VINCENT RUTAMU is among the breed of men who are convinced that they have nothing or little to do with providing care to their children.
The resident of Kibeho Sector in Nyaruguru District believes matters regarding kids’ vaccination or taking them to hospital for treatment, among others, are errands cut out for women.
“How can a man carry a child to hospital while his wife is there?” Rutamu questions.
For Rutamu, the only circumstance under which he could take his children to hospital is when his wife is sick. Otherwise, he insists, he cannot do that.
“What kind of work can prevent a wife from taking children for medication or vaccination?” he wonders, before coming to the conclusion: “Such work is simply not for men.”
Rutamu also believes that accompanying his wife for antenatal care will bring little or no impact on the pregnancy. So, he opts for his wife to do the ‘job’ herself and he concentrates on providing for the family.
But not every man thinks that way. Geoffrey Bidorosi, also a resident of Kibeho believes the education and general care of children is a responsibility of both parents.
“A woman is not the only one responsible for a child, their education and all that goes with making sure they grow in a proper and favourable environment,” Bidorosi observes, adding that any responsible man should always endeavour to help his partner in everything.
It’s this ‘sense of irresponsibility” by some Rwandan men vis-à-vis providing care to children that is hampering efforts to build a society which offers the same opportunities to both men and women in all spheres, that activists want to tackle.
And, due to the ‘cultural norms’ that some men still harbour the activists warn that in some cases women do not fully enjoy their rights or are abused when they attempt to claim them.
The Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (Rwamrec) came up with a project to engage male partners to help improve the maternal and child health as well as sexual-reproductive health and rights.
Dubbed MenCare Plus, the project was launched last week and will for the next three years operate in the districts of Nyaruguru (Southern Province), Musanze (North), Karongi (West) and Rwamagana (East).
MenCare Plus is a global campaign that promotes the equitable involvement of men as fathers and caregivers in families. The three year project, sponsored by the Netherlands Foreign ministry through Promundo, an international NGO, is also implemented in Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia.
According to Shamsi Kazimbaya, the MenCare Plus national coordinator, the project will involve educating groups of men, boys, women and girls on the role of men in promoting best family practices and ensuring better environment for both women and children.
The project targets about 9,000 individuals who will be reached through education groups but, according to Kazimbaya, many more residents will be reached through mass gatherings including mass sensitisation campaigns, meetings at village level and Umuganda (community work) in particular.
About Euros 1.8 million (Rwf1.5 billion) will be invested in the project over the next three years, Kazimbaya said after the launch of the project in Nyaruguru District.
Why these districts?
According to Kazimbaya, a survey they carried out indicated that the four districts had the highest levels of gender based violence in the country, especially against women.
The survey also found out that rigid cultural perceptions affect women’s rights, their relationships with their partners and are among the causes of gender-based violence that may escalate into homicide.
Engaging men is crucial to improving maternal and child health, reducing gender based violence and building more respectful relationships between men and women, according to Kazimbaya.
“Men need to understand that they are caregivers too and have a role to play in making the lives of children and women better,” she said.
The MenCare Plus project will draw attention to domestic violence, gender based violence, women and men’s rights, gender equality, maternal and child health and sexual and reproductive health, among others.
“Research has shown that when men become more supportive to their wives in issues such as taking a child to hospital for treatment or vaccination or accompanying them for antenatal care, their intimate relationships improve which has a positive impact on their socio-economic life,” Kazimbaya said.
Eugenie Mukandoli, a resident of Sinayi village in Nyaruguru District, told The New Times that mutual support between a husband and wife benefits the entire family.
“My husband helps me to look after children whenever I am not at home and our relationship is solid,” she testified.
“That has helped to strengthen our family.”