RECENTLY I worked with a delegation from Pakistan on development consultancy, focusing on women in leadership and accountability. In all our discussions on how women can participate in processes of leadership and accountability, the ultimate goal was to input into the development processes to ensure that our world is of the standard that we want it to be, to advance the social standards and improve the economic status of both women and men.
One key issue that came out was the issue that in all our work, it is important to work with men, as well as local leaders to ensure that we have buy-in of all stakeholders. This is work that I know a number of development organisations are doing, including Tag a Life International Trust (TaLI), an organisation which has given me the privilege of gaining more experience and insights that have empowered me to advocate more for girls. We have engaged men and communities as well as local leaders to advocate for the rights of the girls and young women. I can also say youths including boys.
I know of Padare, Men’s Forum which is doing a fantastic job in engaging men and communities to end gender-based violence (GBV) against girls and women. International organisations include Sonke Gender Justice, all in a bid to make sure we engage these significant others, the “would-be-perpetrators” and ultimately critical champions and partners of girls’ and womens’ rights.
In the past it has come out that whereas the previous strategies had only focused on girls and women themselves with the empowerment agenda, this has done a tremendous job in advancing the rights of women. However, leaving men behind means leaving the 50% that has a direct influence in ending the scourge. It is against this background that the world has shifted and moved towards the engagement of boys and men, as well as local community leaders to ensure gender justice.
I have deliberately started touching on this topic because I know men do not take pride, or do not enjoy inflicting pain on girls and women. I do know that it is not the intention of a normal human being to simply want to harm another unless that person is not normal.
Men in our generation are a product of men of older generations, these are men who are raised from the values and behaviours of old, most of which created a huge division between women and men. These are called social constructions. Social constructions are those norms or behaviours that a certain people or a certain tribe/country embraces as a way of life. Social norms in our context define how men and women engage. What we expect of women as a standard or moral behaviour, the same applies to men.
When our sons are growing up, they are taught that a man does not cry, a man needs to defend himself and do whatever it takes to return the pain to the inflictor. Sometimes they are not able to literally revenge the very pain that has been caused on them, so it ends up with a void of where that anger, pain, frustration has to be unleashed at, and that pain is often given to women.
It is very simplistic for us to put the blame on men without investigating the background of the story and the origination of the issues. It is imperative to identify the root cause of our problems to be able to deal with this problem. I am by no means trying to justify GBV or criminal acts, but we need to build this nation and this world and we need to focus on the truth.
There is need to begin to focus on working with boys and men as well as local leaders as part of the mix, is that they need to be taught alternative solutions to problems, anger management and also to let them know that you can cry and release your frustrations. An important part of why boys, men and communities have to be part of the mix is that, this entitlement that our boys or men have over women in intimate relationships has to stop.
There are men who think that their spouses or girlfriends are uncontrollable or they have achieved so much that they feel they are now unable to control them. Men need to realise that women were never meant to be controlled by men, but relationships are meant to benefit both men and woman. If accountability is required, it’s required from both partners, if cheating is not required, it should be addressed for both also. This is the gospel that we need to teach men.
Allowing men to fall into the trap of oppressing women, has proven not to work. There is need to engage for positive masculinities and to ensure peace and prosperity in our relationships and communities. It begins with me, with you, and with all of us! This is the first installment for a series of working with boys and men to end gender inequalities.
Nyaradzo “Nyari” Mashayamombe is the founder and executive director of Tag a Life International Trust (TaLI), a girl child rights organisation, She is a development consultant, entrepreneur and musician. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org