Lesedi-Lechabile Men Engage Programme (MEP)
The rationale for the establishment of the MEP is that:
– One of the fundamental causes of HIV/AIDS is gender inequity especially within the context of poverty and income disparity (McKee et al 2004). Traditionally, girls were seen in roles of future child-bearers and nurturers and were therefore relegated to subservient roles and would grow up lacking basic psychological skills and ability to communicate assertively, think critically, creatively, make decisions, solve problems in social relationships, resist pressure, and cope with emotions and conflict (McKee et al 2004).
– The gender-based socialization of boys and girls continues to create power dynamics in sexual relationships that put women at a disadvantage. Girls enter sexual relationships with the opposite sex as unequal partners and as such are unable to negotiate safe sex, avoid sexual abuse and exploitation and even if they have access to condoms they are likely to leave the decisions to use them or not to the male partner. (McKee et al 2004)
– Changing the situation for girls and women has to involve boys and men. “Part of the effort to curb the AIDS epidemic must include challenging beliefs and behaviors, including the way men view risk and how boys are socialized to become men. Men are expected to be strong, robust and virile, but these very expectations may translate into behaviors that can endanger both them and their partners” (Piot, 2000).
– Men are influenced by social pressures that encourage them to prove their sexual prowess and take risks such as not using a condom to prove that they are like real men. They generally have more power in sexual relations and decide when, how often and where sex should take place as well as whether or not a condom will be used.
By adding a male-focused, male driven leg called the “Lesedi-Lechabile Men Engage,” the programme seeks to engage boys/men and girls/women in discourse about prevention of gender issues that fuel the spread of HIV.
The long-term goal is to persuade boys/men and girls/women to reassess traditional concepts of masculinity and femininity and the prescribed roles that accelerate the spread of HIV. Lesedi-Lechabile Men Engage not only creates awareness about the pitfalls of alcohol and other substances among boys and men, but also empowers them with skills to assist them to avoid the pitfalls of GBV, alcohol and other substances. This will enable them to address issues emanating from the trio of STI/HIV, substance abuse and gender-based violence as boys and men who should bring about positive changes in the lives of girls and women.
The programme operates from a fixed site at Ernest Oppenheimer Hospital and two (2) roving mobile clinics.