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You want gender equality? Engage the men

Wednesday December 29 2010

By GORDON OPIYO

I recently passed through a construction site and was impressed by the high number of women working in various sections.

I was told the developers in the multi-billion shilling project have a policy of ensuring women are given the same opportunities as men in the project, and an apprenticeship programme has been developed to pass on skills to women.

The project reminded me of an incident I witnessed several years ago in Mathare North, Nairobi. Five heavily-built men were dragging a screaming pot-bellied man from his house to their “security office” for a session of discipline, which I was told involved thorough caning.

The young men, members of a vigilante group, had come up with a policy to stop domestic violence that was rampant in that area.

Though the young men used the crisis of domestic violence to make extra money and used illegal means to do so, I am told the tactic worked wonders. Domestic violence in that area has stopped since no one wants heavily-built men to “request” them to visit the “security office”.

The two incidents have made me reflect on gender equality programmes in the country.

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Just days after the 16 days of activism against gender violence, all stakeholders should seriously reconsider the tactics used in fighting for the rights of women.

First, it appears that those in the forefront are women. The number of men involved in many of those activities is very small. Often, it even appears like it’s a war against men, not gender equality.

Second, many women at the grassroots appear to be detached from the main activities of the institutions fighting for gender equality. It still appears to be a white-collar matter with very little impact on women in the slums.

Third, all the instruments of power currently lie in the hands of men. Whether it is economic, political, social or physical power, men are in control.

As in the example of the housing project, it is a group of men with the financial muscle who said no to discrimination against women. They sat down and decided to end the unfair treatment of women in the country’s fastest growing sector.

Statistics from the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development show that the construction of both roads and housing is worth over Sh150 billion per year.

A good part goes to pay wages. Now if women are locked out of such a crucial sector, isn’t that the highest form of injustice?

The step taken by the men in the construction project shows that winning over men with financial muscles gives more mileage in the economic emancipation of women.

Already, many men are willing to make the world a better place for women. Many of those men are in top positions.

The key to success for institutions that have an interest in ensuring gender equality lies in identifying such men, and getting them involved.

The results shall be much better than creating an impression that women are engaged in an unending war with men.

Mr Opiyo is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi ([email protected])

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