Viewpoint: Celebrating Men’s Day?

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Last Thursday was International Women’s Day (IWD), a day to focus on the great strides women have made both socially, politically and economically.

Women’s health and rights worldwide have greatly advanced in the past century, yet lately, there are an increasing number of examples of that success slipping away.

On that particular day, the police banned a march to commemorate IWD organised by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). The theme for this year was “Empower Rural Women, End Hunger and Poverty”.

Anti-riot police were deployed in Bulawayo, some armed, and more troops were stationed near the ZCTU offices, where they searched commuter omnibuses and civilians.

As a result, the ZCTU women gathered at their offices instead of marching and clashing with police.

Elsewhere in Harare and other parts of the country commemorations progressed well.

As the world observed the IWD a call was made to ensure environmental programmes and initiatives take into account the special burdens and contributions of women throughout poor countries including Zimbabwe.

Global Environment Facility (GEF) chairperson Monique Barbut believes sustainable development and environmental protection efforts cannot succeed without attention to gender and without the active participation of women.

Issues of gender equality are an integral part of the work GEF does. Many environmental initiatives seek to redress the special burdens borne by women in less developed countries — the hours spent hewing wood and drawing water, the raising and harvesting of crops by hand.

Women, while sometimes the “victims” of environmental degradation, also serve as the “agents” for change and improvement in environmental and economic conditions, according to Barbut.

In the developing world, women are often the managers and caretakers of the local environment and natural resources such as water and fuel.

But as global women celebrated their day, some members of the men-only groups – Varume Svinurai/Vukani Madoda Men’s Forum in Zimbabwe and others elsewhere gathered.

Their agenda — apart from probably observing one minute’s silence for the recent IWD — was to discuss what they all have in common: being harassed by their empowered better halves.

What the IWD celebrations did in some quarters was to avail harassed husbands an opportunity to share their woes and find strength in each other’s comfort.

The men are reminded of their plight of being at the receiving end. Recent cases of abuse of men in the country indicate men are constantly being abused. But why do men remain quiet?

Cultural problems perhaps? Will there ever be a Men’s Day? Are the harassed men still a minority? Do men need some legal provisions or empowerment too ?

What is happening today is some kind of male hatred that beleaguers society. It corners men and thereby harms humanity.

Men too need their rights one can argue. Is there need for policies that are gender neutral?

I wonder!

A day hardly passes locally and abroad without a man being bashed by his wife, partner, fiancée or live-in girlfriend and in the worst case scenario hitchhikers are raped by some cheeky women plying Zimbabwe’s major highways.

Currently, there is a case before the courts in which three young ladies are facing charges of “raping” men along some of the country’s main highways.

And, discussing their problem, the men from all walks of life are in agreement with an Indian judge Justice Manjunath, whose recent observation was widely reported in the Press, that women’s empowerment has spoilt society.

Armed with the law, misguided and egoistic women have reportedly spoilt their families. The men have always ended up villains. Also, some educated urban women, empowered by the law, which is meant to protect the fairer (weaker) sex, are accused of misusing it to deadly ends.

A design engineer, Santosh Patil, says: “ . . . the dismal rate of only 6% to 7% convictions in these (harassment) cases itself are proof enough that the law is being used to harass men. What a man goes through . . . is hell. By the time he gets his relief, he has lost everything dear to him”.

Ironically, during the IWD commemorations, the All-India Mothers-in-law Forum staged a protest to highlight the suffering at the hands of their daughters-in-law. Almost everyone knows anyone who has been abused or beaten by his partner.

So was the good judge right when he said society is affected by gender activism?