Archive | December, 2012

Forgive my pro-feminism -By Wanjala Wafula

29 Dec

My Online pic

I hosted a two hour live radio show on Christmas day and many of my callers were full of accolades for the work we do at the Coexist Initiative. We work with men and boys towards eliminating all forms of gender/sexual violence against women and girls in Kenya. Numerous other callers said this is the way to go if gender parity has to be realised all over the world. Many leftist women and girls called to slur and call me names maintaining that men and boys had no role to play in fostering gender parity. Some men also called and labelled me a sissy without a cause. Don’t forget that a local daily here recently labelled me a crusader for thoroughly battered men.

I started the Coexist Initiative in September 2002 in the Coastal town of Mombasa because I painfully realised that there were glaring gaps in gender programming in Kenya. I founded the organization because I was devastated after a brute sexually abused and murdered my sister yet the “elders” were ready to settle for twenty goats as a fine for the murder. As a practising journalist then, my appeals and constant write-ups about the same bore no fruit. Roselyn’s murder brought with it memories of the torture and torment that I had witnessed thousands of women and girls go through in the villages where I grew up. What is most heart wrenching is that violence against women and girls is still treated as a private matter veiled in obnoxious cultural practices and traditions that are manifested through negative masculinity and the antiquated patriarchy.

As a first born in a family of ten, I suffered resentment and rejection when my father walked away from us only when I was ten years old and my youngest brother Solomon was one year. I have suffered the adversities of polygamy first hand and I know that a disempowered man is both a time bomb to himself, his family and society. It was my mother’s constant advice that women should always be treated with dignity and respect and that a man’s strength is for loving and not hurting that I founded the Coexist Initiative, and for this I will always be grateful.

The Coexist Initiative was formed because social ideas about masculinity and appropriate gender relations are among the root causes of many preventable health and justice challenges faced by people of all genders today. I have over the years seen both young and old men involve themselves in activities that have taken them to their early graves. I have over the years challenged negative traditional masculine definitions and I would happily declare that we have fought a good fight if only I was Paul of the bible. I have over the years made it my divine call to challenge masculine ideologies and identities and I have invited all and sundry to decisively examine, and swap to healthier and contemporary approaches.

The Coexist Initiative brings the gender discourse into conventional forums thereby cutting across class, race, academic background, gender, religion and sexual orientation. Ours is a mass movement premised on delivering alternate gender understanding and coexistence. The programs have helped shatter the barriers that were unimaginable only a few years ago. We have crushed social silences, we talk about things that men don’t often talk about openly and confront formulaic ideas of manhood. We commemorate men’s splendour and potency, yet insist on temperance, forbearance, harmony and Coexistence. We present a more magnanimous and serene scenario of modern-day masculinities. Our work continues to be anchored on the emphasis that modern men and boys must return to “humanness”.

We have over the years insisted that traditional male gender role ideas are often intertwined with sexism, homophobia, racism, classism, tribalism and other forms of human oppression and negation. Research around the world shows that men who hold “traditional” or hegemonic masculinity beliefs are more likely to engage in a variety of risky and harmful behaviours, with implications for their own health and that of the people around them. These include greater likelihood of HIV and STI risk behaviours such as condom non-use and multiple sex partners; violence between men; violence against women; substance abuse; unsafe driving, and other problems. Are these not the perils devastating our world?

We have recently established that hegemonic masculinity viewpoints are also closely linked with homophobia and transphobia that is threatening minority groups on our continent. I was excommunicated from a Pentecostal church soon after the Church Pastor saw me on TV at a function where I was speaking to gay men about gender based violence. Never mind that the training was violently dispersed my some Muslim youths and covered real time on TV.  I am as straight as men are made but I cannot close my eyes to the realities of our times. Negative masculinity currently contributes to problems for LGBT youth who suffer higher rates of depression, suicide, substance abuse and school dropout. And when boys and men buy into hazardous gender role norms and then assume positions of power in social institutions that are largely male-dominated, gender inequalities become entrenched and supported through policy. The personal and the political are fundamentally connected, I beg that you trust me.

I have learned that there is a call for more significant community dialogues about masculinities, especially in the context of the role of men and boys. Numerous men and boys have openly affirmed that they find our programs innovative as they are transforming. Many have decided to change their bearings in life without any coercion. I have over the years seen over 30,000 men and boys become our members and the relapses have been minimal. Many women have said our programs have helped them to understand the challenges that men may face and many have helped their partners and sons break the manacles of negative masculinity.

Even as I conclude, let us all stop talking about “masculinity,” as if it’s a process cast on stone. We have seen the most resolute defenders of the gender status quo humble themselves when reality comes home to roost. Let’s openly strive to make the word safer for all of us. Let us bring the word “masculinities” into our discourse and avoid the stereotypes that expose us all to danger and harm. I also insist that we must support women and undeniably men in claiming their indispensable humankind. This comprises their right to convey their emotions candidly, to be susceptible, to seek support and to break out of the habitual cocoons that have inhibited them.

WE men are not a solidified monumental group in any social order, so let none of us assume so. Secondly, patriarchal norms harm all men and marginalize and stigmatize many. Let us not lie to ourselves. As for the female doomsday prophetesses, my advice is very plain. In supporting men’s critical reflection on gender roles and socialization processes, we will, in turn, reinforce men as allies in helping people of all genders live with the security, wellness and parity that they merit. The noise makers are even more welcome Now!!!

The writer is a Founder and CEO of The Coexist Initiative, a not for profit synergy of men and boys organizations committed to eliminating all forms of sexual/gender based violence and enhancing HIV prevention in Kenya. Visit: www.coexistkenya.com  Facebook: wanjala wafula Skype: coexist.initiative: Tel: +254-712653322

 

One last chance!

18 Dec

Dear Friend,

We at the Coexist Initiative have a lot to celebrate as we come to the end of this year. As a result of our work with men and boys, sexual and gender based violence has gone down by an overwhelming 35% in areas that we work. Female genital mutilation is now down by 40% and no girl child was married off this year. The media has become pro-active and policies that address the real needs of the population are beginning to emerge. It’s because many of you believed in us that we were crowned the 2012 Africa Achievers Winners in the category of social justice and gender.

Your Christmas and end of year gift to Coexist will enhance our work of making Kenya a safer and better place for all. Your support will help us make a great difference in the lives of women, girls, men, boys and the community as a whole. For any gift you extent to us during this festive season, we shall mail to you a special gift from the groups we work with.

Our fundraising goal right now to enable us to move forward is $ 20,000.
 
Please make a tax deductible donation to Coexist now and help us reach our goal!  

Please find our bank details below

Account number: 0076716002(USD A/C)

Account Holder: CO-EXIST INITIATIVE ORGANIZATION

Name of Bank: DIAMOND TRUST BANK KENYA LIMITED, KITENGELA BRANCH

Address of bank: 108-00242 KITENGELA

MILELE CENTER, ALONG NAMANGA ROAD

Swift code: DTKEKENA

Many Thanks

Wanjala Wafula

Founder/ CEO

Coexist Initiative

P.O Box 281-00515

Nairobi- Kenya

Tel: +254-71653322

Skype: coexist.initiative

Visit:www.coexistkenya.com

Winner: Africa Achievers Award 2012

The Vanishing Generation- By Wanjala Wafula

3 Dec

I was invited to speak at an end of year gathering for parents and academic staff of a renown University here in Kenya. Just before I stood up to speak, a group of highly inebriated students stormed the venue and snatched the food and drinks. They shouted vulgarities and even robbed some of the dignitaries. It was the open sobbing of some of the female parents and the sadness on the faces of the men that is the inspiration behind this piece. It is the wailing of one of the parents that compelled me to write this piece. “It breaks my heart to see my son behave like this. I have been silent about it for a long time now but I will not anymore. This is indeed a lost generation and we all must do something” she wailed.

The world is in a crisis and those of us who have not woken up to the reality better do. The social merit system, upon which every community set up standards and managed generational transitions, has collapsed all over the world. From the global economic and political power houses to those wallowing in poverty and want, the cry is the same. It’s a ticking time bomb as the youth resort to destructive and self defeating ways of life.  Negative masculinity is now the norm as violence now pervades the world. Patriarchy has helped even the undeserving of men and boys to claim part of the self imposed “superiority” at the behest of nobody. Destructive traditional practices and traditions that had been vanquished many decades ago are finding their way back courtesy of the rejuvenated desire among the youth to find some “relevance” in their lives.

I submit here that hypothetically, the boy child in Africa is starting to rebel as a result of what I call a systematic abandonment precipitated by a society that has given up on mentoring its youth and focused in bettering the quality of life. The emergency of the boundless media has over animated life and its meaning to the young and the eminent result is self annihilation. I heard the other day that the youth in many parts of Africa are addicted to porn and that these days courtship has been replaced by hook-ups. I am told our youth in Africa are worried about unwanted pregnancies than HIV. I hear them say that people of my age are old-school and relics.

When I was young living on the slopes of Kulisiru hills in Bungoma County in Kenya, we believed in a world where all boys had the right to become men of elevated moral character and opulence. Regrettably, numerous young men throughout the world have been dispossessed of this universal right; a deficit that has led to a rise in gang sadism, juvenile felony, familial desertion, Sexual/ gender based violence, HIV/AIDS pandemic, and the prolific poverty.

Many of us who are diehard pro-feminists are also starting to think that young men are disappearing from the radar in terms of mentorship and objective empowerment efforts. Many of us worry that a world without men of moral character, who understand their crucial roles as provider and protector, women will continue to inequitably bear the burdens of society and humanity will not prosper

Here is my message to the parents at the end year party. In the space of a few decades the way we parent has changed dramatically. Something we once did intuitively has become the subject of political fashion, guided by experts. As parents we are older and more time-poor than ever before, with the highest proportion of single-parent households in history. Our children are now spoiled in ways that go far beyond materialism. But they are suffering to a degree we never anticipated: we now have the highest rates of child depression, underage pregnancy and violent and anti-social behavior since records began. Yet adults, at every level, have retreated from authority and in doing so have robbed our children of their basic supporting structures.

Dr Bwonya insists that children’s sense of entitlement, the effects of TV and computers, single-parent homes and ‘blended’ families, parental guilt and the compensation culture are key drivers of the eminent generational collapse. He offers a clear practical message to us all – parents, grandparents, teachers and policy-makers alike – as to how we can redress the status quo, redefine our roles and together cultivate happier and better-behaved children.I have just recently learned that levels of commitment and understanding around parenting among boys remain dismal

The  safety  net  that  the  extended  family  provided  in  the  mentoring  of  boys  has
disappeared exposing boys to the allure of destructive practices and trends.   The values of
temperance,  self-control  and  discipline  have  been  replaced  with  aggression,  self
destruction and confusion.   Honorable aptitude of kindness, faithfulness, honor, love
and hard work are now regarded backwardness. I asked University students of one of
the leading universities about what manhood meant and I was shocked about just far off
the mark our society had gone.

The once plainly defined roles of fatherhood and manhood have been modified and interrupted.   The definitions of family, marriage and gender have changed, expanded, and evolved.   Mother and fathers roles have been modified, adjusted, switched and even abandoned.   Boys today are receiving mixed messages on this subject and the resulting consequences are statistically shocking.  With violence, crime, teenage pregnancy, adolescent depression, suicide and mental
disorders all on the dramatic increase, boys appear to be in a state of moral emergency.

 

The author is Founder and CEO of The Coexist Initiative, a not for profit synergy of men and boys organizations committed to eliminating all forms of sexual/gender based violence and enhancing HIV prevention in Kenya. Email:wafula@wafula.org website: www.coexistkenya.com