Seated in a packed town hall together with 200 promising African youthful leaders in Johannesburg courtesy of the Obama Foundation a few weeks ago; former US President Barack Obama rekindled this sentimental topic. He asked, “Men why are you are so violent on women? Why do you treat them as if they are second to us? Men, can’t you be a little bit gentle?”
The recent cases of GBV should worry us all. On August 1 a video of David Nzomo raining blows on his defenseless 32-year-old wife and mother of three, Winfred Mwende, went viral on social media. He has been sentenced to 12 years in prison. Last week in Eldoret slaughterhouse worker Nafatali Lusuli beat his pregnant wife Valerie Masibo for allegedly misusing Sh500.
These cases are painful reminders gender-based violence is widespread and the many campaigns against it have yielded little fruit. The struggle continues. The perpetrators are people we see, talk too, and interact with daily. They are family members.
The cases go to show that men are still privileged by virtue of being born male. That they are the bastions of patriarchy and gatekeepers of culture. They are quick to oppose any attempt to take that sense of entitlement away from them. Wife battering belonged to the past, or so we thought.
But it is crawling back. Men use tradition and Scripture to justify their heinous acts.
Thus, if we are to end GBV, men should be involved the same way we engage women in such discussions. Men should be made to own the campaign against GBV and anything else that oppresses women and strips them of their dignity.
It is common knowledge that to solve a problem you start with the root cause. In this case men. Men who do not appreciate the biological differences between the two genders. Men who do not sympathise with women during menstruation or appreciate the importance of pregnancy and breastfeeding. Men who think there's is the only way and their word is final. Men are an integral part in a just society.
Across the borders things are not any better, violence and injustice are prevalent. South Africa has one of the highest rates of violence against women. Last year alone, around 70,000 women were victims of sexual assault. A few weeks ago thousands of women marched across South Africa in protest against increasing cases of GBV. The demonstrations were organised by a campaign called ‘Total Shutdown’.
In Saudi Arabia, more than a dozen women's rights activists have been targeted since May. Most campaigned for the right for women to drive and an end to the kingdom's male guardianship system, which requires women to obtain the consent of a male relative when making major decisions. This has led to the arrest of two prominent women’s rights activists.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, indicated that the arrests of Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah signal that the Saudi authorities see any peaceful dissent, whether past or present, as a threat to their autocratic rule.
It is clear that in democratic and autocratic regimes women's issues continue to be relegated to the back-bunner. In the latter, gender equality is a right that is at the mercy of the ruling elites and women's demand for equality is regarded as an affront.
Women deserve better than they have been getting. We need to give them what rightfully belongs to them and in excess.
It is worth stressing that there is no greater freedom than economic freedom. If women such as Mwende and Masibo had good jobs, they would probably have left the abusive relationships long ago.
This is a wake-up call to the government to review programmes for economic empowerment under the Women’s Enterprise Fund to see how best these funds can be accessed by people like Mwende, who cannot write proposals. A just society is an ideal which is within our reach.
Executive director, Governance Pillar Organization
Email: [email protected]