Chinwike Okereke is a lawyer and gender justice expert from ILC’s member organisation African Law Foundation (AFRILAW). Chinwike is also the founder of the Men United for Gender Justice in Nigeria Initiative (MenUnited) and has been working for more than 10 years on women’s rights, trying to engage men and boys in advancing gender justice in the country. Recently, he joined the ILC Gender Experts Network and we had the chance to ask him how he uses training to engage men in being part of the solution to the injustices that women face.
“The setup of Nigerian society is patriarchal and there are several harmful traditional practices that are well entrenched and have influenced practices of men over a long period of time,” Chinwike explains. “What is required, therefore, is to teach, inform and re-orient people who have been part of the system that has perpetuated gender practises that disadvantage women. Men have a large role in being the solution to the challenges that women face. This is because most of the challenges that women face are more often perpetuated by men”, says Chinwike.
From Chinwike’s experience, different training approaches and techniques will work for different categories of men. He talked to us about how his training according to those categories.
Training rural men
Chinwike believes that when it comes to training rural men, it is important to identify gatekeepers by introducing the training programme to community leaders for buy-in. “This is important because community leaders are respected in a community. Men are more likely to participate if their leaders are part of the process,” Chinwike explains.
“The intention is not to tell men that the practices are bad and thereafter prescribe solutions. Rather, participatory processes are much more effective in encouraging men to reflect on negative traditional practices,” says Chinwike. “You need to understand where they (men) are coming from and the role that they play. You do not just go in and prescribe what should and should not be done. This can lead to pushback and resistance to the process.”
On the other hand, Chinwike has observed that when processes are participatory, men get to openly talk about negative practices and why they practise it. These conversations lead to a better understanding of how and why some practices are bad and what steps can be taken towards change.
Training urban men
When training urban men, Chinwike prefers to use a workshop-style approach. “A workshop-style approach is more suitable for urban men because they tend to be more exposed to the issue and are likely to have an idea of what the training is about,” Chinwike explains. He goes on to say that in the workshops, men are provided with statistics on how women are negatively affected by harmful traditional practices. They are thereafter asked to reflect on what those statistics mean and how they think they can play a role in improving them.
“Workshops are also intended to create dialogue and open conversation among men. This for example can involve a question being asked and depending on the response given, men sit on opposite sides of the room. This process helps to get the perceptions of different men and create debate,” Chinwike explains. He goes on to say that the most important thing is to get men talking about the issues and questioning the practices that they have always known as the norm.
“Engaging boys at a young age is important because they grow up with norms about gender roles and practices based on what they observe in the household and community,” explains Chinwike. In particular, Chinwike focuses on training boys who go to mixed sex schools because they relate on a day-to-day basis with girls. “The training is meant to help young boys understand their interactions with girls,” Chinwike explains.
One of the flagship training activities he uses is called boys can cook. With this activity, the entire school observes boys engage in a cooking competition. After the competition, a reflective exercise is done with the boys. “These reflective exercises help boys appreciate the fact that they too can do certain activities, and it does not have to be the role of women but rather important life skills that they need,” reflects Chinwike.
For Chinwike, the ILC Gender Expert Network is about learning and sharing. He hopes to learn how to advance gender justice through the promotion and protection of land and resource rights. Chinwike also hopes to share his knowledge and experience with engaging men and boys in advancing gender justice.
Building upon Chinwike' s experience and knowledge, as well as on the wide expertise of the members of the ILC Gender Experts Network, ILC can grow as a gender just coalition. We trust that across the ILC membership there is a treasure of wisdom that we want to share with other members. This is why we created this network of gender experts and we will keep featuring them through dedicated blog posts while organising learning events for and with the Gender Experts.
The interview was conducted by ILC gender intern Prisca Adong