Any society that limits half of its population to menial labor is already putting itself at a disadvantage. The mantra carried around the world lifting up women to a place a dignity and respect has made great strides but change does not happen over night. No organization can insight such drastic change, even if that change is warranted, without some adverse consequences arising.
All around the developing world the male is the head of the household. He brings in the majority of the income and makes decisions for his family. Often he asserts his decisions by force because well, he has the ability to do so and also because culturally it is accepted.
When we try to change this dynamic, lifting up women towards greater independence and greater sense of self-worth it also undermines the identity of the male. Both the how the man sees himself and also how he is viewed by other comes into question as he feels he is loosing grip on both his family and his status in society. As one can guess, in poor rural areas (but also urban too) where everyone knows everyone, social pressure is immense and men who are not in charge of their household are looked down upon.
As one can also guess, men often lash out when their dominance begins to be eroded. What is mounting evidence in microfinance where organizations target women and also in my own brief experience thus far in Uganda is that things always get worse before they can start to get better for the women. Domestic violence, verbal abuse, and other remedies are common place in such situations. As abhorrent as it is, that is the reality.
It is easy to judge men in such situations as without question those who lash out at their wives or significant others are in the wrong but to some degree it is understandable for the precarious situation that they find themselves in. When anyone’s identity and self-worth is undermined in any society problems are always going to follow. No degree of domestic violence or verbal abuse is to be accepted but at the same time the outlook towards men should not be as negative as it is often offered.
Empowering women is a noble movement and one that I believe in and am currently employed towards pursuing but this concept cannot be taken in isolation. Women are part of the larger community. Community empowerment is what we should be striving for. Each individual has worth and talents to contribute to society and the ultimate goal for any organization or business should be in pursuit of empowering the community. Focusing on women often is the most effective way to do that but mounting evidence suggests that it often has to be complimented with other efforts to fully achieve its goals.