Carlos Guida Leskevicius
Fellow Since 2000
This profile was prepared when Carlos Guida Leskevicius was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2000.
Carlos Güida is promoting new attitudes towards safe sexuality and reproductive health with a special focus on men and masculinity.
The New Idea
A medical doctor by training, Carlos Güida is convinced that, in order to transform traditionally authoritarian structures and to reverse gender discrimination in his native Uruguay and beyond, efforts must reach out directly to men and address questions of masculinity. At the core of his multidimensional approach are workshops with men from different social sectors who are more culturally resistant to changing their sexual practices and everyday behaviors, such as the police, the military, and underprivileged youth. To complement these workshops and to address the society-wide lack of information about issues such as reproductive health and domestic violence, Carlos is also developing prevention programs, spearheading academic research and studies about masculinity, and conducting a mass-communications strategy that is gradually modifying decision-making in the health, education, family, and social arenas. Aware of the urgent need to coordinate civil society organizations' efforts, he is also laying the groundwork for a regional masculinity network that will facilitate the exchange of experiences, learning about best practices, and development of collaborative initiatives.
As in most Latin American countries, Uruguayan society is built upon a paradigm of masculine authoritarianism that fosters highly unequal social, familiar, and health conditions. Families and health and education systems recreate and socialize these fixed models of feminine and masculine behaviors. Though sexist behaviors are more common among traditionally authoritarian institutions, such as the military and the police, and characteristic of economically disadvantaged communities, this pattern cuts across all Uruguayan social classes. The repercussions of attitudes and behavior associated with machismo are seen in everything from sexually transmitted diseases and high-risk sexual practices to rising rates of sexual and domestic violence to a lack of male participation in reproductive processes such as childbirth.With regards to HIV and AIDS in Uruguay, for example, the most effected sector is the male population between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four. These men tend to resist safer-sex practices based on the idea that they are somehow immune to the virus. While services such as AIDS information hotlines do exist, they are typically not used until it is too late and the man and his partners have already contracted the virus. Sexual education has not yet been introduced into the curriculum of Uruguay's public schools, which is especially harmful in the case of underprivileged adolescent boys who do not have easy access to information and services that would enable them to develop more conscientious health-care behaviors and to be attentive to their partners' sexual and reproductive needs. Moreover, at the university level, where medical and health care professionals are trained, there is a tremendous information gap that leads those professionals to reproduce stereotyped gender behaviors in their sanitary practices and to provide biased counsel to male patients. Rates of domestic violence, another result of social and familial structures based on dominant male and submissive female stereotypes, are alarmingly high in Uruguay. Studies report that forty out of every one hundred people living in the Montevideo metropolitan area are affected in some way by gender violence. Current initiatives to address domestic violence are scant, and even fewer are those dealing specifically with violent men and violence prevention. Finally, although some programs are underway to promote women's health and reproductive rights in Uruguay and elsewhere in Latin America, men have resisted participating in these processes, a resistance which serves as a formidable deterrence against any form of gender equality. Men's notable absence from the gender equality issue affects not only Uruguayan society, but also cultures and communities around the world, as recognized by the 1994 Development and Population Conference in Cairo and the IV International Woman Conference in Beijing in 1995. By failing to include men and masculinity in discussions and activities aimed at addressing gender-based violence and inequality, society will continue to be mired in sexist attitudes that foment domestic abuse, uninformed sexual and reproductive practices, and, more generally, deeply seeded inequalities between men and women.
Carlos is developing and spreading a multi-layered model to transform how society views the way men exercise masculinity in Uruguay and in other countries of Latin America. At the core of his strategy is the notion that, because gender and masculinity are issues that cut across diverse sectors and institutions, it is important to build a model that does not limit him to one particular sector or institution. With that in mind, Carlos began in 1993 to hold workshops in predominantly male institutions such as military and police quarters, soccer clubs, and certain youth groups, as well as in community-based organizations, schools, and citizen sector institutions with programs for children, adolescents and women. Carlos develops workshop content and specific applications of his method according to the needs of each group with whom he works. While these meetings are conceived to facilitate spaces for gender-neutral dialogue, he works mainly with men from whom comes the greatest resistance. On a parallel and closely related tract, Carlos is working to spread among health-care professionals awareness of the urgent need for a change in male roles within society. He is doing so by organizing seminars, workshops, lectures, and round-table discussions for health-care professionals, teachers, and university students to provide the tools for improving men's primary health-care attention. To facilitate this task, Carlos created and now coodinates the Reproductive Health, Sexuality, and Gender program at the Universidad República Oriental del Uruguay.A third pillar of Carlos's model is to engage key institutional, social, and political actors in order to reshape health and education policies, therefore guaranteeing the emergence of a more equal society in terms of gender relations. To date he has been very successful in this arena, having provided trainings and other collaborations with a wide array of national institutions and organizations such as INAME Training and Studies Center, the national Public Health Ministry, the national Women's Commission, the national Youth Commission, the Municipality of Montevideo's Health Department, the República Oriental del Uruguay University, the Pan-American Health Organization, Unicef Uruguay, the National NGO Association, the Interior Ministry's Crime Prevention Unit, and the Military Hospital Health Division. Thanks to these efforts, masculinity and gender equality has now been incorporated into the official curriculum of various institutions. Because he believes that lasting change about masculinity and gender relations will only occur once society at-large has been educated about and has transformed its everyday behaviors, Carlos has developed a comprehensive communications strategy that reaches out to different audiences. On the one hand, he has spearheaded a national mass media campaign to address questions of gender, reproduction, domestic violence, sexually transmitted diseases, and masculinity. He hopes to enhance these efforts by forming a group of leading public figures, such as journalists, musicians, and actors, who can help promote his message to an ever-growing audience. He is also working with members of the advertising industry to identify and correct the incorrect or detrimental portrayals of men. With widespread coverage in the print, television, radio, and Internet media, Carlos is now recognized as a reference on gender issues and as the leading Uruguayan authority on masculinity. Additionally, Carlos is developing a national and regional electronic network that includes professionals, citizen sector organizations, and research centers and is devoted to generating changes in masculine attitudes, reporting on different activities, sharing experiences, and learning about best practices. He expects that this network, coupled with continued media outreach and the construction of a content-rich and interactive website, will facilitate the expansion of his efforts to other cities in Uruguay and other countries around the region, including Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Chile.
Born and raised in Montevideo, Carlos is a quiet yet passionate thirty-six year-old physician who is now married with three children. He was brought up in El Cerro, a working-class neighborhood known for its cultural diversity and its active engagement in social and political initiatives, particularly during the military dictatorship. After his parents divorced and his mother went to work in a more up-scale Montevideo neighborhood, Carlos began attending a private, middle class school. He remembers that this experience first made him aware of the profound social and economic contrasts within his country.In 1984, and with an interest in pursuing a career that would enable him to help others, Carlos enrolled at the Faculty of Medicine of the Universidad República Oriental del Uruguay. During the course of his studies, Carlos first came into contact with teachers that espoused a social orientation to medicine that prioritizes community-based approaches over more traditional assistentialist medicine. This vision stuck with Carlos throughout his university studies, and led him to begin teaching medicine in order to transmit this particular focus to other students and to get involved in community health programs. In addition to his social concern, Carlos became particularly interested in gender relations, human sexuality, and reproductive health. This eventually drove him to complement his more clinical medical studies with those in the Uruguay Family Planning Association. Eager to promote these issues more widely within the university and the Uruguayan medical community at-large, during his third year in school Carlos organized and hosted the first-ever conference about sexuality and gender, which was attended by hundreds of students and special guests. Through his work at the university and at various governmental and non-governmental programs related to reproductive health, Carlos soon realized that despite the many negative effects of machismo, masculinity was not considered a problem in society. In order to begin addressing the issue more directly, he founded a study group for men in 1992, focused on questions of gender and masculinity. At the same time, he began working on masculinity from diverse perspectives, for example as health coordinator in an important women's non-governmental organization, and as co-producer of a youth radio program with a wide audience. With the support of the MacArthur Foundation, he also led the first Uruguayan research on masculine attitudes and opinions towards reproductive rights, and the investigation's results were published in a book Man's New Condition.Relentless in his efforts to introduce gender issues focused on male participation in the public agenda, Carlos has crossed national boundaries and launched the basis for a masculinity network encompassing Uruguay, Chile, and Brazil. At present, Carlos has become a key reference in sexuality and gender issues in Uruguay, while regional programs and international organizations are also seeking for his advice. He is Academic Coordinator of the Reproductive Health, Sexuality and Gender Free Course at the Faculty of Psychology, and a consultant to the Chosen Maternity Paternity Program of the Public Health Ministry in conjunction with the United Nations Population Fund.