Date with a doomsday prophet

1 Apr

Date with a doomsday prophet

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By Wanjala Wafula

 

I recently had a rare opportunity to participate in a live radio show with a doomsday prophet who is also the leader of a group of men calling themselves a network of men for development (maendeleo ya wanaume). On the show, as it is in my life, I stood for gender parity and for improved inter-gender coexistence.  He stood for the continued “supremacy” of men over women. He stood for patriarchy, masculinity, dominance, “our cultures”, the boy child and the preeminence of men. He quoted broadly and made references extensively. He had many supporters as the calls that came in revealed but I had my moments as well. I underscored the need to understand that boys and men, girls and women are all part of society and their lives are affected by the values, beliefs and norms of the system they live in. I insisted that boys and men are in every bit as affected and shaped by the gender order as girls and women are. I affirmed that without partnering with boys and men, it is simply not possible to reach the goal of creating a gender-equitable and just society.

At the end of the show, more men had called in to support my stand that gender bigotry has no place in the modern world and that parity and fairness is the way forward. Many of the men who called expressed frustrations with the socialization process and the burdens that it bestows on its subjects. In my view, the goal of all well meaning people is to help men and boys “be human beings” in order to have a gender-equitable society, free of violence. The shove is to establish gender equality at all levels – at home, the community and the country, which is largely dominated by males at the policy level. Our success in bringing about gender sensitive policies and practices is dependent on how successful we are in sensitizing men at all levels and not augmenting the current seclusion.

The show revealed a growing desire by a majority of men to abandon negative masculinity and play a leading role in letting women occupy their rightful places in society. It emerged during the show that too much work and discussions about men and boys have focused on the negative. Popular research often compiles long lists of the consequences of the negative behaviors of men and boys: their use of violence, their ‘lack’ of responsibility, or their ‘lack’ of participation in the family. But we know that this violence is created, learnt and socialized. I wish to emphasis here, in this third rate column that boys are not inherently or biologically determined to be violent. We know that from early childhood, boys are exposed to violence, are its victims, its witnesses and in the process often learn to become its perpetrators. As one caller put it “I have just recently realized that they are not just women and girls but our sisters, mothers, unties, grannies, teachers, peers, leaders, liberators and even providers. I have belatedly learned to respect and trust them”.

There is a new thing happening around Africa and I invite all and sundry to be part of it. Deliberations about gender parity have a new partner, and that partner happens to be half of the human species. For far too long, women and girls stood almost alone as they battled against injustice and the inequality that has limited, hurt, and even destroyed the lives of countless women and girls. Back in the 90s, diminutive groups of men in several countries in Africa began to raise their voices in support of women, but they remained awfully secluded, failing to make much of an impact either on our brothers or the institutions controlled by men. I hasten to mention that many of the women we were hoping to support remain overly indisposed to our inclusion. The few men and boys organizations working for gender parity and justice are largely fragmented as meanness and supremacy battles rage at the expense of a noble course. There is more work to be done in the men’s camp.

Today, we still remain steadfast in our determination to achieve three things. First, that it is critical that projects of gender equality and equity address and involve men and boys if these projects are to be successful. After all, how can we end men’s violence against women or men’s low participation in child-rearing and HIV prevention if we as men didn’t reach other men and boys? And, perhaps more pragmatic, we argue that not only does gender justice benefit the lives of women and girls but, paradoxically, it benefits the lives of men and boys. Thirdly, we argue that work with men and boys are not a depletion of resources away from efforts to promote the rights, health, education, and safety of women and girls, but would be of net benefit. None of these propositions have gained much of a wide following on the African continent but the wheels are turning fast and substantial gains are starting to emerge. Many men and boys continue to endure the wrath of detractors who are both men and women yet our resolve to work in partnership has persisted

Most significantly, women and girls as well as organizations working on their behalf have persisted exceedingly in their efforts around the world. It is because of this diligence and direction that we have seen so much positive change in the last two decades. It is largely because of this persistence that more and more men have been drawn into these debates and efforts. There is another group that deserves a special mention in this third rate column, a group advocating the importance of reaching out to men and boys and getting them constructively involved. Many of us continue to enjoy the benefits of the partnership and are eternally grateful to those who led us to this path.

Slowly, we are affirming that efforts to engage men and boys work for the good of all. Men and boys who participate in well-designed efforts to question gender privilege, for example by engaging men as involved fathers or preventing violence against women, or interventions to engage boys and young men in HIV and AIDS prevention, are showing impact. A recent global review carried out by the World Health Organization confirmed that programs engaging men and boys from a “gender transformational” perspective – that is seeking to change rigid, inequitable and violence versions of manhood – are the most effective way to reach boys and men. Women’s and girls’ lives improve as a result, and men and boys themselves report benefits.

I agree with Kofi Annan that “Violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation. And it is perhaps the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development, and peace.”

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 violence, fostering the respect of the rights of minority groups and enhancing HIV prevention in Kenya. Visit: www.coexistkenya.com

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One Response to “Date with a doomsday prophet”

  1. Inviolata Mmbwavi April 1, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    Great piece of work. I like the Koffi Annan quote, its powerful, how i wish many people could see it the way he is seeing it.

    “Slowly, we are affirming that efforts to engage men and boys work for the good of all.”

    Why is it taking forever to affirm that women engagement/involvement especially in matters policy, leadership and politics work for the good of all?

    “I have just recently realized that they are not just women and girls but our sisters, mothers, unties, grannies, teachers, peers, leaders, liberators and even providers. I have belatedly learned to respect and trust them”. powerful awarness!

    Thank you Wafula for making us see both sides of the coin

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