15 June 2012

Africa: Men Must Create a 'New' Generation of Men


Harare, Zimbabwe — My daughter turned six years on 15 June and I'm over the moon. As I celebrate this landmark event in every proud dad's life, I shudder as I reflect on the society that my lovely daughter and other girls her age find themselves in.

Many women and girls have been denied opportunities because of their sex. They suffer emotional, physical and sexual violence at the hands of those who are supposed to give love them as husbands, fathers and brothers. Yet, the same women still bear the burden of HIV and AIDS and the maternal mortality rate for Zimbabwe stands at 624 deaths per 100000 (SADC Gender Protocol 2011 Barometer, Gender Links).

This got me thinking about Father's Day, which is celebrated annually, in a new way. I'm asking myself, why fathers should be celebrated when all these injustices, a lot of them perpetuated by men, still continue in our communities.

Zimbabwe, like many African states is patriarchal. As a man and a father, I find it totally embarrassing to be associated with a generation of men that refuses to treat women and girls with equal dignity. I have endured long arguments with verylearned and half literate men alike that share the similar notion that because one is a woman, they have to be subservient to the man. That because one is a woman, she has to do all the care work and household chores despite the fact that they are tired and are coming from work, whether formal or informal, just like their male counterparts.

That generation of men also refuses to accept that the role of women in society has evolved and many women bring more food to the table than men. Some men would rather spend their earnings on alcohol and not provide for their families. The same generation also believes that "real men" beat their wives once in a while in order to stamp their "authority".

A greater number of men has not been responsible enough and demonstrated that men canmake a difference to the quest for gender equality. There are worrying trends where men look and do not condemn violence against women and tolerate sexist jokes. As long as men don't speak out against these injustices, they will remain part of the problem of gender inequality. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, "if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of theoppressor."

This is the time for fathers to wake up and smell the coffee. Gender imbalances are now a thing of the past. A new generation of men should rise to the call and ensure that women and gilrls enjoy equal opportunities as men.

Some men still feel pressured to have large families they cannot sustain because they want a son in order to have a social standing. I say to hell with the social standing! Daughters are human too and deserve their place in life and history. Their stories should be celebrated, they should go to school just as boys go to school.

Just as we love our daughters, fathers must have the same love for their sons and teach them to grow into progressive men who embrace gender equality and do not perceive women as a threat.

Unless if fathers play their role in grooming a "new" generation of men who respect women, many women will remain marginalised in society. This Father's Day, I salute all the men who are making a difference in the lives of women and girls in Zimbabwe.

Let us continue to make efforts to end gender inequalities in society. Many fathers want happy families and we want security of our families to be guaranteed. This can only happen when we start dialogue with other men and boys to demystifynotions of "power" and "authority."

This Father's Day, men should remind each other and appreciate the fact that they stand to benefit from better relationships with their loved ones. A smile in the morning, communication in times of disagreement and agreement all make a difference. An equitable world is possible, it starts with men and boys who can redefine masculinity.

Leo Wamwanduka is a gender activist and director of Envision Zimbabwe Women's Trust. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, special series on Father's Day, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.

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