Men of principle in the fight for gender justice

Date: January 1, 1970
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“I openly admit it. My wife is more intelligent than I am,À says Bheki Maseko, with a sense of fulfillment on his face. “I know that not many men would proclaim this, but this ought to be the direction of the 21st century man. Her success is my success.À

To say that Maseko is an ordinary man would be an understatement. Aside from being a father and husband, he is the National Coordinator of African Fathers, a body that promotes responsible fatherhood in Swaziland. Not only that, Maseko is also in the National Governing Council of the Media Institute of Southern Africa’s (MISA) Swaziland chapter.
As if these two mantles were not heavy enough, he has time to chair the Swaziland Media Gender Watch, an organisation he co-founded, which is an affiliate of the Gender and Media Southern Africa (GEMSA) Network.
That male activism was once unheard of in advocacy and activism for gender equality, is history. Today, men too are champions of equal opportunities for both sexes. Although the annual 16 Days of Activism that takes place annually from 25 November to 10 December is still a few months away, as preparations swing into full gear, it is important to note that men too have a role to play when it comes to gender.
Maseko laughs at the irony that the Swazi once labeled gender equality as a women’s issue. “When we started out as Media Gender Watch, people felt that we were trying to force men into giving up their power to women. But now there are a lot of Swazi men who are supporting women’s views and putting those views into practice,” he says.
William Bird, Director of the Media Monitoring Project in South Africa agrees. “There is nothing wrong with a father taking care of the home while the wife is at work.” Bird also believes that societies need positive male models. “I am proud to be a man who does not use violence on people in defining my identity,” he adds.
According to Bird, his calling to activism came almost naturally, as it has a lot to do with his upbringing. “I had a strong-willed mother who was also an activist, and my dad used to do the cooking and washing at home,” he recalls. “My work has also focused on human rights.”
Many women agree that the growth of men’s participation in the gender and media movement, as well as in the larger fight for gender equality and gender justice, should be encouraged.
“…We can not define an activist by their gender. We need both men and women,” says Maria Edström, a media trainer from Sweden. She believes however, that men are comfortable listening to their peers on gender issues. “When men speak on gender, it brings more impact,” she says.   
Fellow Swedish media critic Maria Jacobson concurs. “Men are key strategic persons in gender activism, as they tend to be listened to the most. This is because it is extraordinary to have a man advocating for gender equality.”
Edström adds that although men are now also in the forefront of the fight for gender balance in many sectors, there is stillroom for more male participation. “We need men to participate and take responsibility. Manhood is not about beating up women.” 
Zimbabwean journalist Trevor Davies, who recently won the 2008 Gender and Media Ward for Photojournalism, is also the founding director of African Fathers. According to Davies, gender activism among men is about challenging all gender stereotypes, which ultimately benefits both women and men, and their families.
“There is a need for rapid re-orientation of society, and children and family services, towards a stronger expectation of the involvement of fathers in the lives of their children – through caring, providing financially and supporting their children’s learning, says Davies. “This will benefit the child, the mother, the family, and the father.”
Maseko says he is very satisfied with men’s participation in gender activism, because when “you empower a woman, you empower a nation.” While Bird still feels more men and boys should participate to dismiss the notion that some women are just trying to be “cheeky” by fighting for gender equality.
Tony Khoza is a writer from Malawi and Fonseca Upite is a writer from Namibia. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.    

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