Forgive my pro-feminism -By Wanjala Wafula

29 Dec

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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

 

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5 Responses to “Forgive my pro-feminism -By Wanjala Wafula”

  1. Eveangel January 3, 2013 at 3:16 am #

    Do you have a wish list Mr. Wafula? You have an important mission and I would like to hear from those you serve and the impact of collaborative support. Visit our facebook and leave some comments that I can move among our audience. #neighborshelpingneighbors

    • wanjalawafula January 8, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

      Many thanks for the kind accolades. Its in the hearts of those of you with abundant life and hope that I dwell. I remain steadfast in making the world a better place for US ALL.

      Blessings,

      Wanjala Wafula

  2. Paula Ferrari (@twinteachie) January 8, 2013 at 11:31 am #

    You are doing fantastic work, a true inspiration. I was very sad to hear about your sister. She would have been so proud of her brother and all you have achieved.

  3. Ronald wekesa April 10, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

    my role model indeed am proud of you.

    • wanjalawafula April 11, 2013 at 11:17 am #

      You are my SON that I truly adore. You make me very proud son and i am happy that you find something in me that you are emulating. I have always told you that the destiny of the world is the hands of those who believe in social justice and equity and not those enslaved by negative masculinity, patriarchy and negative tradition and customs. I am proud of you!!!!!!

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