Many women and girls have been denied opportunities because of their sex. They suffer emotional, physical and sexual violence at the hands of those who are supposed to give love to them as husbands, fathers and brothers. Those same women bear the burden of HIV and AIDS, while the maternal mortality rate for Zimbabwe stands at 624 deaths per 100,000 (SADC Gender Protocol 2011 Barometer, Gender Links).
This got me thinking about Father’s Day in a new way. I’m asking myself, why fathers should be celebrated when all these injustices, a lot of them perpetuated by men, still continue in our communities?
Zimbabwe, like many African states, is patriarchal. As a man and a father, I find it embarrassing to be associated with a generation of men that refuses to treat women and girls with dignity. I have endured long arguments with very learned and half-literate men alike, who share the notion that women have to be subservient to men.
That because one is a woman, she has to do all the care work and household chores despite the fact that she is tired and coming from work, whether formal or informal, just like her male counterparts.
That generation of men also refuses to accept that the role of women in society has evolved and many women bring more food to the table than men. Some men would rather spend their earnings on alcohol and not provide for their families. The same generation also believes that “real men” beat their wives once in a while in order to stamp their “authority”.
A greater number of men have not been responsible enough to demonstrate that men can make a difference in the quest for gender equality. There are worrying trends where men observe and do not condemn violence against women and tolerate sexist jokes. As long as men don’t speak out against these injustices, they will remain part of the problem of gender inequality. This is the time for fathers to wake up and smell the coffee.
Gender imbalances are now a thing of the past. A new generation of men should rise to the call and ensure that women and girls enjoy equal opportunities with us. Some men still feel pressured to have large families they cannot sustain because they want a son in order to have a social standing. I say to hell with the social standing! Daughters are human too and deserve their place in life and history. Their stories should be celebrated, they should go to school just as boys go to school.
Just as we love our daughters, fathers must have the same love for their sons and teach them to grow into progressive men who embrace gender equality and do not perceive women as a threat.
Unless fathers play their role in grooming a “new” generation of men who respect women, many women will remain marginalised in society.
Let us continue to make efforts to end gender inequalities in society. Many fathers want happy families and we want security of our families to be guaranteed. This can only happen when we start dialogue with other men and boys to demystify notions of “power” and “authority.”
We need to remind ourselves constantly and appreciate the fact that we stand to benefit from better relationships with our loved ones. A smile in the morning, communication in times of disagreement and agreement all make a difference. An equitable world is possible, it starts with men and boys who can redefine masculinity.
Leo Wamwanduka is a gender activist and Director of Envision Zimbabwe Women’s Trust. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.
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