Reflecting on vital roles that women play in society, the author argues that our communities need men of integrity for the full realisation of gender equity and mutual respect.
At the occasion of the International Women’s Day last year, I wrote about sexual harassment at the workplace, in a piece which drew much inspiration from Reason Wafawarova’s legendary piece entitled “Discrediting women oppression fallacious”, which appeared in The Herald some eight years ago.
Wafawarova notable and emotive piece paid tribute to women, who have had to endure a historical and continuing legacy of subjugation and other avarices which are symptomatic of an entrenched patriarchal society which demeans a woman’s capabilities simply because of her sex and not intellect.
Yet she soldiers on with her plural roles at the family and at the professional level. For today dear reader, let us commit ourselves much to the man, who is often guilty of engendering the very same cause of our young girls and women.
Every woman out there has a dream, which she reaches out of her rational decisions. She decides what is good for her out of rational choices she makes.
But we are forced to look at today’s men, especially having come from the heavily successful and fictitious men’s forum, which played out on social media, some two weeks ago. The forum reminded us about the ideal man of integrity. Even scriptural texts were read out ostensibly to show great men who lived before us. Those who built not destroyed. Those who were the glue of the society.
Down the memory lane
In making reference to a man of integrity, who has ingrained values and is quite an integral builder, I draw from previous and quite sentimental references of some few years ago, in Muzarabani South [a district in Zimbabwe along the Mozambican-Zimbabwean border] where yours truly worked as a gender officer, in the first assignment, just after graduating from the university.
This became an unexpected encounter with gender issues which this writer had, like others, brushed aside as a Westernised concept, which is the stuff of feminists and many activists across the civil society. But the experience in Muzarabani was quite profound as it in fact gave a practical orientation of the heavily marginalised rural woman who has to bear the brunt of gender based violence, which is quite endemic in the District, like many other hotspots across the country.
So it became the norm to see women who would come with visible scars of physical violence. Or even those who were diseased at times knowingly by their partners and this was saddening. And there were those who simply lacked the self-belief, having been bred under an organised psychological warfare, which had impaired them.
In our community engagement processes we identified causes to this sad situation. The factors were many and these included, among other things, the social and religious belief system(s), lack of access to education and generally fewer opportunities and of course the entrenched patriarchal value system, which Wafawarova dealt with well.
Knowing these problems, we held counselling sessions, community dialogues among many other sectorial interventions some of which included partnerships with bodies like the National Aids Council (NAC), St Alberts Hospital among many other stakeholders.
But there was one problem. Men simply did not show up in our meetings. As a coping strategy we came up with a programme that we dubbed the “Men of Integrity” that we jointly held with NAC and others like the Zimbabwe Aids Prevention and Support Organisation.
This intervention was modelled along the lines of a traditional male-only forum and we harnessed its capabilities to discuss subjects on sex, HIV/AIDS, women’s and men’s rights among many other burning issues.
We targeted young men, traditional and religious leaders, village elders and so on. We covered the length and breadth of the District even including some far flung areas like Chiwenga and Kaerezi wards at the whims of the District and bordering with Mozambique.
We knew well the problems, which we experienced including the already identified scourge of violence, often coming from marital problems such as infidelity and related causes. We yearned for a man who understood dialogue as opposed to confrontations, which had brought undesirable results in our society that was predominantly a farming community.
We aspired for a man who protected the girl child as opposed to abusing her directly or sharing equal culpability by marrying her off at a tender age as part of a continuum of efforts under the theme “Girls not brides”, which was quite popular back then.
We sought to educate our rural men on the sensibility of having women who conduct some form of economic activity with the view to sustain the family. We had identified that some of the problems largely emanated from the economic front, where some men had their own fears about an empowered woman.
While our programming targeted the rural men who is profiled as a likely source of abuse towards women, there is however a reality about the urban man who is equally complicit of bashing women at every turn.
While our idea of sexually dangerous behaviour is constructed in our marginalised communities, we are confronted by the reality of similar characterisations of the very same problem, albeit perpetrated by the urban man.
If compared to the rural counterparts which this writer engaged with, there is no doubt that the urban man has a veneer of “civility”, which is supposed to inform his view of women. Often he is a family man. He is a professional among many other attributes.
Socially he is elevated. He is educated and is in reasonable employment or owns a small business for sustenance. Yet he abuses young girls and women willy-nilly, in covert fashion. His only difference is that he does not institutionalise his propensity for multiple sexual partners in a polygamous setup like the rural counterparts we engaged with.
The beauty of rural folks is that they were quite open about their sexual opinions, unlike their urban pretenders. This was precisely why we sought to educate them on their apparent vulnerabilities as well in their own sexual networks.
The dilemma is that the urban counterpart is never going to be a target on gender programming. In any case he has some economic activity to attend to outside his vicinity, unlike in the rural setting where farming is the mainstay of economic activities.
While he understands the rights of the girl child, he pays for sex to an urban and vulnerable girl child, or even young women in the streets. While this is transitional sex where two parties agree to tango, it really shows the deficit of integrity from the very same man who is supposed to play father. He, like his rural counterpart, has ready answers on why he engages on his sexual sprees.
Yet from face value he postures in civility. He exudes strong Christian values unlike the scolded “traditional” way of life. This man who acts in civility is the same who is a regular client in our Red-Light Districts across the country.
Two years ago, one of our local radio stations carried out an interview regarding child commercial sexual exploitation in areas such as Epworth, Caledonia Hopley and others areas. Of course, there emerged some academic concerns like journalistic responsibility when interviewing minors, adherence to research ethics and even the truthfulness of the allegations made in the report.
For now, I will not dwell on these issues.
This writer was part of the team, which went to these areas and engaged with these young girls who were neglected, marginalised and continuously abused at every turn. That was quite sad. Upon engaging with these young girls, there were testimonies of who approached these girls, which had remained untold.
These were not your ordinary criminals, delinquents and other psychopaths like paedophiles. They are your normal family men, professionals and other highly regarded people. But what was saddening more was about a society, which demands more from young women and less from the escapist man who approaches and buys sex for one reason or the other.
In most countries women are likely to be arrested for being suspected to be involved in prostitution. You will not hear much about the very same men who visits these women in the dead of the night. Visiting our Red-Light Districts at night, one would think that this is a major centre of serious economic activity there, by just judging the human and vehicular traffic. The actions of men are contrived as acts of masculinity while those of women are seen otherwise. But where are the men of integrity? Our fathers knew well what integrity meant. They assumed responsibility to protect young girls and women. But all that is gone now.
Looking at the scale of the problem, one would think we are still living in medieval times. We have the laws, veneers of changing perceptions, advancement of women but there continues an unrelenting and covert resolve to scuttle the momentous progress.
Our advancement has precipitated the extent and commercialisation of the problem of abusing women to unprecedented levels. This can only be explained by the transnational networks of human trafficking. This can only be explained by the commercialisation of young women and girls who have to bear the brunt of an unfriendly world, which profits from subjecting them to sexual servitude including in pornography.
Given the scale of the problem and the normalisation of sexualising young women and girls, there is no doubt that this writer is potentially to be reprimanded as an ethicist and that is quite understandable.
But Zimbabwe hear this, laws alone will not help. Only integrity can help us as a people. Our salvation is in having a man of integrity. He who is a beacon of advancing the girl child’s cause and that of women. He whose responsibility glues his society and walks the talk from the very same gospel.
*Francis Mupazviriho writes in his personal capacity. You can follow him on his Twitter handle @FMupah.