Home » Human Rights » Men Vital in the Women Empowerment Matrix

As a little girl, growing up in Chiweshe was an enriching experience which I relive now and then when life gets very demanding and I really need an inspirational story to keep me going.

I grew up in the mid 1980s, a period when different donors were trampling on each other in rural areas with a myriad empowerment programmes meant to capacitate rural women, who had just come out of the liberation struggle and needed to be equipped with knowledge.

Although the organisations that were carrying out different programmes were just too many to recall by name, one of them was Jekesa PfungwaVuli Nqondo, which taught my mother — now in her 70s — and other women in the village tie-and- dye, cake-making and permaculture.

Jekesa Pfungwa also introduced them to savings clubs, which have evolved over the years and are known in some circles as “round tables”, or “mukando”.

The capacity-building training workshops, usually held at my mother’s homestead for a good one week, were a marvel and something villagers looked forward to every six months.

Far from being training workshops, women in the village considered them as mini-tea parties where they would tuck in delicacies brought by the donors, meant to incentivise workshop participants.

Sadly, men were not allowed to partake in these workshops, which were structured for female participants and modelled along socially ascribed female roles such as knitting, gardening and other activities of similar nature.

At the end of the courses, participants who would have excelled were often rewarded with the certificates and several other trinkets.

They would have to wait for the next six months for the donors to return, a date which they clearly marked on their calendars, and patiently waited for it to arrive.

Three decades down the line, the lives most women in the village if not all, have not changed, save for the fact that they share the narratives with their grandparents.

They still reminisce about the “good times” they had, the abundant knowledge they acquired and plans they had for the future, had they been assisted in getting money, resources, and the markets for their goods.

After all, the majority still bake good cakes using the conventional Tsotso stove they still practise tie and dye on small and insignificant pieces of material and seem to have found joy in saving clubs, although the money amounts to nothing.

I am trying to lift the narrative that being a poor woman does not mean lack of knowledge and being a woman does not always mean vulnerability and lack of innovation.

They could have done well, and started small businesses, but their undoing was their failure to get buy-ins from their husbands, uncles and other members of the communities who had the resources.

Because they had no resources and no other means to access capital to kick-start their businesses, they could not put to good use all the knowledge harnessed during the training programmes. And from that time of the Jekesa Pfungwa era, many organisations have been training the very same people, who now boast a wealth of knowledge, which has no relevance to their lives.

They continue going there because they assume that rural women always need life skills training. Ironically, they do not just need training, but they also need financial capacity, access to markets for their goods and ideas.

The capacity-building programmes should be implemented holistically by also including men, who should be part of programmers’ consideration when they are structuring their empowerment programmes for women.

Deciding to involve men in their work does not mean that organisations must turn their attention away from the specific needs and realities of women who, in many societies around the world, continue to face discrimination, injustice and marginalisation at greater levels than their male counterparts.

Organisations’ decision to involve men acknowledges that building a gender-equitable world requires social transformation and social transformation requires all members of society — both men and women — to work hard toward that goal.

Men can be engaged through different platforms to support and promote women’s rights, their aspirations and assist them in realising their dreams in order to establish a gender-equitable society.

Most immediately, their involvement cannot be overlooked because they control the resources required to implement women’s claim to justice.

By their role in society, they also play a crucial role as gatekeepers of the current gender order through their responsibilities as decision-makers and leaders within the family set-up and communities.

Of course, women have genuine fears that sometimes men take over and erode women-oriented projects, but measures can be put in place to ensure that they play a supportive role rather than be directly involved in the implementation of the project.

Source : The Herald