By Wanjala Wafula
I am a self-proclaimed African pro-feminist, dedicated to the path of holistic justice and equity for ALL. For the last twelve years, I have crisscrossed several corners of the globe taking with me the message of optimism to the millions of men and women reeling under the manacles of negative masculinities, harmful traditions and customs and being socialized into subservience. I continue to share what I see as best practices that could make the world a safe and equitable place for all. Yet, I am getting progressively irritated by the near hypocrisy that characterizes efforts toward gender justice. I am fed-up with the elitist messaging and practice that delineates the masses. I am appalled by the confusing jargon that goes with it
I have gotten used to the never ending routine of infinite workshops, conferences, seminars, round tables, policy briefings and media statements addressed to the transformed, semi-transformed and pretenders who are themselves the vilest adversaries of the course. The cut and paste in all this is so nauseating, just to be modest. It’s the same language with the same statistics being peddled around the world and I am left pondering what is really new and for whom. I agree that we need to contest the fundamental causes of disparities inherent in guidelines, laws, established instruments and coherence.
Nevertheless, there remains something very distressing around the sustained disconnection of the general public from the gender parity discourse. I have heard ordinary minds like me affirm that it’s possibly the language used that sends shivers down the spines of would be partners. Words like mainstreaming, empowerment and gender investigation do not weigh much to the ordinary person.
I submit that it is the way these terms and phrases, initially intended to be deep-seated in perplexing power ladders are used. Conceivably, meetings on gender parity are held in five-star hotels, too exclusive, sterile and restricted. I hear my community elders shouting that they too need to be part of the discussion because they are tired of being perpetrators and want to be partners. I hear boys in primary and secondary schools debating whether to become bad or good men who respect women and girls. I see slum dwellers demonstrating against sexual violence and wanting to help survivors of the same without stigmatizing them.
I see religious leaders preaching sermons that promote equity and not the usual Gospel of God being male and therefore. I see militants and gangs whispering to each other that sexual abuse will no longer be used as a weapon of war. I envision religious fundamentalist groups passing declarations that abducting girls from schools and homes will no longer be practiced. Allow me to insist that the “experts” who undertake work around gender have a treasure of gen but are incompetent in communicating in ways that interest the public.
I have seen and shared what works with communities for a longtime now and I am left wondering just how long I must keep repeating the same. I have worked with community leaders, men and boys in several communities in Kenya and this has led to the demise of harmful traditional practices like child marriage and beading. I have seen communities resort to safe sexual practices because we passed the message through song and dance as well as through edutainment. I have used catchy slogans and banners to pass messages that continue to be received very positively. I do not say of "gender empowerment", but “be a modern African Man”.
I have worked with media outlets and the results have been phenomenal. I am always driven by the desire to retain my “converts” contrary to countless gender programs whose participants vanish after the end of a project or is it seminar. Our work has helped break communal silence on the issue, enticed superior media responsiveness, and put additional pressure on the establishments to retort. I continue to be approached in the streets by people commending me for the good work and inspiring me to carry on. I don’t therefore care about what the doomsday prophets are busy bickering about in the background. I don’t mind their backstabbing.
I am fatigued by the reinvention of the wheel in gender programming. I am terrified by the deficiency of innovation and the inoperable replication that I see around. Who says that what works in one part of the world works in other parts of the world? Why is everyone preoccupied with the timeworn approaches around gender programming? If gender parity is the overall goal, why the segregation? What are these cartels for? Why the red tape in programming and funds disbursement. Why the bureaucracy?
There is an urgent need to think outside the box if we want to reconnect people with gender equality, which has for too long been regarded as a solely female province. If we don’t target men, boys and communities then we can keep attending workshops, conferences, seminars, round-tables, policy briefings and making media statements because ours will forever be a lost battle.