Can we teach men not to be violent? Amira El-Noshokaty reports on a project that claims this is possible
Last March, 297 boys and young men as well as 13 facilitators graduated from the New Visions programme in Qena set up by the Centre For Development and Population Activities (CEDPA) and funded by USAID. The aim of the programme is to tackle gender-relations in Upper Egypt head on.
Click to view caption
(left) 'No to early marriage'; (above) a scene from the graduation play of the first New Visions class in which the blindfold of violence is removed
New Visions is the first programme designed to educate males aged between 10 and 20 in rural communities about gender awareness, anger management and health. Three youth centres were the focus of the project in Qena and similar classes were held in Beni Suef and Minya. Noteworthy is the fact that the number of males aged between 10 and 20 in Qena, which has a population in excess of two million, is 820,400.
Topics such as civil and legal rights, environment, first aid, health and human rights were also on the programme agenda, which was first launched in the autumn of 2002.
Introducing the concept of New Visions in Qena was the task of Abdel-Motemid Attia, director of Geziyrat Motera Youth Centre. "It was not difficult to convince parents that we were starting a very important educational programme," Attia told Al-Ahram Weekly. "This was due to the fact that all those who work at our youth centre have extensive family relations in the community, so their word is trusted," he added.
Backstage at the Qena Cultural Palace on graduation day, young boys and girls were busy rehearsing their lines from a production about the contrasting lives of two friends: one who had attended the New Visions programme and one who had not. The production highlighted unacceptable social habits, dealing with issues such as physical abuse by brothers of their sisters as well as environmental issues such as the pollution of the Nile River. The play illustrated why these practices are wrong and explained what can be done to correct them. Thirteen-year-old Said Maghraby was one of the children on stage getting ready. "Before joining the programme, I used to mistreat my sister or ignore her," he recounted "But after joining the programme things changed. I learnt to share my thoughts with her and ask her opinion. Now it makes no difference that she is a girl. Now I respect her."
Fourteen-year-old Hassan Fawzy also said he had learnt how to control his temper and to deal with his anger, but 12- year-old Hassan Ismail thinks that the best thing about the programme is that it taught him useful skills. "Now that I have learnt all about first aid, if any of my family members is injured, I can help," he boasted.
According to CEDPA, New Visions for boys and young men is a complementary programme to the New Horizons programme for girls and young women initiated in 1997. Each programme seeks to teach basic life skills by providing information and helping the participants to make better life choices, as well as dealing with reproductive health knowledge. New Visions was developed in response to the sentiments expressed by the young women of New Horizons who said that their brothers, cousins, and future husbands needed to receive similar information and skills to create a more supportive environment. According to 16-year-old Hanaa Abdel- Motamid who was enrolled in the New Horizons programme, her male cousins used to be cruel to their sisters. "There was a time when they would order their sisters to help them dress and fetch their clothes. Now things have changed," explained Abdel-Motamed.
But why do men need to be taught anger control? Some of the young men interviewed by the Weekly in Qena said they got frustrated and angry because of the pressures of the schoolday; others complained that their parents were unresponsive to their needs. Anger is exacerbated by poverty, lack of facilities and options; but irrespective of the source of anger, everyone said they vented their frustration on weaker family members, in most cases women.
"The need for anger management stems from many things, but perhaps more important is the example set by parents. Young men will imitate a father who comes home from work yelling and asking for food, or a mother with so many offspring that she cannot control them unless she adopts a high-pitched, angry tone," explained Attia.
"Before joining the programme, whenever I had a fight outside, I used to let it out on anyone who could not hurt me back. I would hit my young brother or swear at my older sisters," remembered 13-year-old Mahmoud Salah, who explained how the idea of anger management helped him. "I learnt how to avoid quarrels with my friends and that I could talk to my older sisters about it. Before the programme I used to think that if I went to my sister and talked to her about my problems, she would never understand simply because she is a girl, and a girl is not like a boy."
However, when Salah attended the classes, he learnt how to transform his anger into writing, painting or a long walk on the Nile. But the most important thing he learnt was to communicate his troubles to his older sisters. "Maybe girls are just as good as boys after all," he acquiesced.
This year, New Visions will be launched in Cairo, Menofiya, Sharqiya, Giza, New Valley, Fayoum, Assiut, Sohag, Aswan, Arish, Suez, Ismailia, Port Said and Gharbiya. It is anticipated that 450 facilitators and 11,500 young men will take part in the 5-month programme.