The Learning Post: insights from UK Aid Match

The critical role men and boys play in the road to women's empowerment

Episode Summary

Continuing the conversation around women's empowerment and the work of the Jo Cox Memorial Grant holders in this area, we speak with Julia Rosell Jackson, Performance and Risk Manager for UK Aid Direct and explore the critical role men and boys play on the road to empowerment.

Episode Transcription

Reflections on women’s empowerment, Part 2: Jo Cox Memorial Grants

October 2021

Laura Else [00:00 – 01:05] Hello and welcome to the Learning Post. A podcast dedicated to sharing insights and learning from the UK Aid Direct and UK Aid Match funds. My name is Laura Else, and I am the Communications Specialist for UK Aid Direct and your host for this episode.

Back in the summer, I spoke with Technical Specialist for MannionDaniels on Gender and Social Development, Alethea Osborne, about the Jo Cox Memorial Grants funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and specifically those working to support women’s empowerment overseas. We discussed the cohort of organisations and the fantastic opportunity we have, through technology and as UK Aid Direct, to bring them all together and encourage learnings and understandings across the group. 

Today I want to talk to Julia Rosell Jackson, Performance and Risk Manager at UK Aid Direct, who has been managing many of the Jo Cox Memorial Grants and been working closely with Alethea in the discussion groups. 

Julia, thank you so much for joining me! 

Julia Rosell Jackson [01:06 – 01:08]Hi Laura, very excited to be here.

Laura Else [01:09 – 01:21] I’m interested to find out more about this group of organisations and specifically, how they’ve been brought together and what benefits you think there have been for the organisations and for us as Fund Managers?

Julia Rosell Jackson [01:22 – 03:15] So, after myself and my colleague Alethea Osborne conducted a set of exploratory calls with the grant holders who are working in women’s empowerment – and we did these purely to explore what the projects were doing, what they meant by ‘empowerment’, and different commonalities that they shared – it organically came up that there was a willingness to learn and they were really keen to share with each other.

Given that we identified some common struggles, but also how some of the grant holders were excelling in some areas that others felt they needed more support with, we really thought it was a key opportunity to create a forum for these grant holders to come together.

We hosted the first one very much with an ethos that it should be led by the grant holders, and we just wanted to create the opportunity to see what would happen! And it was really great – the grant holders really embraced the space, they started referring to themselves and the group as a ‘hive’, and they meant that in the sense that they were coming together, with a common objective; they’re all doing gender empowerment projects. It also really worked as we wanted it to – as an open and safe space to learn and feed off from each other.

For example, in the first session it was really interesting to hear the different approaches from the organisations on their reflections of dismantling wider oppressive gender structures, as well as the different areas that they commonly struggled with.

For us as Fund Managers, these conversations allowed us to have a real qualitative ‘deep dive’ into the projects and also helped us to understand what are the issues that are being faced. As Fund Managers we are in this really unique and valuable position; with an oversight over all these different projects and are able to explore the commonalities that the projects have, and also create an environment for those organisations who are excelling in certain areas, to share these with other organisations. Also, through this we have also been able to create different learning papers for the sector, which again I just think is a great outcome.

Laura Else [03:16 – 03:21]How did you determine what you would talk about in your workshops? The themes that you were going to cover?

Julia Rosell Jackson [03:22 – 04:12]So, the first session we started off by presenting back to them on the learning briefs that we developed from the calls we had with them, and these covered a really vast array of topics, like the importance of women and girls coming together in a safe space, different areas around self-esteem and confidence, etc. We then had a couple of grant holders who had prepared a response to the papers share their thoughts with the group and this led to a wider conversation about empowerment. 

At the end of this session, we asked what topics of conversation they would like to see in future sessions. What came up were an array of different topics, such as engaging with men and boys in gender-empowerment projects. So, essentially, they wanted to learn a bit more about what seems to work well and what’s effective for achieving engagement from boys and men in these women-empowerment focused projects. 

Laura Else [04:13 – 04:22]Sounds like a brilliant opportunity to exchange ideas around topics that were really relevant to these organisations. Can you tell the listeners a bit more about what happened next? 

Julia Rosell Jackson [04:23 – 04:59]So, after the first session, we decided that engagement with men and boys seemed to be one that came up quite a lot. So, we then reached out to all of these Jo Cox Memorial grant holders and asked if any of them wanted to present and facilitate a session. 

And we had Aloys Mateba, who is the Senior Programme Manager for Women for Women’s International Men’s Engagement Programme. Aloys spoke about the programme that they run to complement, hand-in-hand, their 12-month long core women’s social and economic programme for marginalised women in South Kivu communities in the DRC.

Aloys Mateba [05:00 – 05:24] Our conviction is that women here live in patriarchal communities, and if we want them to reach empowerment with their money, they cannot do it alone – they have to do it with the men because it is the men who decide more than them. 

Julia Rosell Jackson [05:25 – 06:32]So Aloys then explained to the group a little more about the different approaches and the different levels that they use to engage men as allies in their journey towards women empowerment. 

The first one is the training of male leaders selected within the community, followed by trainings facilitated by men, for men. These are male discussion groups, where they meet for the period of 14 weeks. The husbands of the women in the core project are really encouraged to participate, as well as other men in the community. And then after they have had these 14-week long discussions, they move on and have couple dialogues and different community dialogues to discuss work arounds and identify different problems that may be occurring and impacting the women’s empowerment and the project. 

There are lots of different types of trainings that were received, and these will also be country specific. But, Aloys told us about their trainings on gender, women’s rights, violence against women and girls, male leadership, communication for behaviour change, and different facilitation techniques that may be useful.

Laura Else [06:33 – 06:40]Did the group then learn from Aloys Mateba what changes they had seen within the supported communities as a result of the men’s programme?

Julia Rosell Jackson [06:41 – 07:24] Yes, so then Aloys explained to the group the changes that they had seen. The sharing of household activities for example, and a deeper understanding from the participants on giving women their own rights, their own right to money, to access inheritance, even to have access to land – these are all changes that came about as a result of the project. 

But also – and I think almost as importantly as these successes Aloys discussed the challenges that they’d seen from this element of the programme. 

So for example, when they started to organise trainings for men, at the beginning, there was quite low participation and they also naturally recognised that attitude changes take a lot of time, which can sometimes be a hindrance to projects. 

Aloys Mateba [07:25 – 08:11] We observed also a kind of slow changes for men. We think that is because all change takes time. And also we have the challenge of the global economy context. 

In which sense, in DRC, because of the lack of basic services, everyone is struggling to get something to eat. So, if you call someone for the training, during four months, for some you are taking lots of time for them, when they would like to be searching for money to feed their families. 

Julia Rosell Jackson [08:12 – 08:36] Ultimately all of these projects that are trying to work towards the common goal of supporting and empowering women, in all these different ways around the world, there are some commonalities in these interventions that strengthen the projects to achieve a deeper, more sustainable social change, and engaging with men and boys and the communities was one of the ways that we came across when we did our exploratory calls and in the learning briefs.

Laura Else [08:37 – 08:40] What were some other commonalities that came out of this session, Julia?

Julia Rosell Jackson [08:41 – 10:01] So, it was really interesting to hear, in a later-on part of the session that was facilitated by Promote Mifumi, how themselves and also several of the organisations who chimed in, have been working through schools, and engaging young boys and men to explore areas such as gender stereotyping, sexual harassment, respect, bullying, different beliefs about masculinities, unhealthy relationships, etc. and that these have been a commonality across the different grant holders as a successful approach to teach and learn about gender in all of its different forms.

Engaging men and boys in gender-empowerment projects is not only crucial to work towards better women’s empowerment, but it also works to allow men and boys to understand and explore how gender stereotypes and expectations impact their lives. In our exploratory calls it came up a lot that men really appreciated having a space to explore household dynamics and responsibilities, and were keen to work towards a more equitable partnership in order to share different burdens. For example, men being really open and willing to share financial-management responsibilities within the household. Gender does really affect everyone. So, to work towards a more gender-equitable society, we need to have everyone on board. 

Laura Else [10:02 – 10:20]To find out more about the Jo Cox Memorial grants and learnings of the UK Aid Direct fund, head over to the learning and resources page on the UK Aid Direct website at

Thanks for listening.