Namibia gained its independence in 1990, and since then has made remarkable gains in social and economic conditions. While more than 81% of Namibian women now deliver babies with the assistance of health professionals, life expectancy for women and men alike actually has fallen as a direct result of HIV: more than 15% of the country’s adults are living with HIV. As part of a larger effort to halt the spread of HIV, EngenderHealth’s Men As Partners® program worked to increase male involvement in HIV prevention efforts and to promote better health practices among men and women.
Men As Partners
Gender norms-societal expectations of men’s and women’s roles and behaviors-help fuel the global HIV epidemic. Women’s low status and lack of power in many societies limit their ability to protect themselves from infection. At the same time, traditional norms often encourage men to equate a range of risky behaviors-the use of violence, substance abuse, the pursuit of multiple sexual partners, and domination of women-with being manly. Conventional notions of masculinity also lead men to view health-seeking behaviors as a sign of weakness. These gender dynamics all play a critical role in increasing both men and women’s vulnerability to HIV. EngenderHealth’s Men As Partners program addressed these issues through a series of community workshops and other activities.
With support from the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Men As Partners activities in Namibia started in early 2007. Now a part of the RESPOND Project, highlights of our work there include:
- Partnering with religious leaders. A group of highly influential leaders participated in a workshop on challenging traditional gender norms. They brought these messages back to their congregations and also developed a religious supplement to EngenderHealth’s group education manual Engaging Boys and Men in Gender Transformation, looking at how religious texts and practices can be used to support and promote gender equality.
- Recruiting MAP “ambassadors.“ Five Namibian men who had been positive role models in their communities were selected as ambassadors for MAP in Namibia. They now speak out at national and community events about the importance of HIV prevention and male involvement. Radio spots and informational materials featuring the ambassadors were also designed.
- Working with youth. Trainings were held for youth group leaders to encourage young men and women to make informed personal decisions on gender, health, and sexuality. The leaders of these groups shared this information with the young people they work with-encouraging them to question harmful gender norms, to protect their sexual and reproductive health, and to create a more equitable environment.