Men as part of the Solution


Recently as I settled to bed one night in the warmth of my flat, with the comforting hum of the radio in the background, I caught a thread of a news report which immediately unsettled my mood of tranquillity. The report documented the ongoing situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where women live under the continuing threat of rape, sexual slavery and mutilation, systemised as weapons of war. For this reason, the DRC is notorious as the rape capital of the world; an unfortunate and depressing byword, conveying a sense of hopelessness towards a country ravaged by years of brutal war which has destroyed the personal dignity of countless women and girls. The past decade has seen 200,000 recorded cases of sexual violence, currently standing at around 14 attacks per day.

But in hearing about the continuity of this grim situation, the effect on me – the listener was equally as numbing, as I lay in the warmth and safety of my room, thousands of miles away. I was strongly inclined to switch the radio off, sickened not only by the catalogue of atrocities perpetrated against women in a world so far removed from my own experience, but also by my inability to imagine solutions for such an apparently intractable problem.

I came across an organisation called Women for Women International at a fundraising lunch in the summer and was inspired by the existence of an organisation dedicated to empowering women affected by war, by means of education and economic autonomy. With these tools, women are enabled to support themselves and their families, to the ultimate benefit of their communities. In the desperate circumstances characterised in the DRC, Women for Women International have sought to confront the endemic issue of rape by working directly with women, with the aim of making them aware of their rights and encouraging support groups and trauma counselling. In addition to this aim, an opportunity was sought in dealing with this issue in a progressive and innovative way.

The Men’s Leadership Program (MLP) was established in 2005, born of a recognition that in viewing women as victims and men purely as perpetrators, only provided a limited perspective to a very complicated problem. In moving a society forward, in which women’s rights and safety are treated with respect and integrity, the active engagement of men is not only desirable but essential. The methodology of the MLP is to partner and train with male community leaders, drawn from governmental, religious, traditional, security and military sectors, to reach out to other men with the aim of raising awareness about the destructive impact that sexual violence against women has upon the community as a whole.

In a country where the stigma of rape often leads to women being turned out of their homes and are even ostracised by their communities, this is a dialogue worth having.  This dialogue enables men who in some cases have been the perpetrators of sexual violence, to speak openly about the desensitising effect that their actions have on a personal level. For in the destabilising climate of war, all rules are suspended and the resultant chaos can have an equally degrading effect on the mindset of the perpetrators, as well as the victims.

This dialogue has also enabled men to question and challenge the status quo regarding women in a broader sense. Re-evaluating how women are valued and perceived in the DRC has led to open discussions on domestic violence, female self-expression and land ownership – issues which were rarely discussed freely, or even considered as relevant.

In its attempts to rebuild a shattered society, the DRC faces a myriad of challenges emanating from infrastructural and governmental fragility and therefore has a long and difficult road to travel towards a functioning and safe society. However, the work of the MLP is a demonstration of the effectiveness of honest dialogue as a means of engaging ordinary individuals to effect change and to become the direct beneficiaries of the resultant peace. The most inspirational part of all, is that in refusing to resort to an oversimplified view of the world; where men are perceived as the dangerous ‘other’ and the cause of the problem, the way is opened up for real progress, in which men are an integral part of the solution.


  1. by Julie Tomlin On November 5, 2010 at 10:41

    I think you make a very good point about how overwhelming it can be hearing news about DRC and while it’s good to be aware and thoughtful about these issues, there are ways that we can support women and take steps to tackle the problem.
    Just in case you missed it, Channel 4 News showed footage of men who had taken part in the men’s leadership programme. Here’s the link:


  1. Men as part of the solution: an innovative way to tackle rape in DRC. |

Leave a Reply