The Erongo Regional Council (ERC), through its Regional AIDS Coordinating Committee (RACOC) has been combating a multitude of social ills through its pioneering male forum.
The male forum programme was established under the stewardship of Kleria Autanga the ERC community health officer who coordinates RACOC within the region.
The forum was proposed by participants at a male conference organised by the Ministry of Health and Social Services in November 2018 in Swakopmund and is being implemented according to the National Strategic Framework for HIV and AIDS response.
“The goal of the regional male forum is to improve male participation, increase uptake and utilisation of HIV and AIDS services; to increase coverage and improve intensity to achieve optimal public health impact; scale up social behavioral change communication (SBCC) programmes through the region and address the underlying social issues,” Autanga said.
Each of the seven constituencies in the region also has its own male forum that comprises of seven executive members and five ordinary members. The forums engage in various activities such as facilitating health awareness campaigns, information sharing sessions on mental health, reproductive health, gender-based violence and alcohol and drug abuse.
Additionally, these forums have regular engagements with adolescent boys on those issues as well to educate them while they are still young.
“The male forum has a number of activities – these include conducting community mobilisation and addressing the underlying social issues and change public policy related to gender norms; supporting and implementing intergenerational dialogue to identify and challenge negative social norms to address intergenerational and transactional sex and multiple concurrent partnerships; as well as reinforcing compliance with existing laws and policies. i.e. limit the number of alcohol outlet /shebeens in residential areas, and develop targeted programmes,” she explained.
The forums also work on scaling up male-targeted HIV interventions such as HTS, PrEP, VMMC, condoms promotion and use. The constituency male forums have so far received extensive training on GBV, HIV and sexual reproductive health.
Admittedly, the male forum has various challenges.
Among these challenges are the prevalence of intergenerational and transactional sex among men; gender norms that define masculinity and virility which affect health behaviours and attitudes; social and cultural norms that make some communities tolerate and accept multiple concurrent partners and alcohol and drug abuse.
“Although we have some challenges, I believe that these challenges can be overcome by male engagement both at the constituency and regional platforms through capacity building and community mobilisation,” she stressed.
While the various restrictions that arose as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic negatively impacted the activities of the forums, they have resumed their activities as they are imperative to combating and addressing the social ills in the region.