Breaking with tradition: Husband schools
To tackle issues that affect women, our interventions must not overlook the power of engaging men. In Sierra Leone, male community advocate volunteers are encouraging their male peers to change their attitudes and behaviours. The aim is to make life safer for women and girls and bring about justice for survivors of gender-based violence. Men have learned about legal and human rights perspectives through workshops.
Participants have reported a change in male behaviours, as well as improved family relationships. Local leaders now uphold bylaws that ensure justice for survivors. These changes mean that it’s easier for women to speak out against gender-based violence. More people are coming forward to report cases of sexual abuse to the police. There has been a reduction in gender-based violence and an increased uptake of maternal health and family planning services.
“At the husband school I learnt that in some cases, violence against women even means death. I realised men do the worst part of that, so the responsibility to change things lies with us. Now, I bring that love and concern into our home and I can talk to my wife.” – Ambrose Williams, who was a student at a husband school in Sierra Leone.
Gender-based violence and discrimination are hidden problems in Sierra Leone. Domestic violence tends to be seen as a 'private issue'. This and other types of gender-based violence including rape and sexual assault (GBV) go under-reported.
VSO supports local organisations to help tackle the issues through education and engagement – supporting survivors and holding perpetrators to account.
This year, VSO’s male-engagement program in partnership with local organisation FINE-SL is addressing sexual reproductive health issues and gender-based violence against women by engaging men as advocates for change.
This presents a shift from conventional gender empowerment programs that target women and girls directly – ignoring men who are often the decision-makers and perpetrators of the violence or abuse.
FINE-SL also works with community leaders to establish referral pathways for women affected by GBV, those in need of health services for treatment of STIs, family planning, antenatal and postnatal care. The community has embraced these pathways as part of their response against some of the social ills experienced by women
60 community volunteers recruited and trained as MAPEs (male advocates and peer health educators) to engage men on a range of issues including sexual and gender-based violence, rape, female genital mutilation, sexual and reproductive health, child marriage and child abuse.
MAPEs recruited local men to join a total of 22 husband schools. They were trained through a six-month programme that helped raise awareness and encouraged behaviour change.
This led men to generally play an increasingly supportive role for their partners and offer practical support around their homes, as well as help in accessing health services for their children.
The Kenema Police Family Support Unit reported a reduction in cases from an average 100 per month to 50-60 per month
At institutional and policy level; VSO in partnership with FINE-SL made major gains in the harmonisation of bye-laws through the consolidation of existing policies in the Child Rights Act, the Domestic Violence Act and the Sexual Offences Act to prevent Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), child marriage and sexual and gender-based violence across three chiefdoms in Kenema District.