A group of men in Burundi is going against tradition to support and empower women by raising men’s awareness of gender-based violence.
The community is called the Abatangamuco, meaning “those who shed light” in Kirundi and it even has a theatre group.
But are their methods working? We find out in this third episode of Cry Like A Boy.
This podcast is hosted by Khopotso Bodibe, a radio journalist specialising in health and gender issues in Johannesburg, South Africa.
He is joined by Grace-Francoise Nibizi, founder of the SaCoDé NGO, which promotes gender equality in Burundi.
She says violence against women is an issue that is deeply rooted in Burundian culture.
“The role of toxic masculinity in gender-based violence is that it creates very bad expectations of females being passive, submissive, weak, powerless, dependent on men and which I think is not true.”
Also joining the conversation is Hilde Ousland Vandeskog, a gender researcher who comes from one of the more egalitarian countries in Europe – Norway.
She is the author of the first international study on the Abatangamuco communities in Lesotho.
About Cry Like A Boy
Cry Like a Boy is an original series and podcast in which we are travel to five different African countries meeting men defying centuries-old stereotypes.
For each country, we bring you two narrative episodes – a full reportage on the ground, done in collaboration with local journalists, split into two parts – and two roundtables, bringing together the African and the European perspectives.
We aim to encourage a global debate on masculinity respectful of all people.
The journalists behind the project work with a network of local correspondents in the countries reported on, as well as Africanews reporters.
THE ABATANGAMUCO IN BURUNDI: THE LESSONS – EPISODE 3
Khopotso Bodibe: Welcome to Cry Like a Boy, a Euronews original series and podcast that explores how the pressure to be a man can hurt families and societies. Stay with us as we travel across the African continent to meet men who defy centuries-old stereotypes.
I am Khopotso Bodibe with you from Johannesburg in South Africa. In this episode, we will explore a community in Burundi where a group of men carry out a revolution against gender-based violence through theatre, changing mentalities and fighting against domestic violence. They are called the Abatangamuco, “the ones who shine light” in Kirundi.
In the past two episodes of our show, we witnessed how couples like Innocent and Capitoline benefited from their community efforts. And for this episode today, we are joined by Grace- Françoise Nibizi, live from Burundi. Miss Nibizi is a nurse by profession but also has a bachelor’s degree in social and economic administration and many years of working experience in international humanitarian and development organisations including UNIFEM, UN, DPE, UNHCR, CIW and the European Union.
And Hilde Ousland Vandeskog, a gender expert at Oslo University, also joins us. She’s a gender expert at Oslo University. She did research on the Abatangamuco for Care in 2011. Her latest work is on cultural barriers to knowledge transfer in development aid and the impact thereof on the realisation of the SDGs pertaining to gender and health.
For each country we are exploring in this series of documentaries, we will be in discussion with two guests, one from Europe and another African, to help us put into perspective the reports you will have heard previously. If you have not yet listened to both the documentaries on the Abatangamuco, do yourself a favour and visit our website www.euronews.com/programmes/cry-like-boy to have a listen. In the meantime, let’s get our conversation with our guests started.
Miss Vandeskog, miss Nibizi, welcome to Cry Like a Boy.
Hilde Ousland Vandeskog: Thank you very much.
Grace-Francoise Nibizi: I’m very pleased to be here.
Khopotso Bodibe: It’s lovely to have you around. We are recording this podcast under special conditions amid the current Covid-19 pandemic, which requires social distancing. Francoise is in Bujumbura and Hilde is in Oslo. Now, in the Abatangamuco episode, we met these men who at the community level are trying to change things by using theatre to denounce what is wrong. Hilde, you made a report on this in 2011. Could you tell us more about your experience?
Hilde Ousland Vandeskog: Yes, I was commissioned actually by Care International in Norway, who supported the Abatangamuco to do a research-based evaluation of their work, and at the time I was working at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo. And to be frank, I didn’t really know anything about the Abatangamuco or about Burundi before taking on that assignment. And it was to me a kind of paradigm shift of an experience to come to Burundi and meet these men in a context where I rather expected very traditional gender roles to materialise. And to hear them talk about how they had basically realised the destructiveness of some of the kinds of aspects of masculinity they’d grown up with in their own families, in their own development perspectives, in their wider communities and themselves as human beings. It was fascinating and it’s to date one of the most interesting pieces of academic work I’ve done.
Khopotso Bodibe: Do you think the Abatangamuco could be part of the solutions that European countries could adopt?
Hilde Ousland Vandeskog: In many ways, yes, I think they can. Because one of the things that really struck me with the Abatangamuco, was how they were able to kind of approach their ingrained ideas about what it means to be a real man. They were able to question that and to approach that with a kind of critical lens even from the inside. And to look at: OK, but if what I learn is that to be a real man, I need to beat up my wife, how does that actually impact myself and my wife and my community? Is this actually good for us?
And that ability that they have to have that self-reflection and to question those norms that they grew up with, I think is such a massive learning point and certainly an approach to not just toxic masculinity, but destructive gender roles in a wider sense and in Europe as well.
Khopotso Bodibe: Indeed. Françoise, let me bring you into the conversation here. You are familiar with the Abatangamuco. What is your view of the group and their efforts? Do you think that they are making an impact?
Grace-Francoise Nibizi: Yeah, thank you very much. As you said, I know about the Abatangamuco because the organisation that I created, I founded in 2010 has been in partnership with Care International since 2014. And that is the reason why I know the Abatangamuco movement very well.
Actually, what they are doing is very nice because the main tasks they have set themselves is to challenge traditional gender expectations in their communities through personal changes and testimonies. And what they are doing is very good because all the gender harms or gender-based violence we are experiencing in Burundi are rooted in our culture.
But unfortunately, they are only in those zones where Care International is working, which means only in eight provinces and Burundi has got 18 provinces. I can tell you that they have not really made themselves known by all the communities in those provinces, where I wish they could be really well known, they could expand their activities in all provinces, actually. But what they are doing, their main task and their main role, what they are doing is really very nice.
Khopotso Bodibe: You say that they are active in eight provinces out of almost 20, that the country, that Burundi, has and you say that out of the eight provinces where they are active, not all communities are actually aware of the group, but where they operate. What kind of success do you see? What kind of impact are you seeing that is noticeable? What are people in those communities saying about the group?
Grace-Francoise Nibizi: One of the kinds of success is that where they are working, rural Burundian men who had begun to question their traditional ways of life, that actually they are starting to question their masculinity. Because in Burundi, all gender-based violence, as I see it, is rooted in our culture, which means gender-based violence is taken as a normal thing. Men who are insulting their wives, degrading them… The insult is a daily thing in a Burundian community. And the majority of men didn’t see it as something really bad, but the way the Abatangamuco had been able to work and sensitise and educate men, now they are changing their way of communicating with their wives, which is a very nice thing indeed.
Khopotso Bodibe: That sounds very good. It actually means that this is a project that could be replicated across the country. We need a whole lot of these interventions in Burundi, not only in the eight provinces where they are currently working.
Now, I have a question for both of you. In the first episode of our series, we learnt about toxic masculinity, which refers to the ideas, the norms, the attitudes that we raise boys around to think that boys and men are dominant, that violence is the way to resolve problems, that men and boys are superior to women and so on and so on. What is the role of toxic masculinity in gender violence or in marital violence in your respective countries? Let me start with you, Hilde.
Hilde Ousland Vandeskog: So in Norway, we see that domestic violence is to a very large extent, part of intimate partner violence, where women are exposed to violence, sometimes even killed by partners, husbands. And what we do see is that a lot of the time these instances come about when the woman is maybe threatening to leave or there has been some sort of event whereby the man’s idea of himself as the man is in a sense threatened.
And to me, I think that is the tragedy of these aspects of masculinity that we refer to as toxic. For some men, the logical response or the emotional response to feeling belittled or out of control will be to use violence or aggression to reinsert masculinity.
If I can make a comparison to a case that I know better because, ironically I’m in Norway, but I don’t do research on the Norwegian context, but I did do research in Colombia about a decade back on the situation regarding landmines and people being forced to flee their house, their homes in the countryside because of landmines and in the families that had fled from rural context and into the city.
It was much easier for women than for men to get jobs because, you know, they could get domestic service, some of them would get jobs in the garment industry. It was much harder for men. So there was a shift where the women in a lot of these families became breadwinners. And what was seen there was that in parallel with that, you’d see an upsurge in domestic violence, which was associated with these men feeling like their role as breadwinners was taken away from them and that was something that triggered reactions of violence in some way. And that, again, to me, is just a tragic consequence of toxic masculinity whereby men feel like they’re not allowed to ever not be in charge.
Khopotso Bodibe: They feel emasculated, that’s what I hear you speaking about.
Hilde Ousland Vandeskog: Yes, indeed.
Khopotso Bodibe: If I can throw this question at you, Françoise, if you can talk to us about the role of toxic masculinity in gender-based violence or marital violence in Burundi, what are your observations around that?
Grace-Francoise Nibizi: The role of toxic masculinity in gender-based violence is that it creates really very bad, very bad expectations of female being as passive, as submissive, as weak, as powerless, as dependent on men and which I think is not true.
And actually, that’s why I see that what the Abatangamuco are doing is really good because their main goal in their activities, even in their shows is to help men, as many men as possible to realise that activities such as domestic violence [are bad]. And also a majority in Burundi, as I said, in which the majority of income-generating activities and household chores are done by women and women are excluded from all decision-making. They are not allowed all possibilities for achieving financial and social progress.
So all those things I consider as the impact of toxic masculinity. And that’s why the Abatangamuco group is really challenging all those values and behaviours of gender roles through their testimonies. I wish the Abatangamuco could really cover the whole country, not only Burundi, Africa, even Europe because I believe it’s the same thing all over the world.
Khopotso Bodibe: Françoise and Hilde, both of you, your responses to the question around toxic masculinity actually bring me to this question here, which is: achieving gender equality or gender justice is a challenge for most countries, which you have already alluded to in your responses. What are the main obstacles in your view regarding the attainment of gender equality? I will start with you, Hilde. In the context of Europe, in the context of Norway, where you are based, what are you seeing as the obstacles there that are preventing the attainment of gender justice?
Hilde Ousland Vandeskog: I think that it’s cemented gender roles anywhere you go, really, is the biggest challenge to gender justice, because our gender roles create these fixed expectations about how it is acceptable to be as a man and a woman.
And that creates these blind spots where it becomes so difficult to ask questions and to see the injustice of things that are going on. And, you know, even if gender equality has come a very long way in Norway, compared to the rest of the world, Norway is doing very well indeed, there is still this massive difference in what’s expected from a woman compared to a man. Like, how is a woman expected to behave? What kind of job is she expected to have? And even if she’s allowed to have all the other jobs, even if she’s allowed to behave in every other way, she is still expected to do this, that and the other.
And it’s the same for men. So, I mean, at that, just like overarching level, the fact that we insist on splitting the world into those two camps and assigning these very specific expectations as to how to behave and what you’re expected to be good at and what you are expected to be bad at, I think that’s what’s holding us back across the world.
Khopotso Bodibe: Your views on this, Françoise?
Grace-Francoise Nibizi: In Burundi, the main obstacle is related to the fact that a majority of Burundian women are uneducated. More than 70 per cent of Burundian women are really not educated. And that means they don’t even know their rights because they only believe in their culture. And that culture has got a lot of harmful norms. And one of them is that toxic masculinity.
Because education, sensitisation, advocacy, all these things need to be covered by financial means, which are limited in my point of view. Those are the two main obstacles. Women are not educated, which means that they really don’t know their rights. They believe in culture. It’s very unfortunate.
I can give you an example related to inheritance. We are in 2020 and in Burundi, women and girls cannot inherit. And when we went to do a study, we realised that the majority of people who are against that law were women. And for me, those women were against it because they could not think deeply and widely to see the consequences of not being able to inherit. Just believe in the cultural norms and some of the norms are very harmful.
Khopotso Bodibe: Well, thank you both. Thank you for sharing your time with us. Stay tuned to hear more from our guests in the second half of this interview to be aired two weeks from now. Thank you so much for joining us for this edition.
This show has been produced with me Khopotso Bodibe. I’m a journalist, I am a gender activist, I’m a communications specialist focusing on development issues, particularly gender issues and human rights. I have been joined in producing this show by Clarisse Shaka in Burundi, Marta Rodriguez Martinez, Lillo Montalto Monella and Naira Davlashyan. Special thanks to Lory Martinez and the studio Ochenta for helping us produce this podcast under special conditions.
I would like to also thank our guests Grace-François Nibizi and Hilde Ousland Vandeskog. For more information on Cry Like a Boy, a Euronews original series and podcast, go to www.euronews.com/programmes/cry-like-boy to find opinion pieces, videos and articles on the topic.
Follow us on Twitter @Euronews is our handle and on Instagram we are @Euronews.tv. Share with us your own stories of how you changed and challenged your view on what it means to be a man. Use #CryLikeaBoy. If you are a French speaker the podcast is also available in French. “Dans la tete des hommes” is the name.