Men as the game chang­ers How male in­volve­ment changed the gen­der land­scape in Zimbabwe

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Feature - Jephiter Tsamwi

“IT’S dif­fi­cult but as a woman, usu­ally there is nei­ther an op­tion nor a way out. When he comes home drunk, al­most ev­ery day, you know he will beat you even when kids are watch­ing. You ask your­self what wrong you com­mit­ted to de­serve such treat­ment from a man who is the fa­ther of your kids but you won’t get an an­swer. I tried so many av­enues to make him a bet­ter man, but noth­ing ma­te­ri­alised. It was only after fel­low men talked to my hus­band that he turned from a mon­ster he used to be to a real man.”

Mrs Von­gai Mu­soro (24) nar­rates her painful or­deal, an abu­sive marriage that she had en­dured since the day she joined what would be­come a bru­tal union, but marriage in the eyes of her neigh­bours. Like many girls in some com­mu­ni­ties in Zimbabwe, Mrs Mu­soro is a sur­vivor of child marriage. At the age of 15 she was mar­ried to an older man, and forced to drop out of school in Form 3.

Zimbabwe’s new Con­sti­tu­tion stip­u­lates that “no per­son may be com­pelled to en­ter marriage against their will”, and calls on the State to en­sure that no girls are pledged into marriage, but still the Mul­ti­ple In­di­ca­tion Clus­ter Sur­vey (MICS) 2014 in­di­cate that 31 per­cent of girls in Zimbabwe are mar­ried be­fore 18 years.

There are many pro­grammes that have been im­ple­mented in Zimbabwe to ad­dress gen­der-based vi­o­lence (GBV) and tak­ing a multi-sec­toral ap­proach in which all and sundry joined hands in fight­ing the scourge. But there was only one missing link-in­volve­ment of men as agents of change them­selves.

In Septem­ber 2014, UN Women launched the HeForShe Cam­paign, which is a sol­i­dar­ity cam­paign for the ad­vance­ment of women through en­gag­ing men and boys as agents of change by en­cour­ag­ing them to take ac­tion against in­equal­i­ties faced by women and girls. Grounded in the idea that gen­der equal­ity is an is­sue that af­fects all peo­ple — so­cially, eco­nom­i­cally and po­lit­i­cally — the cam­paign seeks to ac­tively in­volve men and boys in a move­ment that was orig­i­nally con­ceived as “a strug­gle for women by women.”

Lo­cally, this cam­paign is called the Men to Men Cam­paign Against Gen­der Based Vi­o­lence and is be­ing spear­headed by a lo­cal NGO, the Stu­dents and Youth Work­ing on Re­pro­duc­tive Health Ac­tion Team (Say­what) in part­ner­ship with the Ministry of Women Af­fairs, Gen­der and Com­mu­nity Devel­op­ment and with sup­port from UN Women. Un­der this cam­paign, over one mil­lion peo­ple have been reached out in Zimbabwe us­ing dy­namic young men driven ini­tia­tives at com­mu­nity level, so­cial me­dia, mass me­dia and other struc­tural ini­tia­tives which formed the pro­gramme pil­lars with 75 per­cent of peo­ple reached be­ing men.

What stands out as unique in this pro­gramme is not only how it brought on board men, the would-be per­pe­tra­tors to cham­pion for the cause of their fe­male coun­ter­parts, but also how it har­vested and in­vested in the com­mu­nity sys­tems and cul­tures as en­try points to stim­u­late di­a­logue on gen­der and women’s rights is­sues us­ing the same so­cial sys­tems and val­ues that used to re­in­force women’s po­si­tion as peren­nial un­equal be­ings to men.

Us­ing trained young men as anti-GBV am­bas­sadors, the young men would con­duct open di­a­logues with men in the rel­e­vant and con­ve­nient spa­ces where men usu­ally dis­cuss fam­ily and life mat­ters in gen­eral. Say­what ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, Ms Vim­bai Mlambo noted that the pro­gramme rep­re­sents “a strategic par­a­digm shift in the war against a can­cer that had crip­pled hu­man­ity in our so­ci­eties with women be­ing the ma­jor causal­i­ties”

The Men to Men Cam­paign be­came a fully in­te­grated pro­gramme that en­sured that com­mu­nity as­pi­ra­tions are met, ad­dress­ing so­cio-eco­nomic im­per­a­tives in the tar­get com­mu­ni­ties. Most im­por­tantly is how it pro­vided link­ages for ad­dress­ing the sex­ual and re­pro­duc­tive health chal­lenges faced by com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing mak­ing com­mu­ni­ties un­der­stand the link be­tween GBV and HIV and how GBV lim­its the po­ten­tial of women and girls. Men who took part in the di­a­logues re­ported more will­ing­ness to get tested for HIV, to be faith­ful to their part­ners and or hav­ing safer sex by us­ing pro­tec­tion when hav­ing sex­ual in­ter­course.

Ac­cord­ing to Mr Henry Rufinhu, the Com­mu­nity Devel­op­ment Of­fi­cer for Makoni District in the Ministry of Women Af­fairs, Gen­der and Com­mu­nity Devel­op­ment, men are most likely to lis­ten to other men on all mat­ters, a fac­tor which led to the Men to Men Cam­paign Pro­gramme’s suc­cess.

“In a rather pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety, women’s voices are less re­garded es­pe­cially in the con­ser­va­tive so­ci­eties where the pro­gramme was im­ple­mented and it was im­por­tant to use men as agents of change,” said Mr Rufinhu.

But the road to the now achieved re­sults was not that easy. It was al­ways go­ing to be dif­fi­cult to change the views and per­cep­tions of men and gen­der is­sues, most of them passed from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion to the point where some neg­a­tive cul­tural prac­tices like child mar­riages and beat­ing a wife had been nor­malised.

The am­bas­sadors not only in­volved the young men from the com­mu­ni­ties, but also the tra­di­tional lead­ers be­came the chief am­bas­sadors and they also changed some of their prac­tices which used to su­press women.

Chief Pomo said: “Many times women would come to re­port cases of phys­i­cal and sex­ual abuse from their hus­bands, but our norm was that for a per­son to bring his or her is­sue to the chief, a to­ken was first sup­posed to be paid. As we dis­cussed more of these is­sues we then asked our­selves why do we ex­pect this vul­ner­a­ble woman to pay a fee to the chief. She is be­ing abused, some­times de­nied any form fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance by the hus­band, and we re­alised we are pun­ish­ing the women more and more in­stead of help­ing her. And those prac­tices have since stopped.”

The tra­di­tional lead­ers have not only changed their way of op­er­a­tion in that re­gard but have also cre­ated stronger syn­er­gies and work­ing relations with the po­lice. Chief Pomo noted that they are now tak­ing it as a duty to help women who are abused to re­port the cases of abuse to the po­lice. Re­ports from the anti-GBV am­bas­sadors show that over 150 women had been as­sisted to get le­gal as­sis­tance from the po­lice in the pe­riod from Jan­uary 2014 to Oc­to­ber 2016 in the three pro­gramme’s tar­get dis­tricts, Beit­bridge, Rusape and Bin­dura.

The District Devel­op­ment Of­fi­cer for Beit­bridge in the Ministry of Women Af­fairs, Gen­der and Com­mu­nity Devel­op­ment, Mr Vusumuzi Siduli noted that the in­volve­ment of men in the drive to elim­i­nate all forms of vi­o­lence against women and girls has been well re­ceived in the area and has trace­able re­sults that have mostly ben­e­fited vul­ner­a­ble women and girls.

One of the anti-GBV am­bas­sadors, Mr Sang­ster Ku­dak­washe said one of their key fo­cuses is to ad­dress chal­lenges of young girls en­gag­ing in sex work.

“As men we are quick to judge the girl child that she is loose, im­moral and all kinds of words, but no other men is there to ques­tion why fa­thers are ne­glect­ing their fam­i­lies, re­sult­ing in some of these girls go­ing opt­ing for sex work as a source of liveli­hood,” said Mr Ku­dak­washe.

An ac­tivist, Mr Daniel Ngilishi said that they are also en­gag­ing the men both res­i­dents of Beit­bridge and those in tran­sit, en­cour­ag­ing them to de­sist from ex­ploit­ing these young sex workers with their key mes­sage be­ing “How would you feel if it was your daugh­ter”

Beit­bridge is border town that lies in a province (Mata­bele­land South) with the high­est HIV preva­lence at 21 per­cent which is close to two times the national av­er­age which stands at 14 per­cent. Gen­der based vi­o­lence is also very rife in the province and the am­bas­sadors have im­pacted the lives of many women, men and fam­i­lies.

Mrs Pi­wayi Muren­jekwa (32) noted that her hus­band is now more re­spon­si­ble to his fam­ily from the day he took part in the Men to Men talks that were be­ing spear­headed by the am­bas­sadors. She noted that for the six years they have been mar­ried, her hus­band used to ne­glect her and when she tried to talk to him, he would beat her up.

“I had given up on talk­ing to him. He would not lis­ten and would vi­o­lently re­spond by beat­ing me up or not com­ing home for more than a week if I chal­lenge him. I was shocked the other day when he came home, telling me how he met these young men (am­bas­sadors) and the dis­cus­sions they had. I am happy he is now a changed man,” said Mrs Muren­jekwa.

An­other young woman, Mrs Chiedza Mban­gure (26) high­lighted that her hus­band now treats her with re­spect and love and fam­ily unity has sparked progress and peace in her marriage.

The am­bas­sadors did not only en­gage men in en­cour­ag­ing them to stop abus­ing their wives but also con­ducted di­a­logues that pro­vided link­ages with eco­nomic devel­op­ment of the area and the girl child sup­port. Men in Beit­bridge and Bin­dura re­ported that they now sup­port and un­der­stand the value and need for the education of the girl child.

A 19 year old girl in Bin­dura is now do­ing a poul­try project with sup­port from her guardians, as part of her ef­forts to raise school fees for her to start col­lege in 2017.

“I re­ally want to thank this pro­gramme. Now I will pur­sue my dream of be­com­ing an elec­tric en­gi­neer. My par­ents, did not to ap­prove of me go­ing to col­lege. In­stead they said I should get mar­ried and be a fam­ily woman. But after the am­bas­sadors talked to them, it’s a dif­fer­ent story,” she said

Mr Sendisa Ndlovu, the Say­what pro­grammes man­ager high­lighted that the strat­egy of in­volv­ing men as the change agents trans­formed sys­tems and prac­tices and changed the mind-sets of men, their be­liefs and per­cep­tions not­ing that with re­sources per­mit­ting, the pro­gramme will be scaled up to cover di­rectly, more dis­tricts and provinces in the coun­try and be­yond. With male in­volve­ment, Mrs Mu­soro is happy again and she now en­joys the fruits of her marriage, liv­ing in peace and love with her hus­band and kids. It is the first step to build stronger com­mu­ni­ties and bring sus­tain­able so­lu­tions to com­mu­nity prob­lems.

Jephiter Tsamwi is a writer based in Harare. He can be con­tacted on jefft­

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