APRIL 2016 STORIES FOR CHANGE: CENTRAL AMERICA – Nicaragua
Masculinityˌmaskjʊˈlɪnɪti/noun – ‘possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men’
What connotations does masculinity have in your group of friends? In your school or university? In your church or youth group? All over the world this word, masculinity, has different associations.
But In Nicaragua, a culture based around the definition of masculinity causes domestic violence, increases gang culture and challenges society. This puts pressure on men to demonstrate strength, destruction and aggression towards others to demonstrate their superiority. It pressures men to be decision makers and breadwinners. If men cannot fulfil these criteria, they often turn to violence to reinstate their power and as a way to deal with their frustrations.
Today Nicaraguan women have larger public roles and employment opportunities. Yet machismo culture is still a pressure for men to be breadwinners and as a result, many men look to crime and drugs to reaffirm their identities when traditional gender roles are broken down. Machismo affects men and women in Nicaragua: men adapt to the expectations that this places on them and women have to accept that violence and decision making is a man’s role in the household.
Christian Aid is working with an organisation called CEPREV who are all too aware of the problems of gang culture and pressures of machismo. CEPREV is working with gang members and their families to find solutions to the ongoing problems in Nicaragua.
Bayardo Fargas is a former gang member and drug dealer whose life has been transformed with CEPREV. He was the leader of a gang who sold cocaine and robbed houses at gunpoint. He knew of the work of CEPREV but was sceptical: “I didn’t trust them to begin with. I thought they were spying on me, so I’d usually tell the boys [other gang members] not to trust them. But slowly I realised their intentions were good and heartfelt. They treated me with affection and love.”
During this process Bayardo dismantled his gang, handed over his weapons and stopped taking drugs, even though it was a difficult and long process. He’s proud of his achievements: “You have to have willpower. It was my goal to change and now I have a family and job.”
Many of Bayardo’s former gang members are also working or studying for a better future. And because Bayardo is so thankful to CEPREV, he volunteers to help other young men leave a life of drugs and crime.
CEPREV’s ongoing and powerful work has transformed the lives of many men and their families, who now understand a new way of being a man, connecting with their feelings and expressing them instead of returning to violence. Indeed the work of CEPREV has led to the dismantling of around 120 gangs in the past few years.
This article was first produced in The Christian Aid Collective ‘Do Not Tiptoe’ Magazine: The Gender Issue.