Gender Links (Johannesburg)

Malawi: Mothers Must Raise Better Men

In Malawi, there is a saying that "chitsiru chili chonse chili ndi mwini." It means every fool belongs to somebody. Commonly used in the context of a wayward person who has eventually found an accepting spouse, this saying also applies to the family. It implies that no one in the village, in town or the city belongs to him or herself or that no matter how foolish, cruel or hopeless a person is, s/he has a family, is loved and accepted by somebody.

Every man had a mother at some point. The paedophile who is raping children ran to his mother for comfort and affirmation each time he got hurt or mocked by his peers. He also ran to his mother each time his father chastised him for doing something unacceptable.

The man who incessantly beats up his wife and has affairs with many women, once suckled on his mother's breast as she gently caressed his head full of hair and spoke of her big dreams for her child. The village chief who secretly despises educating the girl child because he believes a woman's place should be in the kitchen or the labour ward had a mother at some point.

A mother has the first stab at socialisation of men. She is the one who carries this child, births him, nurses him and teaches him the little things in life that will help him know wrong from right. She is his queen, the one person he adores and worships, if Sigmund Freud's Oedipus complex theory is anything to go by.

Therefore, a mother has the power to raise a loving, gentle man or frightful "beast" based on what she teaches him in the home and based on what she, as a woman tolerates from other men especially her husband.

A couple of years ago, I read an interview about a South African playwright who had a bun in the oven at the time. She said she would be excited to have a baby boy because she would raise him to become the kind of man who knows to treat women right and who does not depend on a spouse to mother him. She said she would teach him to cook and clean, say please and thank you, put the toilet seat up to avoid little accidents and of course respect women as equals.

Our culture puts men on a pedestal. Traditionally, men often preferred having sons who would carry the family name. Our grandmothers and mothers were so relieved when they popped the male specie out that they worshipped and spoiled their sons.

Grandmothers and mothers failed to teach these young men to be decent and loving. These men were probably taught that they could always have things their own way. Can this be the reason why we should not be surprised now when some of them resort to murder as a way of punishing their wives for being bold enough to walk away?

Violent behavior begins at childhood and it can be changed if young men are taught to treat women as equal partners.

I have a cousin who is the only child in his family. He learnt violent behavior from his father. Unfortunately, both his parents passed on. An aunt from his mother's side took him in. She taught him from day one that under no circumstances would violent outbursts be accepted in her home.

She further took an interest in him, taught him little things such as being sensitive to other's needs, speaking in a respectful manner and most of all not getting involved in fights especially with members of the opposite sex.

His aunt changed him for the better. He went to college and is now an accountant. His aunt achieved this. How much more can a mother do if she puts her mind to it?

As the curtain comes down on the Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, what kind of a man are you raising for your future daughter in law and your future grandchildren? Their happiness rests in your hands. Do the right thing and if it fails, at least you will have tried.

Lerato Manyozo is a freelance journalist based in Blantyre, Malawi. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service series for the Sixteen Days of Activism against Gender Violence.

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