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Why Some Developing Countries Need a Men's Movement

While women's empowerment has taken the development world by storm, the men of Emori Joi, a city in Kenya, are a stark example of a question that is arising in communities -- developed and developing alike -- around the world: in an age of growing women's empowerment, what about the men?

In Emori Joi, a generation of men is idle.

Without livestock to protect and raiders to repel, they are unneeded as protectors and unable to be providers.

Still each morning they leave their homes and return in the evening as though they were out working.

"They are trying to hide their insecurities and make it look as though they're at least trying to provide," says "Mama" Jane Marindany. "Surely they are walking around with a heavy heart."

With little to boost the pride and self worth of village men, alcoholism and domestic violence are on the rise.

Meanwhile, girls are being educated and women like Marindany are building their own businesses, providing for their families.

Women's empowerment has taken the development world by storm. Billions are poured every year into education for girls, women's health, and livelihood programs for women.

And this is an incredibly good thing.

According to the United Nations, women and girls account for six out of 10 of the world's most impoverished people, and two thirds of the world's illiterate.

We've seen the positive impact on entire communities when women are empowered. Every year that a girl spends in school increases her family's income by up to 20 per cent. Women who earn an income invest 90 per cent back in into their families.

But the men of Emori Joi are a stark example of a question that is arising in communities -- developed and developing alike --around the world: in an age of growing women's empowerment, what about the men?

Sipping tea in her home, Marindany talks fondly of another time, when "Baba" -- her father-- would sit by the door of their hut, spear and bow beside him. His role was to protect the family and their precious livestock from wild animals and raiders from neighbouring villages.

Today villages no longer raid each other and big predators are scarce. Loss of land to development and climate change is reducing herds and the work for men.

But Marindany has seized many opportunities.

After marriage, she moved to her husband's village where poverty and gender inequality were much higher than where she had come from. She launched a women's group and started a communal savings and loans initiative.

The women are involved in alternative income projects like jewellery-making and beekeeping. Four of the women own dairy cows and the group has a long-term plan to build their own dairy by 2017.

With her income, Marindany has moved her family from a mud hut to a new brick home.

Yet these achievements have been difficult for men, explains Sitonik, a male leader in Marindany's village.

"I saw men walking around from day to night without anything in their hand to give back when they returned at night," he says.

And women like Marindany want their daughters to find educated husbands willing to share in household chores. She has told her daughter to look for a partner elsewhere because the men in their village are simply not suitable.

Primary school opportunities for the children of Emori Joi are good, with an equal 80 to 90 per cent attendance rate for boys and girls. However, while the village has a girls' high school, there is no nearby high school for boys, and most families cannot afford to send their children away to school.

We know from experience it is relatively easy to find donors to build a school for girls but for a boys' school, not so much.

"We want both boys and girls to go to school," Marindany says. "If a girl studies more than a boy, or vice versa, it isn't equal and how can they be good spouses? Live good lives? Provide good role models?"

Educated boys make better fathers. Better fathers who have a strong role in the family and pride in themselves will be more supportive of the endeavours of their wives and daughters. In short, women's empowerment is enhanced when men are not left behind.

Jane and the women of Emori Joi have realized this. They have supported Sitonik and the men of the village in forming their own men's groups. The men started a savings and loans initiativeto bolster their incomes and support business initiatives. They have a group agriculture project growing tomatoes, carrots and onions. The men's and women's groups have regular exchanges to learn from each other and share accomplishments.

Meanwhile the women are teaching boys to share in the chores of the home. In Emori Joi a few weeks ago, for the first time we saw boys hauling water.

Craig and Marc Kielburger co-founded Free The Children, and are authors of the new bookLiving Me to We: The Guide for Socially Conscious Canadians

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