greater respect for women among the men who participate, help them develop their capacities to resolve family conflicts through assertive communication instead of violence, and encourage them to participate in public awareness campaigns for gender equality and violence prevention in Dmitrov. In December, the men’s group organized a year-end celebration for Project Trocaire participants in Dmitrov. Demonstrating their commitment to gender equality, the men bought the food for the event and cooked it, served the meal, and did all the cleaning – all tasks typically considered women’s work.
Recently, I spoke with Moisés about the men’s group and the year-end celebration:
What challenges do you face working with men in violence prevention?
The biggest challenge in working with men is in changing their attitudes because they are submerged in a culture of violence and machismo. And not only them – I’m also submerged in the same culture and have to continually think about my own attitude. And this culture is what we pass on to our children.
It’s difficult and we have to work hard because it’s not part of their culture to participate in these types of activities; it’s not part of their role as men. For example, in the group meetings, we express our feelings and this is not something that many of them see as something appropriate for them as men. For example, they say: men shouldn’t cry. This is our culture, the macho culture.
How did you get men to join the group?
We passed through a long and hard process. We started with one, then two, then it was five, but during the process the group grew. Now there are 22. But we had to come up with a strategy because no one had worked with men before.
One strategy that I used was to talk with men and visit them going from house to house. I tried to identify with them, so that they didn’t look at me as some psychologist but rather as a friend.
Are the men in the group receptive to talking about gender equality?
At the beginning it was very difficult, because they had the idea that these group meetings are only for women and they don’t need them. But the approach we have used is based on games and dynamic activities to change the perceptions they have about gender.
And it has worked, not totally, but there’s been progress. Many of them have shown positive changes in their attitudes. For example, they cook for their wives and families. Some have stopped drinking, which is a detonator of violence. Another thing I have seen is that they go out with their families; they dedicate more time to their family.
Tell me about the year-end celebration.
Each year there are two big activities planned, which involve all of the groups we work with: the children’s and adolescent groups, the women’s group, and the men’s group. The idea is to build a sense of community among the groups. On this occasion, we had an end of the year celebration in which the men would show what they had learned in their group meetings by preparing food for everyone.
Everyone saw the way that their attitudes had changed. They showed an attitude of respect and equality as they prepared and served the food. We also noted the way they worked together as a team, the way they shared responsibilities among themselves, and how they demonstrated that taking on the role of cooking and cleaning didn’t make them any less manly.
What else would you like to say about the men’s group?
Well, in the work that’s been done, we’ve seen that families have been strengthened. And that’s the most important thing in this work: to strengthen and unify families based on respect and gender equality.
Also, we’ve observed that rates of domestic violence have gone down among those participants that have taken on the challenge of changing their attitude toward women. We can see the difference that promoting a culture without violence can make.