During commemorations marking the International Women’s Day on Tuesday in Nkhata Bay, Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Patricia Kaliati took men head on, accusing them of dereliction of matrimonial duties due to their obsession with social networking platforms such as WhatsApp.
She helpfully, if naively, advises men to leave their phones aside and jump into bed with their wives.
I wish I could interrogate Kaliati about her sources of such shameful statistics on morality. Is it from personal experience? I hope not. Or did her office or some organisation conduct research on why women were miserable and their ingenious findings pointed to men’s obsession with WhatsApp? Too farfetched!
Or was it just one of those on-the-spur moments of mindless men-bashing just so to draw attention to herself and raise awareness about an event that lacked any pull?
Men, by my own reckoning, are no less obsessed than women with social networking platforms. I don’t have the stats, so I will not follow Kaliati to stake a position.
I say that not just because I am a man. It is because I work with women, live with women, socialise with women and nothing in the way I socialise with them—and with fellow men—suggests that I and the entire men-folk are more obsessed with WhatsApp. Some men have complained that their better-halves have burned food or let the taps run on because their eyes were fixed on one social networking application or the other. But have I ever concluded that women are more obsessed—and destructive—with WhatsApp? Nope, you will never hear me say that.
If indeed, by some luck, more men than women use WhatsApp, she only has to go back to her ministry to get data about the economic disparities between men and women. That, however, is neither here nor there.
That men and WhatsApp—and not substantive issues—made the news on a day of such import speaks to the cavalier attitude the government attaches to matters of women empowerment. That Kaliati can obsess with such trivia, when she should have been articulating real issues that broadly affect women—not a few women whose husbands have phones with internet functionality—is a sad indictment of the calibre of people driving policy.
I am still imagining that Kaliati was joking, after all she is not above board. There is an audio clip making the rounds on—again—WhatsApp in which Kaliati is encouraging women to use family planning methods if they are to keep their husbands and contribute towards population control. It has the type of bawdy humour you don’t play in honourable company.
Now, at the risk of earning her wrath, I will point out that being on WhatsApp may be good for controlling population growth—if the men don’t go to bed with their wives and stick to the social networking platform.
I hope this is not a pointer a punitive social networking or internet tax in the near future. And if at some point government enacts legislation barring or regulating the use of social media, the seeds of such a plan have already been sowed. President Peter Mutharika bashed university dons for their fixation with trivia on social media; now it seems the loquacious Kaliati has joined in on the act.