A case of Padare Men in Murereka taking action
Its 2014 in Zimbabwe, in what used to be one the best farming provinces of the country but now a mere shell of its old self. Murereka is a small high density area located in the farmlands of Makonde District. There used to be a lot farming activity in this area during the days when the white farmers were still in charge and the economy was still functioning efficiently but government’s chaotic land reform programme gave the land to indigenous black farmers who are now struggling to be productive in the farms leading to increased levels of unemployment and poverty in the area.
As you enter the Murereka community to your right will be gigantic and towering silos that belong to the government controlled Grain Marketing Board. The silos used to store the country’s strategic grain reserves but now they are depleted and the country is resorting to importing the deficit grain from neighbouring countries that include Malawi and Zambia. In the face of all this adversity the Murereka community is not shrinking but it is growing. Most households however, do not have a breadwinner who is formally employed as the majority of the people are now surviving without fixed incomes. Poverty, idleness and lack of information have significantly contributed to the community becoming a haven for gender based violence, especially violence against women and children. Physical violence, child marriages and child molestation are some of the common forms of abuse that used to go unreported.
Padare/Enkundleni/Men’s Forum on Gender (Padare) a local Non-Governmental Organisation that works with Men and Boys for a Gender just society selected to work with the men and boys in Murereka first in gender based violence prevention and secondly in the different ways that men and boys should respond to cases of Gender Based Violence in their community.
Working with the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development the organisation introduced itself to selected men and boys in the community as advocates for gender equality and nonviolence focusing more on child protection and the protection of women and girls against violence. The introduction shocked most of the men and boys in the community as the organisation’s objectives meant that men and boys had to give up some of their power, which in most cases was exercised through the use of violence.
As the organisation continued with its introductions, the question in the minds of most men and boys was what is in it for us? How can we possibly benefit from letting go some of the “natural” power we have as men and give it to women? Does doing that not dilute our manhood? What will other men say if I become part of this programme? What will my relatives say? Will they not think that I have been bewitched or I have been given a love portion? Are we not allowed as fathers to discipline our children using corporal punishment just like the way were raised as children? Are the human rights that the organisation is talking about un-African and part of the white neo liberal agenda? Most of the above questions would be answered in the community dialogues that the organisation carried out over a period of 18 months in 2014 and 2015.
In the very first dialogues that the organisation conducted with the Men in Murereka sentiments around GBV were largely to the view that the men as family heads are entitled to discipline both their wives and children in ways of their choosing. The mode of discipline for most of the men was the use of violence or corporal punishment.
During the dialogues the organisation constantly received queries from men who in spite of the call for nonviolent conflict resolution strategies kept on presenting different scenarios that they thought use of violence would be justified or at least morally acceptable. Some men even got to the extent of saying violence would even be expected and one would be held in lesser regard if they do not use violence in such cases. The questions included what do I do if I find my 14 year old daughter kissing a boy in the street? What do I do if I find my wife with another men in my own bed? What do I do if my wife refuse to have sex with me when it is obvious that I married her largely to provide me with “sexual services”? What do I do if my children continuously defy my instructions?
Padare had to disappoint the men by maintaining that violence should never be an option in conflict resolution.
The answers that the organisation gave led some men to question it and even some the laws that spoke to child protection. The men disowned the law of the land and accused the organisation of trying to interfere in the people’s family affairs. To the majority of men and boys, laws such as the constitution of Zimbabwe, the Children’s Act and the Domestic Violence Act were no longer Zimbabwean laws but they were now being referred to as Padare laws. They did not want to identify with laws that they claim alienate them from their culture and traditions. Calls for corporal punishment to be allowed were not only loud in Murereka, they were also there in the other 8 wards that the organisation was working in.
Gradually Padare had to engage the men and boys on alternatives to corporal punishment such as improved communication, time outs, withdrawal of privileges and even quite corners.
Constant exposure to the organisation’s messages and the dialogue platform that it provided increasingly challenged the men and boys in Murereka to recognise violence as a community problem. In the process child protection issues which previously were regarded as feminine issues were also brought to the agenda of men with child marriages and sexual abuse of young girls being identified as the community problems that needed immediate solutions.
Several dialogues aimed at increasing the capacity of men and boys to respond to child protection and GBV issues in their own community yielded coordinated communication action by men in Murereka. Firstly it was in the form of men meeting regularly, at least once a month discussing gender and gender based violence issues and secondly the meetings turned into actual community action as from June 2015 the men began carrying out community activities raising awareness against child marriages, economic neglect of children and sexual abuse in general. From June to September 2015 the men’s group in Murereka conducted at 3 community awareness activities on their own.
Councillor for Makonde rural ward 7 Mr Stancelous Musakura said that before Padare started working in the district there was no coordinated effort by men against gender based violence in the ward. He added that Padare’s involvement had resulted in a vibrant group of men in the area who regularly meet to discuss what they as men can do to promote peace and harmony within households. They men’s groups now at times invite women for joint dialogues to promote peace and child protection in the area. He continued saying that the programme has also improved relations with some of the key stakeholders in the referral pathway such as the police whom the majority of men previously regarded as an enemy. Relations with the Ministry of Women Affairs Gender and community Development are also said to have improved. The councillor also pledged to continue lobbying for child protection and non violent behaviour.
Mr Daniel Musoni who is an elderly member of the Murereka Chapter said that Padare brought an alternative way of relating to women and children compared to the one he grew up knowing. He urged the organisation to continue conducting the dialogues as they are helping the community to better protect women and children from GBV
Mr Musendami who is a leader in a Padare a men’s group in Chinhoyi said that he was encouraged and challenged by the work that the men in Murereka were doing to reduce the impact of gender based violence on women and children. He urged the men to continue with the good work.
Padare programme officer Mr Walter Vengesai said that he was excited about how the men in Murereka had risen to the occasion and become advocates against gender based violence. He applauded the leadership and the men in the area for allowing his organisation to challenge them to do the right thing in terms of child protection. He however, cautioned that the men in Murereka still needed support in order to advocate against GBV efficiently and effectively. He said, “Influencing behaviour and attitudes are long term goals so the men in Murereka still need handholding if they are to succeed in the long term.
It is clear that the Padare Murereka men’s group has already started making a positive contribution to child protection efforts in Ward 7. Their voices are beginning to heard, reminding would be perpetrators that they will not remain silent while their wives and daughters are being abused. The stage has also been set for the Padare men to exemplary as advocates against all forms of violence. The Murereka men’s groups will continue working for the benefit of their community because the men and rooted within the community and they have been capacitated to see the benefits that accrue to them if they continue the programme. As the ward counsellor said, “men now understand that the women and children that they need to protect are theirs and they don’t come from other areas”.