Working for social justice for all youth, regardless of religion, race, gender or culture, the World Alliance of YMCAs is a global ecumenical Movement reaching 58 million people in 119 countries worldwide. Founded in 1855, the World Alliance of YMCAs is the oldest and largest Movement for youth in the world and was the first international movement to take headquarters in Geneva back in the 1870s.
Among other issues our Mission statement covers:
“Empowering all, especially young people and women to take increased responsibilities and assume leadership at all levels and working towards an equitable society.
Advocating for and promoting the rights of women and upholding the rights of children.”
The fight against violence towards women, young or old, is a strong priority for the YMCA. I myself originally come from a rich and developed country called Norway, where one of ten women above 15 years has experienced rape. This is not only a problem for the Global South, it is equally a problem for the North. The YMCA works world wide to stop this violence through many different programmes. Africa Alliance of YMCAs made a big research in Zimbabwe in 2010 and 2011 with close to 1300 young people. Some of the results and recommendations are quoted below:
“Masculinity in Africa is very often constructed as a strongly dominant gender meaning that gender roles are very specific and there is little opportunity for people to move beyond those gender roles.
On paper, gender-rights in some African regions are improving, but at community level, men are not brought on board for the transformation so they feel excluded, taken advantage of, and frustrated about the lack of power they feel in financially difficult times.
The YMCA Transformative Masculinity (TM) programme is designed to teach men that they have a right not to be rapists and that their understanding of gender is culturally constructed. It is not an absolute, that men must control women, so by creating a partnership, you’re creating a better relationship.
Men don’t realize that they don’t have to be abusive… they just think it’s expected because that’s the way it has always been, community accepts it, families tolerate it… so the problem only gets worse, never better, because men are generally ignored during gender-education initiatives.
This is what makes YMCA TM approach different, as it focuses on showing men and young boys that they don’t need to be abusers, that there are different ways to be men, different constructions of masculinity and that they can choose. It is a simple lesson but a big one, because men don’t realize they have that choice.
The TM Programme was designed to address one of the things we found in the research… men and women have few social spaces where they can learn how to be friends, how to connect, from the research, it was evident that there was a real lack of friendship and caring between men and women… sex, money and children were the only things that really tied them to each other… so the programme was designed to focus on the transformation of men and also the transformation of the relationships between men and women, so it didn’t focus only on men.”
The YMCA Transformative Masculinity Program is planned to address the corresponding problem of ‘subjugated masculinity’. Under this, young men are socialized to indignify others in order to gain significance and social relevance.
Violence, rape and crime are obvious outcomes. YMCAs in Madagascar, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe are set to tackle the root causes of these symptoms by re-ordering youth masculinity. Our strategic intention is to re-define, re-order and re-orient youth masculinity. With this re-orientation, we expect young people to treat women with dignity and sensitivity.
In Africa, the male gender is socially constructed to be hegemonic – if it is not dominant, it is not male. And this is why in Southern Africa; rape is seen as a way of asserting male hegemony. Similarly, the young man is socialized to believe that having multiple sex partners is a symbol of ‘hegemonic power’. To establish hegemony in some places, a young man has to kill as a sign of masculinity.
FROM HEGEMONIC TO TRANSFORMATIVE MASCULINITY
The first change objective is to re-orient youth masculinity from a hegemonic to a transformative state.
To transform male identity and roles by engaging the structures that disempower men, is the second change objective. Under this intention, we will work towards the restoration of male dignity beyond the need to dominate.
The third change objective is to establish a power understanding that produces mutually enhancing relationships between the two genders. Our intention is to transform norms and systems that perpetuate hegemonic masculinity. In its place, we expect to promote a situation of mutual dependence between men and women.
Let me end by telling a story from one of our young YMCA leaders, who experienced as a child, to be left alone by his parents.
“It was astounding though, how I gathered all the hate towards my mother but not so much towards my father. Maybe it was because it’s always expected in my culture for men to behave like him. Its expected for men to leave their wives and children to go to South Africa and never care for their children. Was I becoming like him? I have a daughter now, but I’m separated from her mother. Had I become my ‘enemy’? What picture would she have had of me and men in general? Would I have been the kind of father I hated so much?
My life took a turn when I was introduced to the YMCA by a friend and mentor at the time. It was here, in the YMCA, that my transformation begun. I took part in the research stage of the Transformative Masculinity program. Through it, my eyes were opened to how young people use gender, cultural backgrounds, religious teachings and media influence to judge and condemn other young people. I went through a week-long training, during which I saw how I had projected my hatred for my mother towards people who had nothing to do with it. I saw how I was failing to express myself because I had to be a man when I should have been a boy. My culture taught me that “men don’t cry and their tears never see the sun.” It was hard at first but I couldn’t resist, I wanted to be better, I wanted to love and be loved. I had pushed people away and despised women, even the mother of my little girl had become my worst enemy. I began a remarkable journey and I felt free. My life would be different and YES! It has been.
I have used the forums I have access to, through the YMCA, to change the minds of young people like me, men and women both. Our history should not and will not hold us from achieving our greatest potential as a people. I am Raymond Ncube, an Ambassador for change and I believe we can create more community builders than rebels, more brothers than enemies, more heroines than victims and more citizens than subjects. I am transformed to Transform and that is the story of my life.” Said my friend!