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Gender equality efforts can't work without men, experts urge

 Participants during FEMNET's three-day workshop. [Beryl Ringos, Standard]

Every so often, someone is grumbling about how women's and girl's empowerment initiatives are "too much" and how the issues of the boy child are getting neglected.

Well, the journey to gender equality is taking a turn - the world is realising that men and women come together to ensure there is equity in economic, social and political spheres.

Society is embracing the fact that men can be allies rather than enemies in achieving gender equality. 

A three-day workshop organized by The African Women's Development and Communications Network (FEMNET) saw participants from different parts of the country dissect the way forward for inclusive empowerment of men, women, boys and girls. 

According to Innocent Grant, the programme director of the Young and Alive Initiative from Tanzania noted that most of the movements that are aiming to achieve equality for men and boys have been left behind because the world has perceived them as the enemies of women's empowerment and perpetrators of violence. 

Historically, community and culture have been patriarchal by favouring men because, unlike men who go through the rites of passage, some communities don’t have that for women. That is why women and girls started a movement that could give them the power to influence certain decision-making in society. 

"When we talk about empowering women then it is important to bring men along so that they understand that things are changing and that we systematically move together to bring positive change within the power they have,’’ Grant says.  

"We are using the movement to tell men that power is not for propagating violence but to make the environment secure for boys and men, women and girls,’’ he adds.

"I am dreaming of an ideal world where girls and women have equal powers same as boys and men, when we all have equal powers, we can help each other in achieving a more sustainable and inclusive world where everyone will live safely and prosper in their ambitions and goals," Grant narrates.

He says society must keep emphasising the need to keep the gender equality movement active by raising everyone’s capacity and ability to make equal decisions for the world to be a better place. 

Faith Nashipae, co-chair of Male Engagement and Inclusion looks back at the role of women in society when mothers were still the providers in the family whereby they tilted the land, cultivated and got food from the farms, fetched firewood for cooking and water for the entire family a role that seemed subtle but equivalent to what we pay for in urban areas.

"Mothers were still protectors through nurturing and in instances where they could see danger and mention to the fathers for action so these are tasks that could not be seen being performed by women back then," Nashipae says.

"We need to understand that there are things that are purely biologically given to men and women and when it comes to socialization our social space has developed and it is a matter of us understanding what works for us," she says

She says when men and women come to a table, they can work together to make the space a better place for the children which is tantamount to a good environment. 

"I am concerned about what boys are taught during their rites of passage some are outdated and we don’t know what they are taught," Nashipae says.

"What narrative are they coming up with from these rites of passage which might bring the rise of teenage pregnancies and HIV infections? Our fathers or the men in the community taking the boys through the process needs to be up to date with what’s happening currently,’’ she says. 

According to Wells Munthali, chairman of the central region of the Men for Gender Equality Now from Malawi, reminisces on, growing up we were taught not to cry as a man, whenever we were faced with hardships society expected more from us and needed men to be in charge of things which could be overburdening to men at times.

The 45-year-old admits that things have evolved and men are human beings who must express themselves instead of exploding and causing gender-based violence.

"We understand why men have been labelled as perpetrators because they didn’t know what’s expected of them, men should act as human beings and not special beings," he says.

When it comes to household provisions, it is okay to strike a balance as long as it works for the parties involved and submission should not be the issue, when a woman is loved they submit and that’s okay without pushing them around,’’ Muthali. says.

"The main challenges facing men and boys is how they feel disempowered because women and girls are so empowered so they fear relationship with empowered women it creates fear and this can be worked on,’’  he says.

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