Interview with Hussein Safwan: Helping Lebanese Men and Boys Break Out of the “Box”
October 14, 2016
In July 2016, Lebanese NGO ABAAD–Resource Center for Gender Equality and Promundo launched Programme Ra in Beirut with support from the Womanity Foundation’s first-ever Womanity Award. The program, adapted from Promundo’s flagship Program H, encourages men and boys to challenge gender-based stereotypes, question traditional ideas of manhood, and contribute to ending all forms of gender-based violence in Lebanon.
Hussein Safwan provides psychosocial support services as part of ABAAD’s Women and Girls Safe Spaces (WGSS) Program in Choueifat, Lebanon. In the following interview, Hussein speaks with Promundo about the importance of working with men and boys in Lebanon and shares his thoughts on Programme Ra.
Hussein’s interview is the second in a series of three in-depth interviews with champions of Programme Ra in Lebanon that Promundo is publishing this month. The first interview in the series with Tala Noweisser is available here.
What are the challenges you see that men and boys are facing in Lebanon?
The first challenge are the stereotypical concepts of manhood and family traditions, which may bring about harmful practices, especially in conflict and post-conflict settings. The second challenge is men’s suppression of their emotions, because they think that only women have the right to express emotions. They think the concept of “man” is one of power: he is not human, he does not have feelings.
The negative consequence is that men and boys often use violence because it is a socially acceptable response to stress, especially with their partners. For example, when male refugees come to Lebanon from the war in Syria, they sometimes feel like the only way to express their emotions and solve problems is to use domestic violence as a coping mechanism. They [are frustrated because they] don’t have money or support, so they act out in harmful ways to reinforce their feelings of manhood and build up their confidence.
Why is working with men and boys important to you?
It’s important to work with boys because they are the new generation of our country. We put our hope in them to build a society with peace and love, not with violence or crime. We hope to build with them a new generation of peace and maturity.
But, there are lots of challenges to working with men and boys, especially in our country. They often think they know everything and believe that group discussion sessions like Programme Ra are not necessary for them, only for women, because the most important thing to them is learning how to make money. Understanding the concept of manhood and explaining how you can use your masculinity in positive ways may not be important to them. Maybe if we create a campaign to recruit young men or a football league they will come, but this requires money. If we are able to recruit boys successfully, we will see positive results.
How did you start working on Programme Ra?
Currently, I’m working on the Women and Girls Safe Spaces Program. This program also works with boys, but not on the same scale. Programme Ra will help us to better work with men and boys and make connections to prevent violence before it happens.
One reason I like Programme Ra is because it is new in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon and other Arab countries. We need a program to help men break out of the “box.” In addition, the men here in Lebanon would like to change, but they don’t have a path to take the first step. Programme Ra is the first step for them.
What do you hope that young men will achieve by participating in Programme Ra?
I hope that they build community groups and replicate the sessions with their communities, parents, and friends – and that they start to help others to change.