In this feature, which is part of the 16 days of Gender Activism, Ephraim Nyondo shows why involving men in the fight for gender based violence is a winning formula.
Every day she wakes up early, precisely around 3:30 am. Her first job is to draw water from a riverâ€”a 20-minutes away from the house.
After two runs, her next chore is to sweep her house and surroundings. By 4:30, the surrounding is clean. Then she steps into the kitchen, lights up a fire, boils water to bathe the two children.
While bathing them, the porridge which they eat for breakfast is cooking.
She later leaves for the garden, while her husband goes straight to drink opaque beer with his friends.
He stays there and comes back around 10pm. The wife, dog-tired, is already asleep then. He wakes her up, sometimes with a beating. He then demands that she prepares him a hot meal. After eatingâ€”that is around 1 am, they sleep.
She only sleeps for two hours. By 3:30 am, she wakes up to begin her daily cycle of life.
This is a story that Mary Namasiku, a woman from Kayembe Village, T/A Kayembe, Dowa, narrated of her neighbour as a case study of gender-based violence at a meeting held in the village.
Of course, the story she told was from Kayembe. But the experience of the woman in the story does not just end there. It is one that depicts the reality married women, especially in rural areas, go through in the country.
In fact, it is a story that does not just capture the scale of Gender Based Violence (GBV) in Malawi. Most importantly, it agrees with study findings by Men for Gender Equality Now (Megen) that 90 percent of GBV cases in Malawi are perpetrated by men.
Troubled by the story, the meeting in Kayembeâ€”which included 19 men and 11 womenâ€”was convened to tackle new ways on how they should fight against increased cases of GBV in the village.
â€œThere have been a number of interventions in the village regarding fighting GBV. Surprisingly, we still hear stories like the one told by Namasiku,â€ queries Symon Mauluka, one of the participants.
The villagers heavily wrestled with Maulukaâ€™s question. But at last, they came to a conclusion that one of the militating factors has been the continuous absence of menâ€™s hand in the GBV fight equation.
Interestingly, their conclusion resonates well with what a number of gender analysts and theorists across the globe have put through.
â€œMen are not just principal perpetrators of GBV. It is men who usually decide on the number and variety of sexual relationships, timing and frequency of sexual activity and use of contraceptives, sometimes through coercion or violence,â€ says David Odalli, executive member of Megen.
Martin Mazinga, a gender analyst, also concurs with Odalli.
â€œMenâ€”as community, political and religious leadersâ€”often control access to reproductive health information and services, finances and other resources.
â€œAs heads of State and government ministers, as leaders of religious and faith-based institutions, as judges, as head of armies and other agencies of force, or indeed as husbands and fathers, men wield enormous power over many aspects of womenâ€™s lives,â€ he says.
This assertion is validated by the 2011 Population Reference Bureau World Women and Girls 2011 Data Sheet, which reveals that household decision-makingâ€”making choices on health care, household purchases, and visits to relativesâ€”is not equally shared between men and women in many countries.
â€œIn Malawi and Senegal, nearly 70 percent of men make the decisions about their wivesâ€™ health care,â€ reads the Data Sheet in part.
â€œAdditionally, when women cannot decide when to visit their own family, they are subject to social isolation and their personal autonomy is reduced.â€
The challenge, Mazinga says, is that when men are singled out as perpetrators, they are sidelined as if they deliberately conspired against women.
Therefore, GBV fight, argues Mazinga, should be waged on society not necessarily from the prism of perpetrators and victims.
â€œEffective programmes should recognise that gender roles and relations are dependent on social context in which cultural, religious, economic, political and social circumstances are intertwined.
â€œThe good thing is that gender relations are not static, as such, they can be changed. What we need to do then is to encourage boys and young men to reflect on and discuss issues surrounding masculinity, relationships and sexuality. This can contribute to the deconstruction of negative, high-risk and sometimes harmful attitudes,â€ he says.
Interestingly, such discussions have already started in Kayembe Village. If the momentum is held and the concept spread wide, then perhaps in years to come, there will be fewer stories like the one told by Namasiku.