The Sunday News
Professor Kudzai Biri
This article is meant to be thought provoking and it is directed to all men in Zimbabwe in their different categories and more important, male church leaders, as there is a need for urgent action to curb the violence that is engulfing our nation. Forms of violence that are perpetrated by people and not the devil!
“As a man, as a husband and as a father, I am appalled at what is no less than a war being waged against the women and the children of our country” (Cyril Ramaphosa 19 June 2020).
Cyril Ramaphosa laments the alarming increase of violence against women ranging from gender-based, sexual violence and murder in South Africa during the Covid 19 lockdown. The words of President Ramaphosa give me an entry point into my discussion on why I believe men are better positioned to help in the fight against gender-based and sexual violence.
Gender based and sexual violence is a real persistent war that women and girls in Zimbabwe have suffered without tough measures taken to discourage it. Ramaphosa draws attention to three important designations; man, husband and father. What does it entail to be a man, a husband and a father? All the three entail a specific way of life, a call to responsibility and accountability. The important question is; men, how do you feel if your mother, sister or wife is sexually abused? Related to that, how do men rate marital infidelity?
Sexual violence and marital infidelity have ripped apart relationships, marriage and families. We have a Shona proverb, “nhamo yeumwe hairambirwe sadza” (Another man’s problem is not your problem). But should this be a defining approach to gender-based and sexual violence if ever we are to save our communities and nation from continued moral degradation, if we are investing in our families and we reap violence?
Most male pastors that I have discussed with argue that they have been preaching about shunning adultery, and all forms of violence against women.
But I always respond; when and where? My response is always based on the fact that we have seen abundant literature written by men for women in churches, men starting women’s fellowships for women while men’s fellowships are dormant and not vibrant and influential and there are few books written by men for men in churches.
Male religious leaders seem to have mastered the art of speaking for women, claim to understand a woman’s ego, teach women on submission and how to be a good wife to the detriment of their male colleagues. We need crusades and workshops organised by men calling upon boys and men; ‘Huyai mose tinamate Mwari’ (come let us serve the Lord) and then have an opportunity to castigate and denounce sexual prowess, marital infidelity and sexual violence.
The Christian mandate is to deal with issues of health and well-being in order to be a relevant church. The church has inherited the cultural norm of normalising men’s unrestrained sexual prowess, infidelity; “Ndozvinoita varume” (it is the nature of men). It appears both men and women in our society have accepted and authenticate men’s sexual prowess.
But what example does this set to the boys? Where is the integrity? The long-term effect is how unrestrained sexual prowess is carried into marriage, which inevitably leads to breakdown of marriages in some instances. Sexual conquest seems to shape masculinities and the real mark of a man, however, a grave misnomer. Also, the men who do not care for children that they father outside their marriage, who is responsible for their upkeep? The church has not addressed this.
I appreciate the men of integrity who have shunned violence against women, stand to fight violence against women and practice restrain in their lives. Infidelity is causing marriage breakdown and the church is failing because divorce is in the church!
When women complain about infidelity, misdirected scriptures and solutions; ‘fight with your knees’, be a Proverbs 31 woman and be a joy to your husband, musha mukadzi (a woman stabilises marriage) (authenticating the man’s irresponsibility).
While prayer is crucial, the church must learn to take issues head on. The diplomacy of the church on matters of marital infidelity and being ‘soft’ on male unrestrained sexual prowess has destroyed the power of the church. A sober understanding is that a real man is not marked by sexual prowess. Mothers as first teachers have a role to play too.
Burdening the girl child and not training the boy child produce men who are reluctant to help in household chores. For the woman who want loving and caring husband, have you raised a loving and caring boy? Some boys are socialised to abdicate all responsibilities in the home.
It is the same women who complain that men do not want to help them. Who set the pace? It is a reminder for parents in the home to train up all the children the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6).
The shifting paradigms in our society somehow challenge the Shona indigenous traditional gender roles. Christianity further reinforced the oppression and burden on African women through the patriarchal Jewish culture. Colonialism also played its role in usurping the political and economic power that women enjoyed.
Therefore, the magnitude of exclusion, marginalisation and burden that African women experience should be addressed meaningfully. Both men and women should participate in the home because some of the traditional roles of men like hunting and fishing have long ceased because of colonial and post-colonial political and economic developments that govern land.
I do not prescribe gender roles for families because they are different in composition and orientation but the spirit of partnership and reciprocity sail above all challenges!
Why men are significant in the discourse of gender-based and sexual violence?
The role of man in curbing gender based and sexual violence cannot be questioned. Women are depicted as weaker.
I believe this refers to physical prowess and not mental. That is why most girls and women suffer violence because they are regarded as weaker or have internalised that they cannot contend with a man.
Also, women who attain leadership posts seem to forget the struggles of their fellow women. Several questions have been raised on why powerful women who ascend to the top subsequently become neutralised. While there might be several reasons to that, there is no doubt that the institutionalisation of patriarchy influences the women to deploy masculinised models of interaction and approach.
They therefore operate as ‘men’ who cannot identify with the basic needs of women. A good example comes from the outcry that Zimbabwean women have had for years-the need for subsidy and provision of sanitary ware for girls and in hospitals. This request is always rubbished by men. Hence many women at grassroots level feel betrayed by female leaders. Men understand each other better than what a woman can do.
I use the above example of sanitary ware to challenge and unsettle female leaders to re-think womanhood and mother hood and what it entails, especially when they occupy the top posts and they fail to deliver. Their silence on sexual violence is a cause of concern.
I posed the question; men, how do you feel when your sister, wife or mother is raped? It should give every man the zeal to denounce the perpetrators of sexual violence. Men understand better their own ego. No woman can claim to understand and speak for men. Women always question the rationality of men who rape.
The questions include; what did he envy on that small girl? What is attractive on that 80-year-old woman? There is a degree of madness, defies logic, are they possessed by evil spirits? However, the spiritualisation and demonisation of barbaric acts has grounded Zimbabwe, for things like corruption, infidelity and violence are blamed on the devil such that perpetrators escape justice of the law.
It has to be emphasised that dress-code should not be used as an excuse to sexually violate girls and women as this encourages rapists. The legal system is weak and fails to bring rapists to accountability through effecting harsh measures that deter other potential rapists.
The corridors of power in Zimbabwe are manned by men, I challenge the same men to be responsible and accountable to enable stability, peace and security that are the priorities at the moment. Facing this reality is the only way that most of our African governments will be able to rectify challenges in their respective countries and avoid the syndrome of inventing scapegoats.
Men should arise and speak out against sexual violence be it on women, girls or boys. Religious leaders should focus on addressing men on sexual violence. This falls within the agenda of re-building and transforming Zimbabwe. Abuse begins with verbal abuse. I have seen where girls or women’s breasts are fondled, bums and derogatory comments passed on bums and legs. These are forms of violence that feed into sexual violence. Some indigenous cultural practices are a form of violence against women. Chiramu must be shunned as it has led to sexual abuse in many cases.
The indigenous cultural practices that create avenues of exploitation, suppression and oppression should be challenged because in most cases women suffer. Their vulnerability has been reinforced by the indigenous cultures but reinforced and further propagated biblical interpretations that are patriarchal.
The traditional sacred practitioners such as tete (aunt) have been sidelined and no longer effective to play their role because of many factors that have been ushered by colonisation and its aftermath.
· The church must stop authenticating infidelity on the part of man but call for fidelity in marriage. If polygamy is part of Shona culture, adultery is not! And it has wrecked homes, in particular where women refuse to endure hardships. Unfortunately, the preachers demonise women who walk out of the marriage instead of dealing with the root cause of infidelity.
· There are men who have come out from broken homes and suffered domestic violence. Some women take advantage of the bias towards the girl child and women to blackmail innocent men and some men end up in prison for the atrocities they never committed. If we need to unite Zimbabwe, the focus should be on both boys and girls. We then foster the spirit of love, care, unity reciprocity and mutual respect. Balancing the condemnation of sin is important to society. Adultery is not in the nature of men, it is not a mistake, the devil does not commit adultery but people and the Bible calls it sin!
· We hear of Today’s Woman who endeavours to live up to the current socio-economic and social needs of the family, society and nation. Where is Today’s Man to complement Today’s Woman, hold hands with her on her struggles, in particular when she cannot win the ‘war’ against sexual violence on her own? I challenge men in Zimbabwe, in the spirit of what President Ramaphosa said of his nation, it’s a wakeup call to bring Zimbabwe to the centre stage and fight violent masculinities in men, not the devil!
Prof Kudzai Biri is a member of the Department of Religious Studies, Classics and Philosophy, University of Zimbabwe, currently at Bamberg University, Germany. She focuses on religion and gender and religion and politics