A couple of days ago, I happened upon a nasty scene in my neighbourhood which left me and many others in a state of shock.
A man was unashamedly beating up his wife in public.
I could not identify the cause of the conflict between the couple, but someone intimated to me that the man was accusing his wife of misusing his money, which she is alleged to have given to one of her relatives. Thankfully, however, compassionate onlookers came to the woman’s rescue before the situation got uglier than it already was.
“If only this woman was financially independent,” I thought to myself. “She probably wouldn’t have been trapped in such an abusive relationship, being forced to stay with a demonic husband who was not even repentant about humiliating himself and his children’s mother out on the streets!”
This is was enough of a lesson to me that as a nation, we might be using inadequate strategies in addressing gender-based violence (GBV) and the entire discourse on empowering women.
Men are essential
Empowering women to know and exercise their rights, training them to be assertive, to be vigilant enough to claim what belongs to them will never bear the real outcomes that we anticipate as long as men are left out of the conversation and allowed to perpetuate patriarchal practices..
Women’s empowerment is indeed a man’s issue too.
I am reminded of one of my favourite quotes from the former president of the World Bank Group, Robert B. Zoellick, which states that, “Gender and women empowerment are also at the core of what we need to do in development. It is not just a women’s issue. Improved economic opportunities for women lead to better outcomes for families, societies and countries.”
We know that women’s empowerment, the unveiling of economic opportunities for women, is fundamental to our quest to transform societies and nations. Zimbabwe is one nation that has seen many structural re-organisations, including the formation of gender-related organisations and government ministries to foster the advancement of the interests, rights and wills of present day women. But Zoellick made one observation that might have been missed in the whole gender discourse; that it’s not just a women’s issue.
And this omission has led many men of today to view the whole gender agenda with corrupted and distorted mindsets.
Dialogue and collaboration between men and women is essential for the fulfilment of the rights of women. An end to GBV, a social illness that has plagued our societies for decades and centuries to the point of even being tolerated, necessarily involves men; men like the one I spoke of at the beginning of this article, for it is they that perpetrate the violence.
Inclusion of men at all levels in the fight means that they begin to understand that the rights of women are not a privilege, that they are entitled to them as equal human beings, equal partners and equal participants in all matters of the state.
Reinventing the traditional male space
Today there have been efforts made to revitalise the traditional dare with the formation of organisations like PADARE/ Enkudleni/ Men’s Forum and Students and Youth Working on Reproductive Health Action Team’s (SAYWHAT) Mugota/Ixhiba coming on board to give voice to men’s perspectives on gender issues.
Such platforms and spaces do not exist to serve selfish interests, or to further the patriarchal oriented agendas of primitive men. They are alternative spheres that give men free space to discuss issues around how to protect, how to serve and how to work with women as equal partners in the drive towards better families and societies.
It is important to note that in 2004, one of the two themes for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was ‘The Role of Men and Boys in Achieving Gender Equality,’ an awakening and critical realisation that men are important stakeholders in discussions.
However, critics have sometimes labelled such platforms an attempt to revitalise the same institutions and practises that have promoted women’s subordination over the years. Are they a disguised attempt to nurture patriarchy? Or are they genuine in their approach to promote and safeguard women’s empowerment aspirations?
Perhaps, the whole argument revolves around the key principles and objectives informing the formation and existence of such forums since spaces such as the traditional dare from the times of our forefathers were heavily patriarchal and dismissive of women’s voices.
I believe that today’s progressive men’s dialogues value women as partners, challenging norms around the meaning and significance of masculinity and femininity. Present day’s men’s dialogues question gender roles and differences that stereotype women to the advantage of men.
It is however unquestionable that retrogressive men’s platforms that vigilantly advance male domination still exist. To test this, just visit any bar where men share their stories and ideas after work or during weekend time!
Essentially, the doubts around male spaces are being answered, and will continue to be answered, through the progressive men’s movement’s growth, and the kind of men and boys it produces. One day, we must come to a point where certain spaces cease to be no-go areas for women but become inclusive dialoguing platforms where men and women openly discuss matters.
Personally, it remains an uncompromising truth worth celebrating; that some men are rising up to envision such spaces.
It is also worth nothing that women and girl’s empowerment, if over emphasised without pursuing equality, can put boys at a great disadvantage. As we drive the gender discourse forward, we also have to take note of the kind of societal transformation that we are going through.
Men are also becoming frequent victims of violence and abuse – at times from women. As we push for the emancipation of women, we cannot ignore the need to protect our young boys from different sexual and reproductive health challenges and sensitising women around physical and psychological violence against their partners.
Today, Zimbabwe boasts a number of successful women who have overcome the gender barriers that have traditionally oriented the functional space for women to the kitchen and the bedroom. For instance, in business, women have recorded achievements that have proved beyond doubt that women are capable. Names like Kubi (Chaza) Indi, Marah Hativagone, Florence Ziumbe, Jocelyn Chiwenga, Jane Mutasa, Divine Ndhlukula and Caroline Chirima instantly come to mind and they represent shining examples of women who have done exceptionally wonderful in the business world, a sector which was traditionally perceived a men’s territory
In arts, women have conquered, making spectacular outcomes in showcasing the creativity in the women’s brains. No wonder why the most adorable music and literature in Zimbabwe are greatly attributed to females. In industry and commerce, women’s impact is unquestionably outstanding. It is quiet refreshing to see a lot of women venturing into those sectors previously dominated by men like mining, commercial farming while other women have also found their way into the uniformed forces of our great nation among other prestigious and challenging fields
With the new constitution particularly emphasising gender equality and equity, it is the hope of everyone that even the 50/50 percent representation of women and men in the parliament guaranteed by the supreme law will see more women advancing to higher offices that strategically position them as decision makers in national affairs.
There is a lot of inspiration out there and I believe that if more inclusive dialogue ensued, men could give more support to women, thereby helping to create more space for them, and most importantly, availing opportunities to them without fear of being challenged.
For men to understand that it is against the law to beat their wives, we do not need to educate the women. Rather, we need to preach the gospel more loudly to men, the perpetrators.
From every perspective, men have to become equal stakeholders in the discourse around women’s empowerment.
It is this collective engagement, this solidarity and resilient unity for a shared vision that will see a better day in our beloved country.
Jephiter Tsamwi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for more insights