Friday, April 9, 2010

Transforming Lives Part 1

As part of our ongoing work of building relationships and sharing skills with the people of Namibia I have been asked by several organizations to help them with certain areas of their programs. I have turned down more invitations than I have accepted because I do not have the time or the energy. But two programs have gotten my attention and I would like to share a little about each.

The first is Lifeline/Childline. This is an organization that provides training and counselling in many areas of life. They have 24 hour help lines and suicide prevention hotlines. They serve Namibia through personal growth training and training in counselling skills and gender transformation programs. This last project is the one I have been working on.

It was recognized several years ago that most, if not all of the HIV/AIDS money in Namibia was going to projects that focused on women and children. While this was helpful it was also found to not be extremely effective in slowing the spread of HIV. There are many reasons why these programs did not have the impact that was hoped for, but one particular reason is how culture views gender. In Southern Africa women, in general, have very few rights. There are rights that are written into the constitution and laws that protect women and children but their enforcement is inconsistent and they do not provide the level of confidence needed for women to exercise these rights. Another aspect of this problem is the rural nature of the county and cultural expectations that abound around gender. Women generally do not have control over their reproductive health. If a husband comes home and demands sex from his wife, she dare not refuse, even if she knows he is HIV positive, or that he engages in risky behaviours outside of their marriage. Rape of young girls is common as is a sort of soft prostitution, girls as young as 11 or 12 giving sexual favours for a cell phone or can of coke. One friend who works in the HIV field told me once that to slow the spread of HIV they should give every 12 year old girl a cell phone and unlimited minutes. But I digress...

As a way of trying to combat the problem of gender when dealing with HIV a program was developed that specifically targets men and boys and attempts to transform their understanding of gender and help them transform their communities. It is a great program called Engaging Boys and Men in Gender Transformation. The full program is available here as a pdf so have a look.

Lifeline/ Childline is one of the Namibian partners for this program. My involvement started when conversations began about writing supplement to the program that would be spiritual in nature. The spiritual supplement was intended to engage religious leaders in gender transformation, using the Bible as its key text. I was asked to be the lead author for the Supplement. Over several months I wrote and presented the supplement to groups of reviewers from Namibia. They provided helpful feedback and the drafting process continued. We did a 3 days pilot training using the supplement materials in late February and had wonderful feedback and a desire for the materials immediately. We are very close to the end of the process and hopefully the Supplement will be printed and distributed with the manual before the end of May. I am very proud of my involvement in this project and hope that this program has the effect of transforming lives.

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