A man sits in a chair writing on a piece of paper while two community outreach workers look on

Grantee stories

Men Engaged: Transforming mindsets against toxic masculinity

Grantee Partner: Reach Out Cameroon

Grant type: Network

Priorities: Access, Youth, Violence

Country: Cameroon

The Anglophone crisis in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon has caused significant socio-economic challenges and increased instability. These changes are increasing women’s vulnerability to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and sexual exploitation and abuse. In 2022, it was estimated that 979,000 people were in need of protection from gender-based violence (GBV) in these regions. The internal displacement of over 712,644 people has had severe sexual and reproductive health impact in host communities for internally-displaced people (IDP) in neighbouring Littoral, West and Centre regions.

The acute impact of the Anglophone crisis on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) compounds existing SRHR issues in Cameroon. Patriarchal norms and stereotypes about masculinity impede addressing issues of SGBV, FGM/C, unsafe abortion, and lack of sexuality education across the country.

Within this difficult setting, Reach Out Cameroon are promoting a community-based approach to transforming toxic masculinity. Reach Out are an organisation supporting marginalised groups, especially youth and women, through community-centred approaches and advocacy. Through their AmplifyChange Network grant, Reach Out engages men and boys to challenge existing social norms that contribute to SGBV and reduce uptake of women’s SRHR. Additionally, the project supports the mental health and SRHR needs of vulnerable and internally displaced women and girls due to the Anglophone crisis.

A group of people in pink t shirts stand outside of a restaurant.
Trained community members disseminate messages on SRHR, ending GBV and positive masculinity

For the project, Reach Out partnered with 24 community-based organisations across the Northwest, Southwest, West and Littoral regions. Reach Out and their partners use community engagement to transform the mindsets of community members, particularly men and boys, and build community-based champions against GBV and for the promotion of SRHR. Project partners receive organisational training before and during the project to support their project and financial management skills. Beyond the project, these trainings will support the partners’ organisational strengthening.

Engaging community champions

Reach Out and their partners trained 320 community leaders and members to become community mobilisers and counsellors. These community members promote behaviour change towards SRHR and GBV and identify SGBV cases for referral for psychological support and healthcare services. Mobilisers faced initial community resistance to participate in social norm transformation around gender norms, toxic masculinities, and SRHR inequality. To approach these issues from a community perspective, the project uses a number of strategies:

  • Quarterly community consultation meetings with leaders and influencers to build acceptance and engage key stakeholders. The team shares learning and reflects on strategies to eliminate GBV and promote SRHR. To date, a total of 1,272 community leaders demonstrated support for SRHR after community acceptance meetings.
  • Community mobilisation meetings to identify advocacy priority areas for community dialogues. These dialogues develop solutions and action plans to address gender inequalities and foster collaboration. One year into the project, 83 of the 160 trained community mobilisers have reached 34,953 community members.
  • Digital campaigning against GBV and for SRHR. The project has reached 24,117 digital platform users with key messages against toxic masculinity and GBV and for women’s SRHR.
  • Community-based psychosocial support and case management for cases of SGBV. The 160 trained community-based counsellors support survivors of SGBV to access psychosocial support and referrals to appropriate case management services. Since the start of the project, counsellors have engaged 238 survivors of GBV and connected them to services.
A man sits in a chair writing on a piece of paper while two community outreach workers look on.
Engaging directly with men and boys supports social norm transformation

By centring community approaches, Reach Out and their partners have built sustainable solutions to improving gender norms.

From toxic to positive masculinity

These community outreach activities have made tangible impact on gender norms perspectives. One woman who is a survivor of violence, Victua, commented about the impact of the community education activities. She says as a result of project activities, she has been

embraced by the community as a business owner and a symbol of resilience for women’s empowerment.

To date, 40% of men and boys surveyed who participated in community outreach activities have changed their perspectives on GBV and SRHR and become supporters of gender equal behaviours. In one community, after an outreach campaign, a father declined a marriage proposal for his 16-year-old daughter to a 60-year-old man. This was in support of the girl’s decision to continue school.

Additionally, the project has inspired other approaches to eliminating GBV and promoting SRHR, including:

  • Relationship hubs within the communities that support conflict resolution and shared decision-making between couples. The hubs work with gender-balanced religious leaders and elderly couples who have been married for many years as guides.
  • Door-to-door outreach sessions bringing youth, older people and parents together to discuss culturally appropriate parenting techniques including comprehensive sexuality education.
  • The “Farming Njangi” technique engaging a group of women to work on the farms of each member of the group. This boosted productivity at both planting and harvest seasons, reduced dependence on male partners for subsistence, and subsequently reduced the occurrence of intimate partner violence linked to poverty.
A woman in a pink t shirt shows four women a flipchart
Community outreach is a cornerstone to the project work

It’s clear that the immediate SRHR needs within conflict-affected areas of Cameroon are free and accessible service provision, trained healthcare providers in psychosocial and case management services, and availability of menstrual products and contraception at community levels. However, Reach Out and their partners show how the inclusion of social norm change through engaging men and boys is crucial to building sustainable change and increasing acceptance of SRHR, even in crisis-affected areas.

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