I recently photographed a series of nonprofits in Rwanda with Bread for the World Institute for their 2015 World Hunger Report. The organization I was most impressed with is Men Care. They educate men on parenting and participating in family care, while working to break social taboos.
Men Care often works with young men who are expecting their first child. These men told us that before they started the program that they did not know that their wives need more rest while pregnant or that their babies would benefit from early contact with their fathers. As Men Care participates put their new knowledge in action, they ran into confusion from their families and partners as what they were doing is counter to their traditional roles in Rwandan society.
Edouard, who works for Men Care, shared a story demonstrating the cultural attitude toward men and their families. When he took his son to the medical clinic to get immunizations, he overheard some women talking about him and how sad it was that his wife was dead. Edouard told them that his wife wasn’t dead but was working. They couldn’t imagine why he—as the man of the family—would bring his child in for care when his wife was alive and well.
I was grateful to visit a session that Men Care held for young men and have the opportunity to visit the home of one of their members, Theogene. After speaking to him and his family, I realized that we should be looking at empowerment as universal instead of thinking of it strictly in terms of gender.
As someone who often works on projects that address women’s empowerment, I was surprised by how little I had thought about empowering men. I know that cultural traditions often affect the roles that women have in society, but I never thought about how those constraints also have an effect on men. I love documenting stories that challenge my perception and expose me to grassroots solutions changing communities and social norms one person at a time.
If you want to learn more about Men Care in Rwanda, check out this video by Nathan Golon.