One of the most important aspects in the ongoing global fight for gender equality is the need to include and encourage men to join. This is everyone’s fight, and it is a human issue, not just a women’s issue. We’ve seen UN Women acknowledge this in the creation of their He For She campaign. We’ve seen more independent initiatives like this one in Kenya which teaches young boys how to stand against violence toward women, in a culture where it is unfortunately very normalized in many ways.
Or this initiative in India, spearheaded by an international non-profit which aims to break the cycle of misogyny by teaching boys about the importance and benefits of gender equality. It is clear that if we are going to move toward a more equal world, everyone has to be involved.
A new campaign out of Zimbabwe was recently launched, and its focus is to encourage men to be role models in their community by showing them how to fight against child abuse and abuse toward women. The Highlife Foundation and the Shamwari yeMwanasikana child rights organization have teamed up for the ‘Men As Role Models’ campaign.
The rates of child sexual abuse, toward girls especially, are quite high across the country, according to UNICEF. Authorities report that more than 100 girls are abused every day, and at least one girl under the age of 16 is raped every two hours. A statistical agency reports a 30% increase of sexual abuse of female juveniles since 2013. Activists in Zimbabwe say the number could actually be a lot higher, as many cases go unreported.
With a campaign like ‘Men As Role Models’, the idea is to change the status quo in terms of gender culture, where girls’ bodies are looked at as property, as opposed to equal beings alongside men and boys.
Shamwari yeMwanasikana director Ekenia Chifamba told VOAZimbabwe.com that she wants men boys to be part of the solution, not the problem.
“We hope that by educating the boys and men to respect the rights of girls and women we will help reduce the escalating figures of girl rights abuse,” she said.
Nyasha Mhonda, an Upper Six student at Speciss College, expressed excitement at the launch event for the campaign.
“I think engaging men in all our activities is going to be a positive step towards a successful Zimbabwe. As girls we cannot do anything on our own without the help of men so they should come on board. This program seeks to engage men into the activities we do. We realized that we could not go further addressing these problems faced by a girl-child without involving men who are perpetrators of abuse,” she said.
Nyasha also said how surprised some of the organizers were that the men involved were ready to be advocates and learn about the issue from the perspective of women. For other students, the initiative comes as a source of relief.
“It is a great advantage to us because we used to get insults from rank marshal each time we passed through their territories. This program is there to protect us from such intolerable behavior as men have come on board. Men tend to humiliate us girls especially when we are in company of our mothers than our fathers,” said Tafadzwa Maponga, a student at Young Africa College.
She acknowledged that in order to truly elevate the status of girls in Zimbabwe and eliminate gender-based violence, there has to be a cultural revolution, not just changes in the law. The Higherlife Foundation utilizes education to foster leadership and create impact through their various initiatives, as their philosophy is to influence children at a young age in order to instill better values and mindsets.
“Harmful cultural practices that affect a girl child have been ongoing, but this time I think we will succeed in addressing such issues since men are now actively involved in protecting us. We have learned that through this program, men realized their mistakes and from what was being said during the discussions it became clear that they will correct their misconceptions about us,” continued Tafadzwa Maponga.
It’s not just the girls and women who are praising this campaign, but also the men involved.
“As a man living with disability, I am lobbying for the protection of girls with challenges since they are the most vulnerable when it comes to issues of abuse. They should be treated equally with those without disabilities and they must know that they not inferior,” said Junior Councillor Advocate Adrian Munyoro.
“As men we need to unite and stand with girls and be able to reduce chances of sexual abuse towards them,” he continued.
Joining the two main organizations in this campaign is the Canadian Embassy in Zimbabwe. Both Shamwari yeMwanasikana and Highlife Foundation welcomed the involvement, as it has a thriving program which helps fight child marriage.
Local initiatives that help combat inequality like this are super important in helping transform communities into spaces where both men and women can thrive alongside each other in cultures where this has previously not been the case. UN Women’s He For She global campaign can only be effective when men everywhere are engaged in the fight and recognize that gender equality also benefits them.
To find out more about the ‘Men As Role Models’ campaign, click here.