By Michael Gwarisa
SAFAIDS this week hosted a two day symposium dubbed Changing The River’s Flow, a gender norms transformative programme aimed at encouraging young people, both male and female to take part in the fight against gender inequalities and Gender Based Violence (GBV).
For years, women across the globe have been pushing for equal rights in the home, political sphere and economy. Going down history, the concept of Feminism has seen a number phases and movements coming into play all in the name of fighting and addressing the imbalances that exist between men and women.
From the early Radical Feminism movement to the present Post Modern Feminist, the fight has been about equality and equal access to the means of production. Despite all these efforts by feminists movements to redress these disparities, society is still a long way to go in completely ridding society of GBV, sexual violence against women, bullying and objectification of women.
There has been so many issues as to why the fight for women rights has taken so long to realise a victory. It is imperative however, to start by defining what Gender is and how it is constructed.
Gender means those societaly prescribed roles between male and female. This means there are some expectations society expects from a man and woman. There are some roles that society has deemed Masculine and Feminine and at times seeing men do females chores like cooking, sweeping and changing diapers might attract some serious ridicule from society.
It is around these societal expectations that hoards of woman rights defenders have fought to address over centuries to little or no avail.
Speaking at the SafAIDS symposium, University of Zimbabwe Lecturer Prof Claudias Mararike said Gender stereotypes and imbalances were deeply entranced in our day to day language which seem to take away the creative and initiative role from women.
“Our Shona language despite being very rich, has its on shortfalls when it comes to gender issues. It all starts from courtship, that process when a young man or boy proposes love to a girl. You hear him say Ndazomunyenga (i finally proposed to her), and if he manages to make her pregnant you hear him say, Ndamupa nhumbu (I have impregnated her).
“The act of making a baby takes two to tangle, why make it a man’s issue alone. Why not say tazoitisana nhumbu (We are pregnant), lets give women their equal importance in our language,” said Mararike.
From Prof Mararike’s sentiments, it is clear that society has accepted that it is the Men or Boy who should initiate or propose love to a woman and not the other way round. In Africa, Zimbabwe in particular, if a girl was to approach a boy telling her she loves him, she would get labels like Prostitute or lunatic.
People tend to confuse Sex and Gender. Sex is the biological makeup, or that anatomy that distinguishes one sex from the other e.g the penis and vagina.
The aspect of transforming men being pushed by SafAids and its funding partners is not aimed at transforming men’s sex but rather encouraging them to be more gender sensitive so that they understand the other sex better and become more of partners and allies rather than men or tyrants in the home or at work.
However, women at times miss the point when dealing with issues around gender. They become so confrontational leading to serious resistance from their male counterparts. Women should know that men have been born in a system and society that expects them to behave in certain ways and it takes more than just a woman to change that.
Equal rights does not mean a man should stop being a man or performing his duties of providing for his family, neither does it mean a woman should command her man around or invade his sphere of influence. Equal rights entails working together and being a force together be it at work or home.
There is a saying in Africa which goes, “It takes the whole society to raise a child,” What this means is that communities should take part in socialising young boys into becoming responsible and caring fathers and men in the future. It all starts from a very young age, right at the primary socialization level where we teach our kids that cooking is for girls and playing is for boys.
The transformative process for men takes a whole society to influence his or her perception towards women hence the Changing the River’s Flows movement which aims at helping men get a clear picture of how they should treat and respect women.
It has been noted that Men’s health seeking behaviors fall far below that of women and most men do not go for HIV testing hence the high mortality from AIDS amongst men.
The reason why most men shun health services or testing is due to the socialisation they get which emphasises on the need to hide emotions and being strong etc. Most men’s bodies have turned into small prisons where they hide so many troubling issues, no wonder why there is a high suicide rate in men than women.