Men Engage Alliance Malawi is part of a global movement working to promote gender justice across the world. The Malawian chapter of this movement held a two-day annual general meeting (AGM) at Mponela, Dowa, starting from Wednesday. Part of the AGM was to orient men on how to fully be engaged in this campaign to promote gender justice. In this interview SUZGO CHITETE spoke to the organisation’s chairperson MARCEL CHISI, who also chairs another grouping with same objectives, Men for Gender Equality Now (Megen).
Q. Why do you think men should lead the way in promoting gender justice in Malawi?
A. We are working with men because in many problems that are there, including gender-based violence, HIV and Aids, teenage pregnancy, maternal deaths and early marriages, just to mention some, men are involved. It is largely men who cause these problems. Whether people want to deny this fact or not, but for sure some men are causers of these problems. We are not going to address these problems by only focusing on women. We have to reach out to boys and men to understand their own responsibility and, if they understand this responsibility, it means we will make girls and women safer. We are also working with men because we know they are in positions of influence. Most religious and traditional leaders are men. Most parliamentarians are men, and you can add to the list. Most leaders are men and not that this is what we want to see, but we think these leaders have to be engaged so that they use their influence to promote gender justice, including having more women in leadership positions.
Q. If you are promoting gender justice, why do you seem to have your focus tilted more towards women?
A. Well, we are promoting gender justice and in the context of Malawi, we know that a girl child or women in general are not safe. They are vulnerable to all sorts of abuse; hence our deliberate focus to engaging men to help create an enabling environment where women can equally thrive. Gender justice, in our case means ending gender-based violence, teen pregnancies, and early marriages. It also means having men in power creating a conducive environment where women can equally participate in all development efforts, including participating in elections without fear of anything. Gender justice means having equal employment opportunities between both men and women and, indeed, men are crucial in all these.
Q You also chair Megen, which has been in existence for over a decade but we still continue to hear so many cases of gender-based violence and, indeed, women, in most cases, remain in the peripheral. Isn’t this a futile attempt?
A. In fact, in our case we are always excited to see those reports in the media about gender-based violence. For others, such an increase in reported cases means an increase in the cases themselves but in our case we think that is the positive impact of our work. Society is now more empowered to report gender-based violence. In the past, when a man raped a woman fellow men would protect the man and such issues would be buried. But, today, even a religious leader or a chief who is involved in such malpractice is reported to the authority. This is the positive side of our activism. This is why we are working with all men from across the society. We have ordinary people, people from the judiciary and other law enforcing agencies as well as community leaders. The aim is to create a community of men which works to promote gender justice at all levels. So, this is not a failed attempt.
Q. What about boys, are they equally targeted?
A. In fact, as Men Engage Alliance we have a youth wing where boys and girls are fully engaged. In fact, we realised that no one has been designing problems that reach out to boys in particular and we are doing that. Otherwise, this is a reason boys are still growing up with the same notion of toxic and negative masculinity. If we target boys, we will surely deal with this hegemonic masculinity and have a generation that is responsible. In so doing we will prevent early marriages, teen pregnancies, gender-based violence in all its forms.
Q. It looks like you are a grouping of men, isn’t this systemic discrimination against women?
A. Well, we are a gender–balanced grouping. In fact, the membership of the grouping, including Megen, has almost equal number of men and women. We are simply using the name ‘men’ because that is our target. In Men Engage Alliance, we have a global code of conduct which guides how we work and one of the issues is that you cannot work without the involvement of women. This is why during our annual general meeting in Mponela this week you could have seen that we had 100 participants and women formed half, both in the youth section and the main forum. That is how we work; hence the name should not confuse anyone.
Q. Finally, who is supporting this movement? A. We have the Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre (MHRRC) as a coordinating institution for Men Engage Alliance Malawi. We are thankful to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which supported our AGM and other activities through the Sonke Gender Justice. With such partnership, we have been able to make strides.