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Workshop on gender equality inspires behaviour change

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Addis Ababa, 02 February 2012 – An inspirational workshop has provided a group of refugees and asylum seekers in Ethiopia with an appreciation of gender roles and equality as a basis to work towards behavioural change.

According to JRS Ethiopia Social Worker, Guliliat Azale, the workshop surpassed expectations of most participants. Sharing household activities equally, taking some responsibility for childcare, and sending girls as well as boys to school, were just three of the proposals for behaviour change which emerged during the discussions.

"Men need to be responsible and work hard to bring about gender equality by changing their behaviour. They need to teach girls and boys that they are equal and help women in whatever way they can", said one Eritrean woman who participated in the workshop.

"Most men sit idle at home while their wives run around for them doing household activities and trying to support the family", explained Hanna Petros, JRS Ethiopia Emergency Needs Project Director, noting the key role of cultural norms.

During visits to refugees and asylum seekers, JRS teams frequently receive requests for workshops on gender issues, specifically on roles in the home and equality.

The workshop was designed to address this need and comprised a group of asylum seekers and undocumented refugees from a wide range of ethnic groups, nationalities and religions. It was a chance for women and men from Somalia, Eritrea, Congo and Sudan to share experiences and try to reach a new awareness about gender equality.

"Our religious leaders have taught us that it is an obligation for men to be obeyed without question. Women do not have the right to comment on anything. Every household activity is performed by women. Our men need these educational trainings to bring about behavioural change", one female Somali participant explained.

Equality in the home

The facilitators began the three-day workshop with an exploration of the difference between sex and gender. Over subsequent days, topics such as the equal division of labour; empowerment of women to participate in decision making; gender-based violence; the gender development approach; promotion of recognition and respect for women; and identification of household activities as valuable work were covered in-depth.

Participant-centred games, drama sketches, group activities and question and answer sessions brought the topics alive and encouraged debate and lively discussions. The refugees were able to share their life experiences and backgrounds with each other.

"Theoretically, I know how to cook and wash clothes but I have never been willing to do so because of my culture. This workshop has convinced me to break my bad habits and I am now very keen to start sharing household activities with my wife", said a male Sudanese participant.