Interview with Tanja Haque (CAFOD’s gender advisor)

Interview with Tanja Haque (CAFOD’s gender advisor)

Tanja Haque, the CAFOD gender advisor has recently come back from her latest trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo. In her interview she discusses CAFOD’s promotion of gender equality and the importance of overcoming stereotypes which can lead to gender violence. The interview was conducted by Jessica Michelmore, an office volunteer at the Southwark office. This blog is the first of a series of “Michelmore Meets…” interviews with staff from around CAFOD, enjoy and please look out for future interviews!

1. How does CAFOD address gender issues overseas?

As part of the Catholic Church, the largest single faith network in the world, CAFOD has an opportunity to reach and support some of the poorest and most marginalised communities in remote areas.  In those parts of the world where the Church has a strong status and reputation there is potential space for influencing people’s behaviours and attitudes. In certain areas CAFOD’s church partners have strong track records in HIV work, education, health and trauma counselling, which can be potential entry points for further advocacy on gender equality. CAFOD has joined the “We will speak out” coalition which strives to work with church leaders to end sexual violence across communities around the world.

For more information please see

 2.How do cultural norms affect CAFOD’s work on promoting gender equality?

The deeply engrained gender biases and cultural norms that exist in every society are major challenges in promoting gender equality. Such negative gender stereotypes perpetuate the many gender related injustices and inequalities that exist around the world. Addressing gender inequality involves transforming unequal power relations between men and women. Many attitudes and structures based on ideas of gender roles lead to a denial of the basic human right of equality. Stereotypical gender roles can prevent human development and social justice. Working towards gender equality is therefore central to CAFOD’s mission.

3. To what extent is CAFOD working with men and boys?

Partners in the Philippines, for example, have organised men’s solidarity groups. These groups were formed in response to requests by male perpetrators of sexual violence who have committed to change their behaviour. In Cambodia partners have engaged male community volunteers as counsellors and mediators in cases of domestic violence. In Liberia former boy soldiers are provided with shelter and education. Partners also help these boys in finding their families and reintegrating them into their communities.

4. How does CAFOD ensure that gender is not solely perceived as a “women’s issue?”

Our aim is to ensure a greater understanding of the existing power relations between men and women both overseas and within our own organisation.  CAFOD staff undertake training to understand how gender must be considered in all aspects of our work. We recently hosted a masculinity expert and the founder of the “White ribbon campaign” (a men’s movement to end violence against women) who spoke about the harm of negative gender stereotypes and how our own perceptions of gender can impact the work we carry out.

For more information please see

 4. Can you tell me about your most recent visit to the DRC?

In the DRC conflict rape is being used as a weapon of war and gendered violence is occurring on an alarming scale. We travelled to the DRC as part of the “We will speak out” initiative. I was involved in gender training workshops in Goma and Bukavu where we discussed different understandings of gender stereotypes in that specific context e.g. (proverbs: a man who is seen helping his wife in the household work is ridiculed by his friends who say: ‘this man is a man in a bottle’ or ‘this family is under a petticoat regime’.) and why this might perpetuate unequal gender relations.

 5.What are local partners doing to address gender violence?

Different partners are working in various ways. The Olame centre has adopted a preventative approach by finding allies within the military and the wider community to address the problem of soldiers committing rape illegally and their crimes going unpunished. Olame aims to make soldiers more aware of the impact of their actions and works with police and military leaders to try and make perpetrators more accountable for their violent behaviour.

For more information please see

 6. Can you tell me more about CAFOD’s listening rooms in the DRC?

The listening rooms have been a great success because they provide an outlet for survivors of sexual violence to overcome their trauma. Members of the listening groups have grown more confident and while they still have their good and bad days they continue to attend the rooms for years. At first they talk about their immediate suffering and later they discuss issues of stigma, reintegration and how to accept children born from rape. Men are also victims of violence and also experience rape. Like women, men feel a great sense of shame and humiliation which means it is very difficult for men to come out and discuss their pain. To give you an idea, in one case 700 women attended a listening room while only two men were present.

Woman and baby

Women in a listening centre in eastern DRC

 Women in listening centres in eastern DRC.

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