Lack of a clear strategy on male involvement in gender equality and women empowerment is a bedrock to the limited progress made in changing the situation of women and girls in Malawi.
Empirical evidence suggests that the prevailing challenges women face in the country are socially constructed. Early marriages, gender-based violence, limited decision-making, low education and limited economic empowerment, among others, stem from patriarchy.
Therefore, it is worrisome that the national gender machinery is yet to agree on clear strategies on how to interest men to support the country’s gender and women empowerment agenda. The current efforts are patchy, uncoordinated and potentially limited to achieve the desired outcome.
We should appreciate that men are not homogeneous; hence, the need for a clear strategy on how to engage the different arrays of the men’s constituency. This could be a strategy that is premised on the understanding that men are gendered, hence prioritises addressing a cascade of factors that influence their attitudes, perceptions and actions.
The starting point should be an assessment of men’s views and participation with a view towards understanding the diversity of their voices and responses.
It is observed that while some men are resistant to women empowerment, in recent years, many have demonstrated support to the women’s cause, especially in the areas of girls’ education, economic empowerment and gender-based violence. The male involvement advocacy can capitalise on the latter to act as change agents.
In addition, there is need to understand the varying socio-cultural fabric of the communities in which men operate. This can assist in identifying and expanding opportunities for dialogue and cooperation for change with little or no cultural backlash.
This understanding of the socio-cultural makeup can also contribute to the transformation of underlying practices and structures that perpetuate women’s subordination.
It is important to remember that, just like women, some men are also vulnerable and equally lack support.
As we intend to work with men to improve the situation of women, we should not overlook their needs and interests.
We risk facing resentment from the men or in extreme cases, creating more problems for the women such as gender based violence.
Already, there is a growing concern among some men who fail to understand the logic and relevance of affirmative action. Arguably, the strategy can target couples instead of wives only.
Another key step is the acknowledgement of men’s multiple roles and how to leverage such roles to achieve positive changes in women’s situation.
Men who are traditional or faith leaders, teachers, initiators, political leaders, judges and parliamentarians can play a critical role in this pursuit and should not be engaged as any other ordinary men.
Their reactions and responses to women empowerment efforts can make or break the initiative as they command enormous influence on their subjects. The same applies to adolescent boys. They require a tailor-made strategy.
It should be emphasised that excluding the boys in this transformative pursuit is blowing away the chances for a gender equitable future.
Caught between being architects and beneficiaries of patriarchy, it is a fallacy that men will support the women empowerment agenda without a clear engagement strategy that aims at transforming their attitudes and mindset on women while, at the same time, not feeling undermined and disrespected. n
The author is technical and advocacy coordinator (gender)for the Joint TB and HIV Global Fund Programme at ActionAid