Relevant community-mobilization activities include women’s and men’s support groups, dialogue groups and community education and advocacy. Since 1999, MAP Foundation has organized Women’s Exchange programs as a way to support and empower migrant and refugee women, and GBV has always been a prominent issue for the program. After twenty years of working on the issue, migrant women and MAP recognized that engaging men and boys to the GBV program is essential for a long-term effect of the intervention. Hence, in August 2019, MAP facilitated the first Men’s Exchange: Training of Trainers (ME-TOT) event. The ME-TOT project aims to train men peer leaders to initiate groups for men in the community where they can talk about male socialization and gender roles and the effect this has on their relationships with women. Following that event, in October 2019, MAP organized two events in Mae Sot: the second ME-TOT and Women’s Exchange: Training of Trainers (WE-TOT).

Men’s Exchange: Training of Trainers (ME-TOT)

To complete the ME-TOT course, participants must attend two training workshops from MAP, which is supported by the Canada Fund. After implementing the first Men’s Exchange (ME) in each community, twenty men peer leaders met again in Mae Sot to attend the second ME-TOT event from the 22nd to 24th of October. They come from six different communities - Myawaddy, Chiang Mai, Mae Sot and refugee camps Mae La, Nu Po and Um Phiem. Since two of the previous participants could not make it this time, two new peer leaders replaced them.

Figure 1 Two participants are discussing the outcomes and challenges of Men's Exchange in their community

While the first ME-TOT focused on the introduction to gender and power imbalance, the second ME-TOT focused on a more sensitive topic, domestic violence. The first day started with an ice-breaking activity and sharing of participants’ experiences of organizing ME in the community. Most of them evaluated ME in their communities as a success. “Many community members showed interest in ME, and some of them even could stop alcohol abuse after the exchange,” said one participant.

However, challenges remain. There are budget limitations to cover everyone who wants to participate in ME. For those who are living in refugee camps, the situation is more challenging because of the lack of transportation, restricted and narrow venues, and language barriers among different ethnic people. Nevertheless, participants showed a strong will to deliver what they learned from ME-TOT to their communities. The afternoon session consisted mostly of revising the understanding of the first ME-TOT such as gender, power and learning cycle.

Figure 2 Revising the understanding of the first ME-TOT

On the second day, a little surprise awaited the participants. After the revision of the first day, a staff member of MAP and her partner acted out “an argument” to provide a real-life scenario example of domestic violence. At first, the participants were flustered as they watched the situation, but when the husband started to become violent, some of them stood up and tried to resolve the conflict. After the re-enactment, participants shared their feelings, thoughts, and emotions about the situation and their confrontations with conflict and violence. The rest of the day covered topics of root causes and effects of violence, the cycle of violence, and how to avoid and stop the violence. Despite the sensitive topic, participants were open-minded and enthusiastically discussed each topic.

Figure 3 The facilitator is explaining root causes of violence

The last day of training focused mostly on developing facilitation skills. Throughout group discussions and team-building activities, participants understood the factors that make for successful exchanges and qualities of a good facilitator. The facilitator of ME-TOT emphasized that since each community has different needs in different circumstances, it is crucial to remember that “one size doesn’t fit all.” In the afternoon, participants were divided into three groups and discussed the effective ways of solving and addressing domestic violence cases as a family member, a neighbour or a friend, and a member of a Community-Based Organisation (CBO). The passion for learning lasted until the late evening. Regrettably, due to the financial constraints, MAP had to inform that the budget allocation for ME will be only available for three communities, which are refugee camps. Still, peer leaders were eager to run exchanges in their communities as a way of changing abusive behaviours. By providing community-based peer support, the leaders expect their communities will move one step forward to gender equality.

Figure 4 Participants are playing a team-building game

Women’s Exchange: Training of Trainers (WE-TOT)

After ME-TOT, the WE-TOT was held at the same venue with support from the Foundation for a Just Society (FJS) on the on 26th and 27th of October. WE-TOT consists of three training workshops for one group of women peer leaders. This WE-TOT was the first training for a new group of women leaders, the third group MAP has trained since we started the project. The demographics of WE-TOT’s participants were diverse with a total of 26 people from 11 different communities – Mae Sai, Na Toei, Takua Pa, Ranong, Mae Sot, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Myawaddy, and refugee camps Mae La, Nu Po and Um Phiem. Unfortunately, three participants missed their flight and could only join the training on the second day.

igure 5 Women peer leaders are listening to the facilitator's explanation

Participants looked slightly shy on the first day morning. Soon, through various activities, they dismantled and moved past mental barriers and started to engage the training. They danced together, expressed themselves by drawing trees, built durable paper houses together, and openly shared their emotions and feelings. “I drew myself as a coconut tree,” one woman said, “because I want to use skills I learn from WE-TOT to help community members like coconut trees provide shades to the people.” The contents of the training were similar to those of the first ME-TOT, but more focused on team-building, trust-building, and sharing stories rather than just providing information and discussion. The day had ended earlier than planned as we did not want to proceed further because of the three missing participants. Instead, participants visited a local weekend market and rested for the next day.

Figure 6 Participants are building a durable paper house together

To make up for the last evening’s session, we started the second-day training early. Participants learned and discussed how to practice deep listening skills and three types of power – power over, power-sharing and power within. “By strengthening power within ‘you,’ you can overcome difficulties and hardships faster and easier,” explained the facilitator. As all participants are social workers in their communities, a profession that demands active listening, deep listening skills are particularly important for them. The facilitator demonstrated good and bad examples of active listening with the help from a participant and staff member, in order to improve participants’ understanding of the skill.

Among all the activities, the most healing moment was when all participants and staff members hugged each other saying ‘thank you’ at the end of the day. ‘Thank you’ is one easy and simple sentence. At the same time, it has big power in it and contains a lot of unspoken meanings like ’thank you for being here with me,’ ‘thank you for listening to me,’ ‘thank you for sharing your feelings,’ and ‘thank you for trusting me.’ By embracing each other and shedding tears together, we could heal ourselves as well as others. Two days of training was short but enough to develop an emotional, communal bond. Next year, the women leaders will meet again in Mae Sot and continue their training on sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR).

Figure 7 Drawings of women participants

Moving Forward

Both ME-TOT and WE-TOT aim to tackle GBV in migrant communities. Interestingly, depending on the group, the facilitators and participants showed differences in approaching the problems and solutions. Men were more focused on theories and knowledge, whereas women were more focused on emotions. No matter how different these two groups are, it is clear that we cannot eradicate GBV by working with only women or men. Because GBV involves both groups, these two approaches when reconciled, offer a beautifully cohesive recipe for community change. Therefore, it is crucial to support men groups continuously to see their impact on the community. As partners, the Men’s Exchanges will accompany Women’s Exchanges on the journey to the eradication of GBV in ‘same-same but different’ ways.