The Relevance of Role Model Men Approach as Change Agents

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By Stephen Oryema


Globally, there are still strong social and cultural norms that perpetuate power imbalances between men and women. While men usually have more agency than women in their lives, men’s decisions and behaviors are also profoundly shaped by rigid social and cultural expectations related to masculinity. Broadening the discussion about how gender norms affect both women and men helps us to better understand the complex ways that rigid gender norms and how power relations burden our society, and to engage men and boys more effectively in reflections about inequalities and change

Men in patriarchal society

The high patriarchal society, especially among the Acholi community that positioned men as ‘providers/breadwinners’ was challenged by the LRA armed conflict and efforts of development & Humanitarian actors.  The Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp life situation saw men with limited skills, low income, and helplessness to deliver according to social expectations. Men experienced a sense of inferiority and lost the tradition and family roles of breadwinning to their women. In terms of access to humanitarian assistance, women solely bared the charge of receiving aids from humanitarian actors. For instance, as men were left to take care of the home, women would be in line receiving food from the World Food Programme (WFP), and these saw them gained financial independence due to support given to them by humanitarian agencies. Men’s attitude did not change on their expectations of women and refused to admit the new status quo especially after the LRA war that women can be breadwinners. This prompted violence against women.


RMM after a couple seminar in Koch Goma Sub County, Nwoya

To minimize the violence, HANDLE Uganda among other humanitarian agencies like CARE International, created an approach of using men as role model as a break through from men’s violence behavior. The breakthrough was designed from a theory that  “If  Men gain knowledge on gender socialization, power imbalance, skills to join their power in solidarity to confront issues of unequal gender norms that perpetrate violence”, “If  There is a supportive environment that support men practicing positive masculinity” then three (3) break through will be realized by,

(1) Gaining knowledge for gender Socialization, Power dynamics and GBV, Journey of transformation towards Gender transformative,

(2) Change in Attitude for women’s participation in paid work, seeing violence against women as unjust, women’s rights on SRHR, women’s participation in leadership positions and Women taking key decisions in the Household. All these at the end will leads to

(3) positive behavior change for joint decision making in the homes, participation of their spouses in Leadership positions, shared Gender roles in the homes, non-violence means to solve conflict (Reduction in GBV), women to access and control resources.

Reception of the model

Looking at the community reception of the approach, there were a lot of inherent tensions in the project of men’s engagement as role models at the beginning. This was due to the limited knowledge of the community on the important things that role model men can play as change agents. Simultaneously, critically exploring traditional masculinity and its associated privileges generated one of the fundamental tensions inherent in engaging men in anti-violence work. Inviting men to reimagine closely held beliefs about their own gender means examining and perhaps working to shed the privileges that accrued, hence, most men perceived gender-based violence prevention efforts as inherently antagonistic toward and blaming their masculinities that was built from generation. On the other hand, some men who become visible anti-violence allies or who speak up about the disrespectful behavior of other men encounter skeptical, negative, and/or homophobic reactions from their male peers. However, all the negativities against the role model men (RMM) were reduced through comprehensive and continuous sensitization of the community about the Men Engage initiative and its benefits towards a peaceful co-existence process in the vulnerable communities especially the war-affected areas.

Lesson learned from this approach

RMM participating in domestic work

Acknowledging and exploring tensions associated with engaging men is an important element of thoughtfully fostering men realized that they form the greater percentage of perpetrators of gender-based violence. This also made it easy for them in bringing fellow allies of violence and work with them to create effective, gender-equitable prevention programming. In addition, men are great agents in the deconstruction of the negative masculinities to positive masculinities.

Men became agents of change by becoming Role Model Men bringing into their side custodians of the Acholi culture and tradition as stakeholders in promoting gender equality and women empowerment.

RMM with wife

Basing on the knowledge generation, men became Equal Partners of women and contributed to the multipliers effect of addressing gender inequality using the 10 house-households attached to them through mentorship and coaching. Similarly, the strategies also unveiled out men as Clients.

Men experiencing psychological and economic challenges but due to negative masculinities, men were not unveiling their suffering from women.


Enhancing gender equality requires the active participation of men as a change agent in their communities.


In conclusion, it’s worth noting that, on a macro level, program representatives identified and mobilized male power within the community through media engagement, criminal justice, and religious, tribal, and other community institutions as a significant ally in GBV prevention. HANDLE Uganda through the role model men managed to address the socially embedded patriarchy by reinforcing the notions of deconstructing the traditional negative masculinity in addressing male privilege socially constructed by tradition. Hence the central part of these efforts is the need to see men and boys as stakeholders in gender equality and to obligate, engage, support, and encourage men to overcome power inequalities, including giving up privilege, and at the same time to help them live and experience the benefits that gender equality brings for all of us.

Project Knowledge, Practice and Coverage (KPC) for the SCOPE Project

Background HANDLE, a respected NGO, secured funding from the VOICE...

HANDLE Uganda Documentary for the SCOPE Project

You can watch the full documentary below.