The Malawian non-government organization (NGO), Men for Gender Equality Now, is challenging the male stereotype by working to end violence against women. They are focusing on men as the agents of change.
Men in Malawi have been considered part of the problem of violence against women because of cultural attitudes that assume male superiority. The NGO's national chairperson Marcel Chisi said their recent studies indicate that 85 percent of gender based violence in Malawi is done by men towards women and girls.
“When we look at the statistics, men are mentioned many times as being perpetrators of violence and not necessarily part of the solution," Chisi said. "And it’s high time we don’t just point at men as a problem because there are many men of good will who don’t abuse women and therefore [we thought that ] ‘why don’t we take advantage of some of men who are good ambassadors and work with them to transform their fellow men."
Chisi said one of his group’s core activities is what is known as ‘husband’s school’ where young and old men are taught how to become responsible fathers and how they can take care of a family.
“It is drawn from women’s groupings like in bridal showers, kitchen top-ups and wardrobe top-ups where they share family practices. But yet when a young man is going into marriage, he is not told anything," explained Chisi. "What it means is that many young men have gone into marriages without necessarily knowing what to do in there.”
Chisi said his group boasts a membership of about 50,000 men across the country. They also work to address a number of other issues which were previously regarded as the female domain like the role of men in HIV prevention, child rearing and men’s responsibilities in the reproductive rights of women.
“On this we are saying: what is the role of men in deciding how many children a women would have in a family? Because normally some women have no say in their families and if men are not [at] a level of empowerment where they can negotiate at how many children they have, then we will have a man who will be bringing in so many children even they know they can’t take care of them,” Chisi noted.
The problem of gender violence here is well documented. In 2006, Marietta Samuel, 33, a mother of three children in the central district of Dowa, had her arms cut off by her former husband, Herbert Samuel, in an attack fueled by jealousy. Her husband was sentenced to a 15 years in jail.
Recently a local newspaper reported that police in the central district of Kasungu arrested a man for slicing his wife’s private parts for refusing to have sex with him in the afternoon.
Despite legal action, the problems persist and that is why Chisi’s group thinks a new approach is needed to prevent the problem rather than just punish it.
Women’s groups, like Maxwell Kaliati’s Centre for Alternatives for Victimized Women, applaud Men for Gender Equality Now. “For us we have seen that this is a very important section because sometimes when you use women’s groups people think that we are being [biased]," Kaliati stated. "But when they [men] are seeing fellows doing the activities, they feel encouraged and think that this is a real case for us to change our behavior.”
And some women say it is making a real difference in their lives. Rhoda Mankhwala, a resident of Mbayani Township in Blantyre, said her husband is a different man since he attended one of the meetings organized by the NGO.
“My husband is now a changed person unlike in the past when he used to beat me up for no valid reasons," Mankhwala explained. "He would beat me up for coming late from the market even in the presence of my friends. But when he attended one of the meetings organized by the grouping there is indeed a change”.
Besides Malawi, a similar initiative is being implemented in other African countries including Uganda, Tanzania, and Zambia.