Gender-based violence and the man of integrity The late Oliver Mtukudzi

Francis Mupazviriho
With the just ended 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence, which began on 25 November and ran till 10 December which is now known as the Human Rights Day, we were once again reminded about the efforts towards equality drive, which have gained unprecedented traction especially in the last two decades.

We heard some, like the Swedish ambassador Sofia Calltorp articulating her mission’s profound campaign theme dubbed “Because I am a Man” — as part of evident efforts to involve men in gender affairs, something which this writer has experiences of, and will share later on in this piece.

Current strides made this far are quite commendable especially considering the historical legacy of alienation and prejudice towards women and the continued subtle patriarchal foundations which have entrenched different forms of abuse, largely to women who often bear the scars of violence.

The contradiction however is that our society continues to demand more from the boy child at birth and less from the girl.

This precisely explains why young newlyweds often have the pressure to bear the boy child, who is anointed to fatherhood status at birth, while the girl child is often the seen as the passer-by, who will simply add more value to her husband and in laws, later on in life.

When the girl child is born, we often here normalised remarks of the cows she will bring and expensive jackets as part of her customary marriage.

Being the only child to my mother and late father, this writer got used to receiving a pat on the back, for siring a son whose birthday coincided with the seventh anniversary of his grandfather’s date of departure from mother earth.

There was a lot of sentimentality which emerged from my son’s birth and it was quite understandable. Apart from being lauded for a purely biological act, this writer was further reminded to sire more children, with the view of “covering the gap” left by this writer’s late father. It was quite common to be reminded to sire girls afterwards with the view of “balancing” the sexes of the children.

Then just three days ago, this writer welcomed an addition to the family, a daughter this time around. While the congratulatory messages trickled in, there was one common line which was relayed as part of our society’s now accepted norms, which end up permeating into our perceptions on sex and gender.

Quite often this writer was told that he shall be the receiver of cows, jackets and even lobola money years to come. There wasn’t any mention of other important things like her profession and so on, as would have been the case with a son.

There is no doubt that most will relate such perceptions which lay the basis of violence albeit in its different forms.

For this writer the subject of violence against women (and men too) is quite passionate to the heart, having worked with women as a district officer seized with gender programming and carrying our women empowerment schemes, at my first assignment in the service, in Muzarabani South, Centenary.

From the official researches done, the area was touted to have one of the highest prevalence rate of GBV across the entire nation. In fact the daily counselling sessions and even observations of court proceedings simply attested to the gory fact of endemic violence in the district.

In our reports, we detailed the horrendous experiences of violence against women and of course magnified the problem so much with the view of securing funding for interventions which would often come in the form of joint programmes with different organisations in the field of gender.

We identified the contextual conditions such as beliefs, lack of access to education, lack of empowerment, entrenched patriarchal values and other inhibiting factors which were the bane to the progression of young girls and women, something which was quite epitomised by the scourge of violence against women, in its varying forms.

The results were many and included early marriages and at times even sexually transmitted diseases.

Having routinely conducted our own dialogues and others which we partnered with agencies which included the Zimbabwe Aids and Support Organisation (ZAPSO), St Alberts Hospital Community Health Based Care (CHBC) and others who came occasionally, like Justice for Children Trust (JCT), we discovered the high anomaly of oversubscription from women and the apparent disinterest from men.

Resultantly we came up with a new programme that targeted men.

We dubbed it the Men of Integrity and we worked with the National Aids Council (NAC) headed by one Richard Chasima. This programme was well attended by traditional and religious leaders, village elders and men of all ages. The enthusiasm was well matched by the high subscription which came as we visited the wards.

This writer emotively recalls such meetings in wards like Gutsa, Hwata, Mukwengure, Chiweshe, Chaona, Dambakurima, Hoya, Muringazuva up to the district’s outposts of Chiwenga and Kaerezi.

We demystified gender issues in collective form as a way to rid perceptions that these were entirely “women’s affairs”. Often we were told these were purely

Western concepts which had affected the men’s traditional dominance in all spheres of the household.

We taught about what integrity meant at the home, something which we have heard from Oliver Mtukudzi, Ivan Craig, Pastor Shingi Munyeza, Hardlife Zirekwi and some of our selected personalities in sports, arts and even business, who were part of the Swedish Embassy’s campaign which pronounced male responsibility in gender affairs, generally.

We knew well of the behemoth of violence in our district. In a bid to overcome, we however instigated efforts to have a man who understood dialogue in the home as opposed to confrontation having undesirable results like emotional abuse, physical violence and even murder.

We sought to sensitise rural men about protecting the girl child as opposed to abusing her under the veneer of child marriages. The previous year, we had carried out our efforts under the theme “Girls not brides”, which was quite popularised globally.

We sought to engage parents about their responsibility to protect young girls from early marriages.

We wanted men to understand the value of sending the girl child to school as opposed to domiciling her at home. We needed our men to understand that the girl child has got dreams and aspires to climb the professional ladder just like the boy child as opposed to objectifying her.

While we preached behaviour change with colleagues from the health divide, we often discovered how this was quite an uphill task especially from the men who had every reason from their rule book. The most common was that of men who often reminded us that their wives had become uninterested in sex and hence they resorted to sex workers and at times minors and even young women. This equally became a platform to teach about HIV/Aids as well.

The submissions were quite complex and perhaps there may be need to do entire pieces on the issues. As I thought of the men of integrity meetings which sought to address the problems including sexual violence against women, I was however confronted by the contradiction of the urban man, who is equally culpable if not worse off to his rural counterpart, in the very same fight despite acting in civility as a father, professional person, religious person and someone who is held highly in general terms.

Socially he is elevated. He is educated. He generally understands the import of women’s rights. He has better access to education, information unlike some of the folks we engaged with in some of our remote areas.

He is the same man who abuses young girls willy-nilly albeit in variegated form, if compared to the conditions we saw in our rural environs. The only difference is he doesn’t institutionalise his deeds through early marriages, like we saw in the district.

For mainstream scholars who have studied deviancy, there is often an emphasis on the lowly individual’s propensity to commit crimes like rape for example. This narrative tells us that those who abuse women in general are largely persons from “traditional societies”, low education and entrenched patriarchal values, like we saw in some of the submissions brought forth in the dialogue meetings.

Perhaps this could be further from the truth. Otherwise how would you explain the silent perpetrators of abuse some quite rational persons?

There is no doubt that the one who pays for sex to the young girl, who is supposed to be at school and regularly visits her in the metropolitan setting, is not in any way different from the one who takes a young girl in the village under the veneer of “marriage”. Their acts could be compared to a rag tag robber and the other who uses “smart” means to conduct a crime, say from a computer network.

One is brazen in his complicity while the other hides his shamefulness for his deeds.

While paid sex is essentially a consensual agreement between two consenting adults, it however proffers a serious moral indictment to the man who is transacting for pleasures of the flesh, at times to a minor or even young women in general, often young to be his daughter.

Understandably the law does not criminalise relationships or even sex between two consenting adults, who are within their means and rights to act in the way they elect to.

When one hears about our red light districts, it is common to hear more of our young women and less of the regular clientele which goes there as part of an escapist route from their marriages, pure infidelity or other such reasons which are provided by this lot.

This is the dilemma which confronts us. That of undying perceptions and masculine identity towards the male and that of a sexualised image of women who are bashed at every turn. That of a complex problem which is widespread.

Sometime in August last year, there was a pandemonium which emerged after a local radio station carried out an interview alleging child commercial sexual exploitation in Epworth, Caledonia, Hopley and Hatcliffe.

While of course the story was not precisely new, the controversy and apprehension largely came from one of the interviewees who was said to be nine years old and even testified of having abused drugs and other such ills on a live interview.

The case became heated and at times even politicised, but however warranted visits to the area where minors were found, but not specifically the one who was nine and efforts were then made to provide support services to the children.

While there were reservations including the potential disregard of research ethics in interviewing children, this case however opened room for engagement with the journalist in question, efforts which among other things, led to a multi-sectorial dialogue to salvage solutions to the problems at hand.

Upon visiting these areas, we got to understand the underworld which included older women who acted as panderers on behalf of the minor’s. We even heard that the regular clientele of some of these young girls includes some family men and of course those held highly in society for their social standing.

Having come to this spectre, this writer was reminded of the words from Mutemakungu ward village headman- Saramusi Sibanda who chastised facilitators for their tendency to come and preach the gospel and yet making a beeline towards young girls at Muzarabani Growth Point, on their way back to Centenary.

How right, this village elder was considering the endemic sexual harassment at the workplace. How right he was considering the numerous testimonies we heard locally, from young women, often brazenly told to pay through the pound of flesh or to never get the job? Even the African Union has been hit by a sex for job scandal especially towards young interns aspiring to work for the organisation.

While one can easily point to the AU for complicity, or lack of internal policies to address such, it is however the individuals who have choices to make, however harmful as they are. We have heard similar allegations at institutions like Oxfam, or other well publicised cases of prominent personalities such as President Trump, Brett Michael Kavanaugh and even others like Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who ultimately had to resign from the apex of the International Monetary Fund, some few years ago.

The problem is not institutions but institutionalised perceptions built from our value system, which sexualises the girl child and young women.

Contrary to what we are made to believe, this problem is quite endemic the world over. However, this does not mean it is right. While the African Union may have been mired in the web of sex for jobs and other alleged sexual indiscretions, the reality however is that these are now commonly reported issues, which point to the individual complicity first.

The problem of sexual harassment at the workplace is quite endemic including in the developed world, as alluded to briefly above. These realities change the profiling of the urban men versus his counterpart in Muzarabani, Nkayi or even Mbire.

The perpetrators are hardly your ordinary criminals, delinquents or other psychopaths like paedophiles. They are your normal family men, professionals and at times highly respected personalities of society.

One would think we are still in medieval times, just by looking at the prevalence of the problem. Ironically this is the generation which has an array of laws bound from international protocols and even the domestic laws, in the form of the constitution, Acts and so on.

We also have internal procedures including at the workplace, on how to deal with sexual harassment, but the problems persist.

We see a lot of transnational crimes against women especially including from human trafficking, pornography and other such ills which are evidence of the commercialisation of vulnerability for personal gains.

The responsibility of today’s men is needed to fight all such scourges, much as it may seem a difficult task, especially considering the brazen commercialisation of the girl child in the underworld of global crime, or even in other settings.

Regardless of the hurdles, we now need a man of integrity at home, church and even the workplace which is supposed to be an arena of a harmonious working environment and nothing less.

Of course, this stuff can potentially be dismissed as plucked out from the hymn book of ethicists or even moralists. But together we can overcome.

It remains that we need a man who commits himself to the cause as a beacon of advancement of the girl child and women as opposed to being an albatross of the very same efforts.

-Francis Mupazviriho is with the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare. He wrote this in his personal capacity.

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