Challenges and Success of EMERGE in Sri Lanka

Challenges and Success of EMERGE in Sri Lanka

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4 Lessons and Successes of CARE Sri Lanka’s Men Engaging Project

CARE Sri Lanka’s project Empowering Men to Engage and Redefine Gender Equality, (EMERGE) is the first project of its kind in Sri Lanka, treading uncharted territory, and clearing the path for others to follow. We implement our project by engaging youth, establishing change agents, and engaging married couples. Although CARE Sri Lanka has worked on many gender projects over the years, EMERGE stands out for us because it is the first time we have looked at the gender through the eyes of men. This means that we moved beyond an approach that isolates men as perpetrators of gender based violence, and have tried to include them in the process of finding solutions. Our experience with this project is that providing a space for men to engage, be involved and understand the importance of their positive engagement, allows for a better life for men and women, and has also brought home to us the importance of inclusiveness in sustainable development. This has been a learning experience with many challenges and successes along the way, and we’d like to help others learn from our experience:


  • Good help is hard to find As the first of its kind, EMERGE confronted a lack of available expertise in the country. Before we could implement activities, we had to create a pool of trainers on men and masculinities, and there were very few external experts to turn to. There is simply not enough experience in the country to look to for help, so we get to be the first ones to make all the mistakes.
  • Incentives matter Gender equality is not a priority for most people, especially youth. Completing education, getting a job, and supporting family takes precedence. Mobilizing, sustaining their interests, and doing planned activities is a constant challenge when the turnover is high. At the same time, keeping youth engaged is also difficult because there is no tangible incentive they receive from being a part of this program. They would much rather engage in something  that gives them a new cricket or football field.
  • You have to get their attention In the beginning, piquing men’s interest was challenging merely because men have come to equate NGOs with women, and see NGOs as working for women’s interests. There was no incentive for them to be a part of a space they do not trust could serve their interest.
  • Don’t undermine your own goals We need to be very careful and ensure that working with men does not give more power to men, when the point is to deconstruct that power. Although we are working on engaging men, we have not yet found the magic bullet to make sure we avoid reinforcing patriarchal norms that keep giving power to men. We have established

The situation is not all bad.  We’ve learned a lot about how to have success, too.


  • Evidence makes a difference In order to better understand the Sri Lankan context, our baseline survey turned into a grand research on the gender knowledge, attitudes, and practices of men and women in four districts of Sri Lanka. The study is available here for your perusal. It has picked up great traction in the Sri Lankan community and has also resulted in the production of policy briefs in order to prevent gender-based violence.
  • Safe spaces help The Happy Families program where married couples receive training on men and masculinities, and guidance on gender relations has created a safe space for discussion, mediation and sharing of perspectives. It allows spouses to bring their experiences and opinions to the table and openly work through them. The best part is that it is a completely accepted space by the community, and a very useful venue to communicate our message which includes both men and women.
  • Role models make a difference The couples from the Happy Families program are becoming good examples for empirical observations by others in their communities. It provides people with an alternative way a family can operate which is not based on problematic gender roles and rigid power dynamics.
  • Change starts at home We have established male change agents in each community that are taking their responsibility rather seriously. They are mentors for others in the community – ones that possess the knowledge and informally disseminate it through their actions, beliefs and conversations with others.

Even though engaging men and boys is a new, and therefore challenging, approach to ending gender-based violence, we have seen quite a few positive changes in men already. They are better aware of gender concepts, and challenging their own masculinity a little bit every day in order to equalize the space between them and women.