Archive | March, 2012
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Peer education

31 Mar

Peer education

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Down memory lane-Journey of a pro-feminist

31 Mar

 

Down memory lane

 

The journey of a pro-feminist

By Wanjala Wafula

 

Twelve years ago, I took the unprecedented decision to quit active journalism and start a journey into the then unfamiliar territory. I had written too many news items and hosted numerous talk shows about gender based violence. I had participated in sending out appeals and helped too many victims seek redress to no avail. The screams that punctuated my childhood had become louder and my conscience was too beset to remain still. Memories of the torture I had witnessed victims including my mother and sister go through had taken over my then enduring desire to be an author of international repute. I left it all for a mission I discerned needed an insider to accomplish. At the time it appeared bizarre, if not absolutely weird, to envisage that men not only oughtto but might play a key role in ending men’s violence against women and their fellow men.

 

If it were a malady, we could easily call it a pandemic. If it were an oil leak, we’d identify it as a catastrophe. If it was an economic meltdown it would be a presidential election pledge. But it is happening to women and even men, and it’s just an everyday affair being treated with all the casualness. It is called gender based violence and it manifests itself in numerous forms and cuts across all social, academic, economic, racial and linguistic demographics. It is rape at home and on dates. It is the beating or the blow that one out of four African women receives in her lifetime. It is the perennial sexual harassment at work and sexual abuse of the young and old. It is murder that is swiftly swept under the carpet or the depravity that women and other minority groups face. It is founded on masculine constructions and guarded by rigid and obsolete cultures and traditions.

 

Today, what started out as a “fanatical” idea and only supported by two of my former university friends has spread to all corners of the country and established links across the world. The over ten thousand men and boys membership is a testimony that men, who for generations were seen as the part of the problem can become part of the solution.  Over the years, I have seen men who were erroneously socialized to ill-treat women wail in regret. I have seen them wear T-shirts condemning violence, I have seen them put up a poster or banner. I have witnessed them sign the constant Coexist Initiative pledges. I see them sacrifice heavily to take their daughters to school.  I witness them queue at family planning clinics and I have counseled them as they take the all important HIV test. I respond to their calls during my constant media appearances. I shake hands with thousands of them at our ceremonies, marches, services, and meetings. Their smiles and the embrace of their spouses tell it all.

 

Tackling men’s violence as men is not easy. We have been labeled sisys and cowards by men and called the “unreal” by women. One media channel literally labeled one of our meetings as an “assembly of battered men meeting in town”. The funding for our programs has been minimal. We have had to dispose some of our personal belongings to fund our small programs and the financial strain has sometimes been overwhelming. We have undergone public scorn and ridicule yet the result of our work continues to better the lives of women, girls, men and boys.  Tackling men’s violence requires nothing less than a dedication to full parity for women and a redefinition of what it means to be men. It has to be a premeditated endeavor to determine a meaning to manhood that doesn’t entail aggression and violence. We believe manhood is for complimenting and not confronting.

 

The Coexist Initiative has broadened fast because of the remarkable outcome of the women’s movement around Africa. It has spread because most men don’t use violence in their relationships and are lastly ending our long stillness. The Coexist has spread because from the commencement; we determined that that our campaign should be like no other. We decided that the Initiative would be a politically non-partisan effort that unites men across the political, religious, and social continuum. We initiated an endeavor that is entirely decentralized because we recognize that women and men know best how to reach the men and boys in our own communities, workplaces, schools, places of worship, and nations. An Initiative that aimed to be totally mainstream and, by working alongside women, to shift the everyday ideas shared by men.

 

Even as we continue our work around men and boys, it is the reality that bold women around the world continue to articulate out and confront archaic customs and the power formations that have conserved them. It is the reality these women are finally being joined by men and, together, are making a genuine difference. But we should not forget that millions of women are physically and sexually abused each day, women are murdered by boyfriends and husbands each week, women and girls are trafficked into prostitution, women are sexually harassed in workplaces and on the street, and too many of our sisters and mothers, daughters, wives, and friends are still living in fear. Let’s not forget that the girl child cannot access education and that women do not still have land and other property rights in many parts of the world. Let’s not forget that HIV and AIDS still have an African woman’s face and that men are paying an equally greater price as a result of negative masculinity.

 

As the pro-feminist takes his leave, I plead with all men and boys to undertake, that all men affirm, not to commit, disregard or remain quiet about aggression against women. It has been the longest march and combat, the primary scourge and the prime adversity. Yet with power and love, we at the Coexist Initiative obligate ourselves to work alongside women to bring this violence to an end.

 

Please visit www.coexistkenya.com and support our work.

The writer is a Programs Director of The Coexist Initiative, a not for profit synergy of men and boys community-based organizations committed to eliminating all forms of Gender based violence, foster HIV prevention and champion the rights of minority groups  in Kenya. Visit www.coexistkenya.com or email Wafula@coexistkenya.com- facebook-wanjala Wafula- skype:coexist.initiative. Tel: +254712653322

 

Masai worriers on the rampage for prides

30 Mar

Masai worriers on the rampage for prides

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By Wanjala Wafula

The media in the East Africa region has in the recent past been a wash with stories of some sadistic Masai worriers (morans as they are called) who have been going on rampages as they invade schools and other institutions of learning for purposes of abducting young girls. They invaded Enkare Nairowua girl’s school on Friday claiming that “life had become difficult for them in their shanties and that they had come to ‘pick” their wives”. The nation newspaper unveiled that the Morans were repulsed by the administration police with support from the locals. The paper adds that the girls in the school now live in fear as many of them had been rescued from previously arranged marriages. In general, seven abduction attempts have been reported in the last one month only.

It is also reported that the Morans barricaded a road in the county and threatened to seize any young girls using the road. It is reported that it took a combined effort of the police and regular security agents to repulse the aggressive worriers. Numerous analysts now point a finger at a dysfunctional cultural rite of passage that only delegated the role of protecting the Masai community to the worriers. Shockingly, gender experts in the region accuse the community leadership structures who they accuse of complacency and of mutely allowing the morans to do as they wish.

In the midst of all this, many of us remain steadfast and dedicated to ending child marriage and abductions which are two harmful traditional practices that affects tens of thousands of girls each year. This is a call to all people and especially men and boys to join together so as to hasten efforts to thwart child marriage and support girls who are or have been married or under threat of being married.

I humbly request all people to magnify the voices of girls in danger of child marriage and protect the rights of girls to health, education and the opportunity to fulfil their potential. We cannot afford to allow the sadistic morans to run amok and wreck the lives of young girls. We cannot let young school going girls endure the terror and distress presently being meted on them by those resolute to live in the past. We ought to help positively transform the rites of passage and liberate those who may fall victim to the same. My stand is guided by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and I hold the view that the minimum age of marriage for boys and girls should be eighteen years and subject to consent by the girls.

I believe societal transformation cannot succeed without community engagement and this is where all people of good will must stand up to be counted. We must work together to augment and fortify efforts to end child marriage at community, local, national and global levels. We cannot let the adversaries of gender parity reverse the gains so far made. This is how I propose we move forward. Let rigorous awareness raising efforts emerge targeting traditions and customs that encourage the perpetuation of child marriages and abductions. Let’s promote open, comprehensive and informed dialogue at the community, local and national levels. Let us facilitate learning and harmonization between organizations working to end child marriage and mobilize all necessary policy, financial and other support to end the vice.

On an optimistic note, gender based violence prevention programs are beginning to emerge throughout the East Africa region. They represent a growing body of experience and show that through prevention efforts aimed at changing the attitudes and behaviors perpetuating GBV in homes, schools and communities so that the places can be safer for everyone. Many of the prevention efforts within the region are relatively new and are challenged to develop solid and effective prevention programs. Currently, there tends to be little sharing of information and experiences among stakeholders.

There are bleakly very few opportunities to learn from others and only a handful of programmatic tools published to help guide efforts. As such, innovative ideas, effective responses and valuable experiences tend to remain in the hearts and minds of those who have been the driving force behind them, while in the next community or the neighbouring vicinity, colleagues struggle with similar problems and face similar challenges. Therefore, it is important to share experiences, skills and promising practices so as to address commonly encountered challenges. It is also important to discuss responses developed in different parts of the region and compare notes on how relevant and replicable these responses could be. However, few such linkages exist that build on the strengths of each other. It’s my affirmation that a shared approach on matters relating to GBV is handy for accomplishing an extensive range of goals that reach beyond the capacity of any individual organization or person

I humbly submit that human development, if not engendered, is endangered.

The writer is a Programs Director of The Coexist Initiative, a not for profit synergy of men and boys community-based organizations committed to eliminating all forms of Gender based violence, foster HIV prevention and AIDS management in Kenya. Visit http://www.coexistkenya.com

Women: Answer to hunger in Africa

29 Mar

Women: answer to hunger in Africa

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By Wanjala Wafula

The world has been of late relentlessly barraged by three common news items with the prime being the dreary and nauseating world politics dominated by invasions of nations, a lunatic killing a hundred in Norway , the west’s  efforts to destabilize food sufficient Malawi, the dept crisis in Europe and America and the escapees of the mounting China. The second item has been the ravaging hunger in the horn of Africa with estimates revealing that over sixteen million people are starving to death. Pictures being beamed across the globe about the hunger situation in Africa are sickening to say the least. The third main item here in Kenya has been the bickering by politicians about their remittance of taxes as affirmed by the new constitution that was overwhelmingly supported by the same legislators. 

For me the priority for the world now is to sort out the hunger situation in the horn of Africa and Kenya in particular. I hasten to assert that women and children are the most affected as reports about the deaths confirm. Analysts recommend that the extent and scale of the food situation in the region is distressing and that urgent measures need to be undertaken to arrest the situation yet patchy governments led by Kenya remains unswerving to opinionated pettiness and sideshows. A picture of twins suckling their dead mother  now torment me each time I sit down to have a meal.

In the midst of the adversity, politicians and other stakeholders are passing the bucket even as others exploit the situation for the accustomed political expediency and mileage. The typical pretexts have greeted the food situation in the country with drought being peddled as the number one rationale. There is even hyped rhetoric about realization of the MDG’s in 2015 as well as the delusional Vision 2030 yet hunger remains a perennial episode in the country. What is startling to numerous analysts is the failure by the government and other stakeholders to address the ever missing link of targeting the real producers of food in Kenya who are women.

Today, there are leaders of nations who have successfully combated hunger. China, Brazil, Malawi and Vietnam, to name just a few, have done so by boosting government support to the smallholder farmers who grow most of the food consumed locally, implementing agrarian reforms, and establishing effective social protection programs. Not only is investing in smallholder agriculture the best way to beat hunger, it also has two to four times more impact on poverty reduction as investment in other sectors.

Discrimination against women is a hidden and insidious cause of hunger. According to the OECD, in the 21 countries where social institutions discriminate against women the most, malnutrition is nearly twice as high. In countries where women lack any access to credit, malnutrition is 85% above average. Where women lack the right to own land, it is 60% higher. Along with investment in agriculture we need to equalize women’s access to and control over productive resources and financial services.

Women bear almost all responsibility for meeting basic needs of the family, yet are systematically denied the resources, information and freedom of action they need to fulfill this responsibility. They make up slightly more than 52 percent of the Kenya’s population, but account for over 60 percent of the country’s hungry. In my view, women hold the key to a future free from hunger and poverty. This can be achieved by supporting women’s education, training them as business leaders, equipping them to become better farmers and eradicating the ever present enigma of gender based violence founded in patriarchy and manifested through negative masculinity. As mothers, farmers, teachers and entrepreneurs, a great deal hinges on their success. Evidence shows that with equal access to education, training and means, women can raise the living standards of their families and inject new life into the Kenyan economy thus actualizing the pre – independence trance of a “self sufficient” nation.

 

Women face extra risks and deprivations, as they are systematically denied their human rights to access, own, control or inherit land and property. They remain a minority (10%) of owners of land and housing and often face discriminatory customs, religious laws, and institutional practices that severely restrict their ability to gain and control such property. Women’s sustained depravity in terms of health related services and goods continue to deal a big blow to their efforts to render their families food sufficient. The situation is worse in cases where HIV is involved and specifically for families with people living with HIV.

Sadly, these conditions persist despite Kenya’s commitments under local and international law to secure equality for women. I submit that gender inequality, power dynamics in sexual relations and women’s lack of economic empowerment relate directly to current patterns of poverty manifested through the ever skyrocketing levels of hunger, poverty and inequality.

There is an imperative need to help women become business leaders. This can be achieved through providing space for women to play a key role in the decision making processes in the Kenyan society. Evidence shows that women in Kenya re-invest about 90 percent of their income back into their households compared to between 30 and 40 percent for men. Giving women the knowledge and skills they need to run successful farms and businesses is an efficient way to strengthen poor families and  enhancing the nutritional needs of the nation.

I have continually argued that we need to instantly help women grow more and better food. Women produce between 60 and 80 percent of the food in most developing countries, despite having less access to land and credit than men do. Providing them with the tools and the training they need to raise quality yields is one of the best ways to increase food production in Kenya which is prone to recurrent hunger.

The 2007 post-election violence affected thousands of female farmers in the most productive regions of the country with many of of them being battered, raped, maimed and killed. Women are particularly vulnerable in times of conflict, even as their role as providers becomes more important than ever. Easing their
return home by giving them the tools and training they need to rebuild can kick-start the recovery process for an entire community and the nation at large.

I recently watched a documentary from the hunger ravaged Turkana in which it was revealed that many women are denying themselves even that one meal to ensure that their children are fed. These women are already suffering the effects of even more severe malnutrition, which inevitably will be their children’s fate as well. What the women of Kenya need are not the infrequent food handouts mostly distributed by crestfallen politicians but a comprehensive rollout of initiatives and programs that are premised on empowerment and equality. To many of us, the women are the only sure avenue out of the perennial hunger situation in the world.

 The Writer is a Founder/Director of The Coexist Initiative, a not for profit synergy of men and boys organizations committed to eliminating all forms of Gender based violence, foster HIV prevention and AIDS management in Kenya. Visit http://www.coexistkenya.com

Despicable religious bigotry

29 Mar

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By Wanjala Wafula

 
 

Father Joseph Ngugi Kariuki is a cherished cleric in Kenya venerated for his perpetual and hothead reprimand of government policies and practices. He has over the years stood out as a determined human rights activist and a firm believer in justice. He merited my approbation fifteen years ago while I was still a student leader at Daystar University.  I have since moderated in over four functions presided over by him. For me, Kariuki has always been a voice of rationale, coherence and impartiality. However, his impish flare-ups about women and girls last Sunday have taken those of us who have known him by surprise. The sentiments are grime, rearward, insulting and imprudent yet they help paint a clear picture of a besieged patriarchal system.

Here are his words “There will be no woman in heaven because they were never in Gods original creation plan as God said all was well even before they were created. In my view women are a postscript designed to meet a specific need (he laughs).  We are the heads and they are our tails and no one should blame a man if he disciplines a woman because this is a solemn duty bestowed upon men by God. They are not endowed with any leadership qualities and this constitution is fundamentally an abomination against God as it seeks to entrust power into the hands of those God wants to be strictly governed. They were created only to mollify and help men and take care of our children. They are there to be seen and not to be heard and that is why they do not hold any leadership positions in this church”.

Regrettable as it is, there are millions of men like Kariuki around the world who are keen to hold on every straw to safeguard the unwarranted power structures provided by the crestfallen patriarchy and aggressively enforced by pessimistic masculinity and religious chauvinism. It’s a struggle to remain the ‘heads’ at the cost of their own progression and at the detriment of the entire society. They are steadfast in referring to ‘God’ so as to stifle any constructive engagement on the same. They belong to the ancient times exemplified by male supremacy over women while we represent an epoch characterized by complementary coexistence. We reject to be identified as men just because we are socialized to load it over women and girls. We are not men just because we stand in the way of women and girls.  

This is our rejoinder to the outrageous affirmations from a man of the “cloth” in the name of Kariuki. We the empowered men of the universe affirm that, we look like the diverse peoples of the world and carry our diverse beliefs and religions, cultures, physical abilities, and sexual and gender identities. We are indigenous peoples, immigrants and we are fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, partners and lovers, husbands and wives. We belief in a common destiny shaped by what we can jointly achieve as human beings and not as men against women

We are united by our strong outrage at the inequality that still plagues the lives of women and girls, and the self-destructive demands we put on boys and men. But even more so, what unites us is a powerful sense of hope, expectation, and possibility for we have seen the capacity of men and boys to change, to care, to cherish, to love passionately, and to work for justice for all. We are outraged  by the pandemic of violence women face at the hands of some men, by the relegation of women to second class status, and the continued domination by men of our economies, of our politics, of our social and cultural institutions, in far too many of our home, we also know that among women there are those who face  even worse because of their social class, their religion, their language, their physical differences, their ancestry, their sexual orientation, or simply where they live.

The Likes of Kariuki should know that there are deep costs to boys and men from the ways our societies have defined men’s power and raised boys to be men. Boys deny humanity in search of an armor-plated masculinity. Yong men and boys are sacrificed as cannon fodder in war for those men of political, economic, and religious power who demand conquest and domination at any cost. Many men cause terrible harm to themselves because they deny their own needs for physical and mental care or lack services when they are in need.

Too many men continue to agonize because our male-dominated world is not only one of power of men over women, but of some groups of men over others. Too many men, like too many women, live in terrible poverty, in degradation, or are forced to do body-or soul-destroying work to put food on the table. Too many men carry the deep scars of trying to live up to the impossible demands of manhood and find terrible solace in risk-taking, violence, self-destruction or the drink and drugs sold to make a profit for others. Too many men experience violence at the hands of other men.

 

We invite Father Kariuki and others like him to belief in the importance of engaging men and boys in fostering a world founded on parity and respect. We see the emergence of organizations and campaigns that are directly involving hundreds of thousands, millions of men in almost every country on the planet and skeptics better watch this space. We hear men and boys speaking out against violence, practicing safer sex, and supporting women’s and girls’ reproductive rights. We see men caring, loving, and nurturing for other men and for women. We see a totally different picture from that painted by some egoistic clerics.

We are now seeing men who are enduring the daily challenges of looking after babies and children, and delight in their capacity to be nurturers. We are seeing many men caring for the planet and rejecting conquering nature just as men once conquered women. We know how critical it is that institutions traditionally controlled by men reshape their policies and priorities to support gender equality and the well-being of women, children, and men. And we know that a critical part of that is to reshape the world of men and boys, the beliefs of men and boys, and the lives of men and boys.

The author is a Programs Director of The Coexist Initiative which a not for profit synergy of men and boys community-based organizations committed to eliminating all forms of Gender based violence, foster HIV prevention and AIDS management in Kenya. Visit http://www.coexistkenya.com

 

 

The author is a Programs Director of The Coexist Initiative which a not for profit synergy of men and boys community-based organizations committed to eliminating all forms of Gender based violence, foster HIV prevention and AIDS management in Kenya. Visit http://www.coexistkenya.com

Well meaning men

29 Mar

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By Wanjala Wafula

 

 

This piece is dedicated to comrade George Somo, a childhood friend who celebrated twelve years of marriage to cheerful Marie Munge. During the ceremony, Marie described George as “a remarkably good guy. Not one of these who would assault a woman. He openly abhors any form of violence against women and continues to oppose customs and traditions that define him as so. He has never smacked me neither has he been aggressive to me at any given time. We occasionally have our differences but amicably settle them. He is an excellent companion everywhere (she giggles). I would settle for him a million more times if I have to. He takes time to listen to me and lets me have my way. He keeps no secrets to himself and his troubles and distress are our joint burden. You are a well meaning man George and I love you so much” she concludes as the diminutive gathering applauses in esteem.

A well meaning man is a man who believes women should be respected, including his wife, girlfriend and other women in his life. A well-meaning man does not assault a woman neither does he use his potency to hurt others including women and girls. A well-meaning man believes in equality for women, that women should be treated fairly and justly. A well-meaning man, for all practical purposes, is a nice guy, a good man and a friend. Well meaning men are not the ‘know it all type’.

My work, my vision, is not to “bash” well-meaning men. An assault on men is not going to end the assault on women. I seek to help men understand, through a process of re-education and accountability that, despite all our goodness, we men have been socialized to continue a system of domination, dehumanization and oppression of women. I seek not to see things from the outside but continually examine myself and work with thousands of men and boys around the world.

At first I felt insulted, thinking (and sometimes verbalizing) “I’m a good guy, I’m no sexist, and can’t even hurt a fly” This remained my mindset for quite some time. Only through a series of events that challenged me did I begin to dismantle my cherished belief. I immersed myself in learning, owning and addressing my sexism, as well as the collective sexism of men. I began to understand, to see that what emerged in my consciousness was that domestic violence, sexual assault and all other forms of violence against women are rooted in a sexist, male dominating society enshrined in patriarchy and manifested through negative masculinity.

As well-meaning men, through our inaction, have allowed violence against women to be seen as a “women’s issue.” We spend little, if any, time addressing this epidemic. We look at violence against women through our own lens, a male socialized perspective that leaves little room for any true accountability for men. We don’t mean to harm women; many of us have no idea what we’re doing. Rather, we are just going with the flow, doing things as we always have. This approach has limited our ability or willingness to be concerned with how we affect women or how women experience us. One of the key things we have not done, and continue not to do is listening to women and giving them space to realize self-actualization.

Profoundly entrenched in the socialization of all men, well-meaning men included, is the conscious and unconscious ability (and sometimes desire) to tune women out, to silence them, to take away their voice, to not listen. Many men justify this action by saying that women talk too much, or they nag. We make no connection to the reality that if men would listen, women would not need to repeat themselves or be so detailed. As men, well-meaning men, if we choose to listen to women and take their direction, we could actually end violence against women as we know it here in Africa.

Three key aspects of male socialization that create, normalize and maintain violence against women are: Men viewing women as “less than”; men treating women as “property”, and men seeing women as “objects.” All three are major contributors to violence against women, perpetuated consciously or not by all men, including well-meaning men. We must begin to examine the ways in which male socialization fosters violence against women. We must begin to examine the ways we separate ourselves from men who assault and abuse women, while simultaneously (through our inaction) giving them permission to do so. We make monsters out of them as a means of supporting our position that we’re different from them. We remain focused on fixing the issue, amplifying their violence, blaming family history, drug abuse, alcoholism, mental illness, or an inability to manage their anger, while for the most part, these are not the reasons men abuse women.

It makes sense that we would expend the energy to “fix” them in order to maintain and even strengthen our status as “good guys.” In doing so, we squeeze out the space needed to understand and acknowledge that violence against women is a manifestation of sexism. Once we can admit that violence against women springs from sexism, we have to acknowledge that all men are part of the problem and that all men have a collective duty and responsibility to end violence against women.

The men we identify as “the bad guys,” who assault and abuse women, largely do so by choice. Through our silence, these men receive a kind of permission to behave this way from those of us well-meaning men. We give men who abuse and assault permission in several ways: We stay quiet, “mind our own business”; we minimize the consequences and have limited means to hold these men accountable. We historically hold the view that violence is actually only physical abuse or sexual assault. Taking this position allows us to leave ourselves out of the equation and puts distance between the abuse and us.

Okay, some of you may be saying, “Slow down you’re throwing too much at men too fast.” All right, I will slow down. I’ll walk you through what I’ve learned, step-by-step at any given chance. We’ll do it together as I continue to do with men all over the continent. I will share with you many of my personal experiences, some that are so pitiful. It is critically important to note that what I’m sharing is based on the teaching of women. If there is any contribution that I have to offer it is that I am finally starting to listen.

What I’m sharing also grew partly out of a series of discussion I have had with men over the last seven years; men of all ages, ethnic groups, levels of education and family backgrounds. What did they all have in common? They were all “well-meaning men”. I invite you to join in and examine your own role as a well-meaning man in society. I invite you to begin to challenge other well-meaning men to join you.

Together we can create the social change that will help to create a world that is more respectful of and safer for women and girls.

 

This work is long overdue. It’s time to get started.

 

The author is a Programs Director of The Coexist Initiative which a not for profit synergy of men and boys community-based organizations committed to eliminating all forms of Gender based violence, foster HIV prevention and AIDS management in Kenya. Visit http://www.coexistkenya.com

Humility in Death

28 Mar

In death we are all humbled but in willing hearts we dwell