Whenever the word gender comes up around men they either go into defense mode or launch an attack with such venom that you wonder what you are missing or if what you said was offensive. For example, you are seated with men and you suggest, as a matter of fact, that gender issues in this country need to be articulated urgently so as to protect future generations.
What most men will hear is matters of the female gender need to be articulated urgently and damn the boy child, then pandemonium follows. They forget that mothers are also parents of the male children and we cannot choose based on gender now can we? Ever seen the behavior of a porcupine when it senses attack? Yeah, that is what is similar to how most men behave whenever they hear of anything to do with gender.
Gender issues are fast becoming synonymous with man-hating and this has really affected how policies are crafted and by extension the way of living of many people and especially that of women. The fact that women have been the driving force behind the struggles and strategies behind gender equality issues has also fueled this misconception.
A case in point is the Kenya parliament which has repeatedly failed to actualize the two-thirds gender rule as enshrined in the Constitution in Article 27, which requires equal opportunities for men and women, and the Article 81(b) that requires at the minimum that Parliament be composed of at least one-thirds of the lesser represented gender.
According to the constitution, parliament was required to enact laws that guarantee that not more than two-thirds of MPs had the same gender. The Supreme Court ordered that the law is passed by August 27, 2015. Two years later nothing much has been done. There has been a little commitment from the Office of the Attorney General, the then Commission for Implementation of the Constitution or Parliament.
The latter’s session to debate the matter was mostly characterized by absenteeism by legislators from both the ruling party and the opposition. The common assumption was that it was a woman’s issue, to benefit women and that women would vote for it.
Last year, CREAW, CRAWN-Trust and the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights sued parliament and in his ruling, part of the judgment by Judge John Mativo said, “equality of rights under the law for all persons, male or female, is so basic to democracy and commitment to human rights.” I think that sums it all up right now we wait and see the next step as parliament Constitution ahead of the coming elections.
If there are better places set aside for breastfeeding babies then their wives will be more productive at work and that means comfortable living. There is, therefore, need for more engagement with our men where both genders can give their positions on various issues.
The International Programme Manager at Sonke Gender Justice in South Africa, Itumeleng Komanyane recently agreed with this position and said that interventions were necessary.
The layman on the streets is neither informed about this piece of legislation in contention nor do they advocate for it. Most men are against for it and are up in arms saying that it will favor women and threaten the position of the boy child. This is not limited to parliamentary legislation as we are increasingly seeing men averse to the issues that affect gender at home, workplaces and even in religious institutions. When women want more policies that address issues like domestic violence, job,
This is not limited to parliamentary legislation as we are increasingly seeing men averse to the issues that affect gender at home, workplaces and even in religious institutions. When women want more policies that address issues like domestic violence, job, a trade they are all stopped in their tracks.
Men need to understand the word gender and the issues surrounding it. They need to know that if proper policies are put in place, they may also benefit them. The positions being created will not be taken by aliens from Mars but by their wives, sisters, daughters and hence no harm was done. If there are better places set aside for breastfeeding babies then their wives will be more productive at work and that means comfortable living. There is, therefore, need for more engagement with our men where both genders can give their positions on various issues.
“We engage with male policymakers to improve their understanding of gender equality. The policies they pass are shaped by how they interpret gender. If they don’t understand gender, how can they pass anything progressive regarding women’s rights and empowerment? In Kenya, training male parliamentarians on gender issues has made them more willing to accept advocacy on women’s rights,” she said.
She added that they also ask them to participate in a common exercise where they are asked to write down everything they do in a 24-hour day—for example, from the time they wake up until they go to sleep, and then compare that to their wife’s routine.
“Once they do this exercise, it’s like a lightbulb goes off in their mind! They say, “I didn’t realize just how much more my wife does!” Then we bring out the policy brief and say this policy is what we are negotiating and why. Sometimes, you can’t get someone to change, but instead you can get them to start engaging because then they start to see things differently,” she said.
“We engage with men as champions of change along three main types of interventions. First, we work with men to understand how misogyny and patriarchy inform social norms, and what about their socialization makes violence an option. We do this to change these social norms and prevent violence against women,” she added.
If we are honest with ourselves, we will realize that this is still a patriarchal society and that men still call the shots in most places. Sometimes issues that affect women directly are placed directly under their mandate. We, therefore, need them to understand the issues, how they affect particular genders, and how a good policy framework can solve most of these issues.
A good example in this regard was also by Komanyane who said; “In our experience with men in Sierra Leone working to prevent Female Genital Mutilation one of the male participants stated with conviction, “FGM must be practiced.” A few days into the workshop, he said, “Before, I did not understand what FGM means and what it does to women’s bodies. I wouldn’t want that done to my daughter. I’m going to work to prevent this from now onwards.”
It should not be an us versus them situation but people working together for a common goal. In such an environment, men will also benefit because they also have their own gender-specific issues such as rigid cultural practices, lower life expectancy, bad health and low levels of education. Such issues will also be addressed without any gender feeling left out because, in the gender equality discourse, men are not well represented.