Men observe women’s day

22 Mar

Men observe women’s day

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By Wanjala Wafula

It was a ceremony befitting a mention in this third rate column. Hundreds of Masai Morans who had successfully completed our GBV “stand-up” program gathered in Kitengela Town on the outskirts of Nairobi City to mark the International women’s day. They came clad in their venerated red gear popularly known as Shuka. They meticulously walked radiating buoyancy and content. Their sky-high leaps were an invigorating scene. Their style of talk just like their feral hair style remains exceptional. It was a spectacle to behold as they came accompanied by their wives and children. It was a blissful moment punctuated by splashes of happiness but dominated by sorrowful episodes as many recounted their history dominated by sustained subjugation of women and girls.

They all congregated to make a statement that they had decided to be partners in the fight against all forms of violence against women and girls. They had made a conscious decision to cease being perpetrators of violence and become partners in its elimination. They gathered to demonstrate their rejection of cultural practices and traditions that perpetuate the vulnerability of women and girls. It was elder Olepiati Kamurein who summed it all well affirming that “we gather here today to insist that time has come for all men to know that gender based violence and the practicing of traditions and customs that cause harm to women and girls has no place in modern times”.

During the event, we witnessed men parade their daughters who they said were destined for early marriage but who they were now taking back to school. We saw families reunite with children they had disowned after refusing to be married off early. We heard men reassure their wives that battering was never going to be a way of life. I witnessed the elders take the HIV test. I observed the eagerness that the elders bestowed on the condom use demonstrations. I took part in the condom distribution and I am positive that we distributed over ten thousand condoms to people who were taking an undertaking to use them for the first time in their lives. I heard elders openly demonstrate willingness to vote for women candidates in the forth coming elections. I am now assured that our determination to target and work with men and boys as partners in eliminating gender based violence is never in vain.

We had for months tried to mobilize resources to host this event but we were turned down by all gender based violence funders both locally and internationally. We remained resolute to demonstrate that indeed the tide is turning and that thousands of men and boys are eager to shatter the bondage of patriarchy and negative masculinity and became allies in fostering gender parity. We shall forever remain indebted to businessman Ole Tiampati for providing the much needed support. The successful hosting of the event will eternally be a reminder to our adversaries that we cannot foster gender parity without directly targeting and working with men and boys.  

I have always insisted in this column that men and boys still remain the custodians of culture which is a key deterrent to women and girls empowerment. Masculine perceptions show traditional stereotyped mindsets, which shape the identity and behavior of men and young boys, thereby perpetuating gender inequalities rather than breaking patriarchal norms. The traditional stereotypes greatly influence women and girls in the context of their engagement with the economic, political and social development. It’s acknowledged that men and boys are key stakeholders if gender parity and women empowerment have to be realized.

It’s my pleasure that a higher percentage of men are now openly coming out to support gender parity and women empowerment. More families are investing in their daughters’ education and healthcare. Scores of men are supporting their wife’s pursuit of education and economic advancement. A larger portion of men are now comfortable with women taking top positions of leadership. In my view, these are the cornerstones upon which the 2012 international women’s day was to be anchored upon and not the rhetoric and funfair that characterized the day in other celebrations. For us, the day was an opportunity to mobilize men and boys for the purpose of enhancing gender parity and the reduction of vulnerabilities imposed on women by customs, traditions and the entire socialization process.

Now you know that isolating men and boys and continuing to demonstrate the bigotry that has existed for generations does not add value to the struggle to foster gender parity.  I continue to make it my godly assignment to tell men and boys that our place in the modern world is in crushing our culturally obligated manacles expressed through harmful masculinity and the successive cruelty against women and girls. I implore men to embrace women and girls as partners in making the world a better and safe place for us all. For my cynics, we have proven you wrong once again and we vehemently affirm that we shall continue to work with men and boys as this is what works.

The writer is a Founder/ 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

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