by Glory Mushinge
As a philosopher once said: If you treat people like dirt and refuse to acknowledge that they are also human and have rights, you leave them with no choice but to fight back.
This could have been the case when women all over the world decided to rise up and fight against the belief that men were better, in an effort to secure for themselves a better place in society.
Here in Africa, and particularly in Zambia, there was a time when women’s organizations sprung up as if it was something contagious. They started championing different causes, such as the right to shelter, to rise to decision-making positions, and to be protected from abuse in whatever form.
At that time, this revolution came under attack from certain segments of society, especially among those men engrossed in patriarchal beliefs. In Zambia, a man has always been considered as the head of the house, while women are taught to be submissive to their husbands and not question them on anything. If a woman challenges her spouse, she is thought of as disobedient and not well taught, one that cannot effectively handle a marriage. So women grow up thinking that a woman should not talk in the presence of men. This later affects the ways in which women carry themselves in society. Usually they can’t stand up and challenge men because their confidence has not been built in the home.
And so when these organizations were formed, women who joined in were ridiculed and described as frustrated. Some women even lost their marriages because their husbands thought it was shameful to be associated with a woman who went against African cultural norms. Other men thought society would look at them as not being man enough and controlled by their wives. In fact, some women stayed away from the organizations to keep their marriages intact after being warned by their husbands.
But thanks to the perseverance of some iron willed women, the tides are changing. These women of substance never rested. They continued against all odds and went on sensitizing society about the rights that women possessed as human beings, while also explaining that this did not mean degrading men.
With time, these struggles became more inclusive and changed from merely fighting for women’s rights to ensuring that there was gender equality. Slowly, some men started seeing the sense in this and began supporting the cause.
Today, a lot of achievements have been scored, with men joining the women’s organizations and even forming their own to support what the women are doing.
One such organization for this cause is The Men’s Traveling Conference (MTC), formed to sensitize people in East, Central and Southern Africa, about issues pertaining to gender-based violence.
Formed in 2003, the organization, which is affiliated with the Regional Men’s Network, has been holding sensitization activities by traveling to different countries and through different towns.
“The idea behind it is to enable men, as groups or as individuals, to respond to gender-based violence by way of massive mobilization, to capture men’s interests, to listen to other men. The first travel was held in Lilongwe, Malawi in 2003 during 16 days of activism, where over 100 men travel by road from Kenya to Lilongwe,” says Nelson Banda, the Regional Men’s Network country representative for Zambia.
According to Banda, every year the MTC travels to a selected country and, on the way, makes unscheduled stopovers in different towns to sensitize the people using different approaches such as drama and songs.
Banda added that the responses in these towns have been overwhelming, as people get to talk about gender-based violence and how it affects them.
The men’s group is comprised of people from various backgrounds such as the media, counselors, youths and others, to tackle different problems.
The MTC has traveled to Malawi, Kenya, and other countries, such as the francophone countries in West Africa that were initially not targeted by this project, but responded so positively that MTC began tailoring services for them.
Some of the success stories that have come from the MTC’s efforts are that men have now been brought on board to openly talk about gender-based violations.
“It was not easy for men to talk about gender-based violence. There are some men who were being battered and they never spoke, but now they are talking about it. We managed to create networks of men to share experiences and address gender-based violence,” says Banda, adding, “We are saying, why not get involved? It will take the men’s aggressiveness to end violence by educating other men that this is a criminal offense and its barbaric.”
In a study that was carried out on the involvement of men in gender-based violence activities by the African Women’s Development and Communications Network (FEMNET) in 2002, and which consequently influenced the formation of the MTC, male participation was lacking. But now with such initiatives, male involvement is gaining ground.
Like Banda put it, men have always been perceived as perpetrators of gender-based violence. But this time they cannot continue to be perpetrators—they need to be part of the solution. Therefore, the formation of men’s groups, like the MTC, for women’s issues is a welcome venture.