"My role in building a violence-free society" - How positive masculinity is taking root in El Salvador

In El Salvador, Spotlight Initiative is working to promote positive, non-violent forms of masculinity. Photo: UNICEF/Boris Heger
October 17, 2022

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador - Dennis Mariona, 26, is a social worker who is committed to ending violence against women and girls. His newfound purpose is the result of a positive masculinities course he completed online in 2020. Supported by the Spotlight Initiative and implemented by UNDP, the course gave Mr. Mariona an opportunity for personal and professional development, including time to reflect on how he can help make the world a safer place for women and girls.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, his life was very busy with study and full-time work. But by March 2020, like thousands of others around the world, he had lost his job.

"As men, we are violent towards each other and we are violated from childhood... We reproduce what we've learned with women, girls and with other men." - Dennis Mariona, 26

"I was in pandemic depression," says Mr. Mariona of the time before he began the positive masculinities course. "I was out of work, my savings were running out, and as a social worker I felt bad. I wasn't supporting my family, I wasn't training, I wasn't growing." He recognizes that mental health issues and stereotypes imposed by a 'macho' society were affecting his behaviours and actions.

When he heard about the Initiative and the course, he decided to enroll in an effort to find clarity in the midst of uncertainty. 

"Then came that Spotlight light... At that moment I thought, This is exactly what I need! It rescued me and pushed me to feel better. I think it fits the name [Spotlight] very well."

Mr. Mariona explains that the reflections that followed each workshop were as important as the classes themselves. He spent time thinking about "what role [he] and [his] peers would have in building a culture of peace and reducing gender-based violence," at a time when violence against women had spiked globally and in El Salvador.

"We managed to identify macho behaviours and stop them... Men dare to be open about their emotions." - Mr. Mariona

Promoting positive forms of masculinity is key to eradicating violence and building a more gender-equal world. That's why it forms the basis of the Initiative's innovative curriculum aimed at men and boys.

"As men, we are violent towards each other and we are violated from childhood," says Mr. Mariona. "At the same time, we reproduce what we've learned with women, girls and with other men." Breaking these cycles of violence motivates him to continue working as a trainer and facilitator of new masculinities, sharing what he has learned with others in his community.

In his new life as a creator of digital content and social worker, he recognizes that the only reason he was able to undertake the course was that it was free of charge: "If there had been a cost, unfortunately I would never have been able to do it."

"I have been able to notice in myself and in other men that after these processes, we managed to identify macho behaviours and stop them. For example, harassment. If we were clear about what harassment is, in addition to identifying it, we stopped reproducing it. Likewise, we assume household chores, become responsible, and stop using the phrase 'I help at home' - It is not 'help', it is our duty.  And finally, men dare to be open about their emotions," says Mr. Mariona. "We start by defining that male support network."


Like what you read? Spread the word.