community builders:with Takemore Mazuruse
In 1995, Padare Men’s Forum was just an idea born out of five male development practitioner friends who felt the gender mainstreaming discourse appeared to exclude men and boys, who as perpetrators of gender-based violence (GBV) and social exclusion of women in a patriarchal society, needed to embrace issues around equality, women’s rights and fighting for the freedoms of all.
Then operating from the backyard of the office of one of the five founding members, the organisation was designed to change the way men look at women and helping them appreciate that upholding women’s rights and according them freedom and their space is good for development.
According to Padare Men’s Forum programmes officer Paul Vingi, the organisation was self-funded until 2001 when it received an award in appreciation of the strides made in fighting for equality.
“For a long time Padare held informal discussions with men through the benevolence of the five visionaries who believed that men engagement for gender equality benefits everyone from women, children and even men themselves,” Vingi said.
“It was only in 2001 when an American institution acknowledged the organisation with an award that came with prize money that the founders were then able to set up a structure. This was followed by recognition from government which gave the organisation humanitarian space across Zimbabwe and to date we have covered a lot of ground through engagement of traditional leaders, young boys in school, the church, policymakers and other relevant institutions around equality.”
As the organisation celebrates 25 years of existence, one of the organisation’s founding members Jonah Gokova told Standard Style that they were encouraged by their strides in fighting for equality and the rights of women and that they hoped more men would join this noble cause.
“We started this organisation as five men who all shared non-governmental organisation sector experience. We felt it was important that we unpack how the social expectations of men were restricting women’s choices and denying them dignity. This realisation gave rise to casual conversations that brought men together to discuss how society could shift towards embracing women’s rights and according them the space they need to self-actualise,” Gokova said.
“The discussions helped us appreciate the cries of women on how the patriarchal society favoured the interests of men at the expense of the liberties of women.
Our efforts encouraged men to participate in discussions that recognise the rights of women while interrogating what being a man means in our society.”
This then led to the formation of Padare, which, by definition, is a traditional male-dominated decision-making institution, and the goal was to transform that institution through having men that identify with the language of feminism and do not collaborate in a system that oppresses women.
Gokova’s sentiments were echoed by fellow founding member Regis Mututu who said 25 years on, they were happy to have torched an idea now embraced by various organisations that equally feel that involving men in the fight for women’s rights and abolishing gender-based violence is a move in the right direction.
“Patriarchy manifests the same in various communities and men across the globe are seen as collaborators in a patriarchal society because of socialisation,” Mututu said.
“We are, therefore, happy that 25 years on, we have men who value the rights of women. Various organisations have also taken the Padare Men’s Forum template which embraces the engagement of men and boys towards respect of women’s rights and it is our hope that this ideal continues to inspire positive change in communities.
“Our hope is that moving forward, we must continue identifying institutions that celebrate the subjugation of women and engage them. Having them hearing the gender story from male voices would certainly help foster change.”
Padare Men’s Forum has over the years intensified male engagement around gender and sexual reproductive health rights (SRHR). Walter Vengesai, the organisation’s national director, said Padare was grateful to all the funding partners for the support and they hoped to do more as they seek to have every male on board in the fight for gender equality.
“It has been quite a journey and we have done well to foster male engagement around gender and sexual and reproductive health rights. We have been able to take conversations around gender to the mainstream and we would want to challenge more men to join this movement and what it stands for,” Vengesai said.
“Men must become more tolerant and acknowledge that the patriarchal system is oppressive. We want equitable men who speak out against inequality, gender-based violence and child marriages while ensuring uptake of health services.”
Vengesai thanked the organisation’s funding partners for their unwavering support in ensuring that the message of equality reaches all from the policymakers to the ordinary man in the street.
“We are grateful to our partners for their continued support in ensuring that Padare Men’s Forum is well resourced even amidst the globally felt economic meltdown. Competing needs always outweigh available resources, but we believe with more support we can be able to uproot gender inequality which is a major concern for the development of nations,” he said.
While the men and women of Padare have continued to play their part in ensuring the vision which started 25 years ago lives on, various partners, among them Unicef, Christian Aid, Culture Fund, Boy World Education, Bana Abantwana, UNFPA, Canadian Aid, UNAids, Oxfam, UN Women and Troicare to name a few, have all aided the organisation’s efforts and programmes.
The Padare Men’s Forum programme design has seen the organisation engage in various activities which, according to Vingi, include engagement of men as allies in the fight for gender equality, and engagement of traditional leaders who, as the custodians of culture, can help shape the discourse around gender inequality from a cultural perspective.
An intense campaign around the education of young boys has also been taken to high schools with hopes of spreading the same to primary schools so that whatever misconceptions the patriarchal society has impressed are dealt with early on.
“We have deliberately tried to engage traditional leaders with a view to divert them towards gender sensitivity in their courts and community engagement. Boys in school have not been left out either as we hope to catch them young. We believe in changing men without turning them into women,” Vingi said.
“We have also engaged religious leaders realising that the various religions have helped perpetuate the social exclusion of women. Even some of the scriptures appear to point towards wanton disregard of women’s rights and we are grateful for the partner support towards such programming.”
With the whole world grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic, Padare Men’s Forum has received reports of an increase in gender-based violence as communities try to cope with the various pressures the pandemic has brought with it. Various initiatives have since been put in place to mitigate the challenges.
“We have engaged social influencers to help us propagate messages to men on better ways of coping with Covid-19-induced frustrations without being violent. We have engaged social influencers like Madzibaba Nicholas Zakaria, Alfonso Zvenyika, Shingi Kawondera, Baba Shupi, Guspy Warrior and Nelson Matongorere for messages around gender-based violence.
“Public education is also going to be undertaken through various radio programmes which will be aired during this lockdown period,” Vingi said.