A Young Man’s Reflections on Positive Masculinities at NICA

The Young Women for Awareness, Agency, Advocacy and Accountability (YW4A) initiative promotes a gender-transformative approach that transforms unequal gender norms, creating more gender-equitable relationships between young women and men.

YW4A works with men, women, young men, and young women to redefine norms related to violence against women and girls (VAWG), including attitudes and behaviour at the individual, couple, or household level. The programme promotes positive masculinities to lead to sustained behaviour change and reduced sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) at personal and community levels.

Photo: Young men taking part in the Positive Masculinities training in Meru County, Kenya.

A team of seven trained facilitators (Trainers of Trainers / ToTs) recently held a planning meeting to discuss the programme’s next phase. They reviewed past sessions, identified areas for improvement, and planned upcoming community dialogues. The ToTs also shared best practices for engaging diverse audiences, ensuring everyone feels comfortable participating. These dialogues, held at the National Independent Church of Africa (NICA) in Meru County, are guided by Biblical scriptures that promote equality and well-being for all. In our society, particularly within the Meru culture, men hold positions of authority. By engaging men in meaningful conversations, they have the potential to become advocates for change. The positive masculinity methodology encourages introspection and dismantles harmful societal expectations that can be damaging to men, women, and girls. It celebrates positive aspects of masculinity while promoting responsibility and respect, creating space for dialogue, reflection, and, ultimately, transforming harmful behaviours.

The approach engages faith leaders and trains Gender Champions, facilitating community dialogues. This gender transformative process works with both men and women through workshops or structured small group discussions, drawing on scriptural reflections on gender equality and positive masculinities. Themes include understanding SGBV and its impacts, addressing unequal power and privilege at individual, household, and community levels, and discussing positive masculinity.

Bruce’s Journey: A Young Man’s Perspective

Bruce joined the community dialogues on 24 February 2024 at his church, St John’s in Meru. 

Photo: Bruce.

He was among ten young men who participated in the six-week cycle of dialogues, meeting every Saturday afternoon with their trained lead facilitator. The dialogues used participatory activities, critical self-reflection, and scriptural reflections. Topics covered included introductions and SGBV causes, gender roles and norms, power and status related to SGBV, faith and SGBV, reflecting on the past, and jointly envisioning a violence-free future.

The hands-on, action-focused sessions encouraged participants to leave each one with personal and relational reflections to consider over the week before sharing their ideas in the next session. For example, Week 3’s prompt asked participants to “Reflect on the Biblical scriptures, and how the knowledge can contribute towards the end of SGBV, and what is your role?

These prompts help build strong bonds within groups, drive accountability, and provide a safe space for change.

As a young man, Bruce grew up in a rural home where he was expected to engage in activities preparing him for his future roles as a man. He knew that, as a boy, he was highly valued compared to his sister. Observing and emulating the men in his community, Bruce saw the kitchen as a place for girls and women. He could not assist his mother in household chores, believing these tasks were generally assigned to girls and women. He knew, as a man, he could not show his emotions. Hence, he could not cry. He had to look after his problems, appear strong, and fight back against other boys. Bruce’s main work during school recess was farming, while his evenings were spent playing with age mates, while his sister worked with their mother in the kitchen. He reflected,

As a young man, I was told my place was not in the kitchen. I should be out farming or guarding the homestead because weak men do house chores. From the training, I know that doing house chores does not define my strength as a man.

Photo: Bruce (on the right) hopes for a community where gender roles are balanced.

When asked what resonated with him during the sessions, Bruce shared,

Our second-week dialogue on Gender Roles and Norms profoundly impacted me. As we compared the daily responsibilities of women and men in our rural setting, I was struck by the immense household workload my mother and sister shoulder from morning to evening. At the same time, I spent much of my time playing and contributing very little. This experience made me realise that our societal roles and norms are not inherent but assigned by our community, to which I also contribute.

The sessions changed Bruce’s attitude towards housework, prompting initial reactions from his family.

Understanding that I have played a part in reinforcing these roles and norms was a powerful revelation. It empowered me to recognise that change must start with me. By altering my behaviour and challenging these norms within my home, I can help reshape the roles and expectations in our community. I decided to help in the kitchen. On the first day, I volunteered to wash the utensils, leaving my mother dumbfounded. Initially, she thought I was trying to earn some favour, but I soon proved that my change was sincere and permanent. I prepared French fries and vegetables for dinner the following day, surprising her even more. Since then, I have continuously sought ways to take up household roles, finding joy. This shift has made me happier and brought immense joy to my mother, who is delighted to see the positive change in me.

Photo: Bruce (in red jacket) with other youth during a training session in Meru.

Bruce’s newfound perspective has influenced his interactions with other men in the community. Despite initial jeers from his sister and amusement from his cousin, Bruce remained steadfast in his commitment to change.

Over time, I have become an agent of change, empowering my cousins to assist in household chores. I have shown them that we can be the generation to bring about meaningful change in our community by challenging and doing away with retrogressive norms. We can create a more equitable and balanced environment for everyone through our collective efforts.

Bruce hopes for a community where gender roles are balanced.

Similarly, in Kenya, young women have actively participated in advocacy opportunities, including writing articles for publication, engaging in public participation for county planning and budgeting processes, and participating in legislative drafting processes in Meru and Kisii counties.

Transforming positive masculinities discussions will assist young men in redefining what it means to be a man. A community where everyone feels appreciated will be established by giving young men the tools to reject harmful habits and build better relationships. By encouraging young men to help around the house, these conversations promote equality and shared responsibility. They will also be given the confidence to assume leadership and responsibility in their communities, exemplifying the qualities of empathy, decency, and respect that define positive masculinity and challenge harmful gender norms.

In conclusion, as young boys and girls grow up seeing equitable role models, they will be more likely to adopt and sustain these balanced roles in their own lives. The future will likely see men and women collaborating more smoothly in all spheres of life, from the home to the workplace, to sustain an environment where everyone’s contributions are valued.