International Rescue Committee (IRC)

To end domestic violence in West Africa, men "have to change"

Six out of every 10 women who seek assistance from the International Rescue Committee in West Africa do so because of domestic violence. Journalist and IRC Overseer Susan Dentzer is a member of an IRC commission that is working to raise awareness of this terrible problem and explore possible solutions.

Reducing domestic violence in West Africa will require changing the status of women in society, chiefly among men. One of the IRC’s partners in this process in Liberia is SOAP, or Servants Of All Prayer – a faith-based organization whose motto is “Men Standing in the Gap for the Nation.”  
 
On Tuesday, March 15, the IRC Commission on Domestic Violence met with SOAP members in the capital, Monrovia, to learn how they are working with the IRC to turn the distressing tide. 
 
SOAP was organized in 2008 under the leadership of T. Nelson Williams, a U.S. citizen of Liberian extraction who had returned home in the 2000s after Liberia’s civil war ended.  SOAP was originally formed as an organization to fill a gap in praying for peace and rebuilding the country.  But the post-conflict rash of rapes and other violence against women led Williams to focus on engaging spiritual leaders from throughout Liberia in ending the violence  
 
SOAP first focused on rape prevention, but when leaders discovered that domestic violence was at least as pervasive, SOAP learned of the IRC’s programming in that field and became an IRC partner. Today the organization operates in about a third of Liberia’s 15 counties.  
 
Most of SOAP’s members are pastors, who joined the organization because they encountered domestic violence in their congregations and didn’t know how to respond.  One told us, “Women were knocking on my door at midnight, without clothes on, because their husbands were beating on them and they ran away. I wondered, what other help could I give them? We can’t just pray and pray.  We must get involved with society and make sure these things stop.” 
 
 SOAP worked with the IRC to modify a behavior change curriculum designed for an IRC program in Ivory Coast and used there since 2007. The training takes place for several hours each week for 16 weeks, and prompts men to reexamine attitudes toward intimate partners and cease behaviors harmful to women and girls. Gertrude Garway, an IRC Women’s Protection and Empowerment coordinator, notes it is not enough to simply call men together and tell them domestic violence is wrong. IRC programs are designed to help men through a process of change by reflecting on their own behavior.  Heidi Lehmann, director of the technical team for Women’s Protection and Empowerment at the IRC, notes that this type of programming is too important to leave to chance. That is why an evaluation of the program in Ivory Coast is now under way.  
 
To become facilitators of the behavior change programs, called Men’s Dialog Groups, the Liberian pastors we spoke with had all gone through the training themselves.  They described it as mind-expanding, if not life-changing.  One told us it made him realize that “something is wrong with our mentality as men and we have to change.” 
 
 Later, the pastors said, they were amazed to see the effect on many participants – and their partners. A pastor named John said, “I have witnessed wives and girlfriends [of those who complete the program] come and ask, ‘What did you do with this man? He has changed.’ Wives testify that the violence has stopped and that men are carrying wood and doing dishes.” 
 
Later, we met with five “graduates” who were clearly programmatic success stories of the Men’s Dialog Groups. As with all those recruited to join the groups, these men had signaled in advance a willingness to change and agreed to give up violence and alcohol for the program’s duration. 
 
The men said the weeks of discussion with their colleagues moved them beyond longstanding societal norms. 
 
“In our culture you are told your wife is your property,” explained one. “If she doesn’t behave, beat her.”  And indeed, when men pay the family of prospective brides a dowry, called a “bride price,” they are traditionally given a cane by the bride’s own family precisely for that purpose. 
 
  One program graduate, Otis Panto, who looked to be in his late 50s or 60s, came from the Monrovia neighborhood of Chocolate City.   Before going through the program, he told us, “I never used to stay home, I drank, I kept whatever money I earned” rather than sharing it with the family. “After 16 weeks with this group, I got closer to my wife.  I am a changed man.” 
 
The IRC’s Jacinta Maingi interjected that, after several weeks of the program,  Otis’s wife “came to the [Men’s Dialog Group] and presented them with a chicken.   In Africa, the best, most prestigious gift you can give someone is a live chicken.” 
 
And at the very end of the program, Otis told us, he gave his wife a chicken, too.
 

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1 comment

Comments

What a wonderful program! I'm

What a wonderful program! I'm glad there is finally something out there to help couples deal with issues in their homes. Hope this programs deals with many facet of a poor person's everyday life. For example, the couple need to understand and recognize love - I do understand that marriages are based on other things than just love in Liberia - however, the both men and women need to understand that love is an intense feeling, affectionate concern for another person and that your love in the relationship has to do with the other person, not "self". Love is not about "need" or "self" nor should love be mixed up with "sex"; love is love - sex is sex. It's always a good thing to know the difference. Also, understanding "home management" is a huge need in our community - money management, child rearing - including being concern and involve with the school - regardless of education level, etc.

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