Masculinities and Human Rights in Africa

Speech delivered by Angelica Pino, Sonke's Director of Programmes, at The II MenEngage Africa Symposium held in Maputo.

Bom dia, good morning everyone.

Let me start by congratulating the colleagues from Hopem and the Universidade Edoardo Mondlane for taking up the big challenge of a symposium of this magnitude and importance. Secondly, thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to speak in this opening panel. It is indeed a privilege to be in this city and in this university.

Mozambique plays an iconic role in the history of the struggles for liberation against colonialism and for human rights in Africa. It was here that ideological and physical battles were fought. It was also here where, in 1973, President Samora Machel declared: “The Emancipation of women is not an act of charity, the result of a humanitarian or compassionate attitude. The liberation of women is a fundamental necessity for the revolution, a guarantee of its continuity and a precondition for its victory.”

President Machel also said: Devemos particularmente criar uma nova atitude na mulher, emancipá-la na sua consciência e comportamento, e ao mesmo tempo inculcar no homem um novo comportamento e mentalidade em relação à mulher.

Which losely translates as… We must create a new attitude among women; emancipate them in their conscience and in their behaviour, and at the same time, inculcate among men a new mentality and a new way to behave towards women.

And this last sentence fits squarely with the topic at hand… Why do we talk about masculinities? What do we mean when we talk about masculinities? We need to talk about masculinities in relation to gender relations and power or – as put by one of the most eminent theorist on the construction of masculinities studies – Professor Raewyn Connell: “Masculinities are not equivalent to men; they concern the position of men in a gender order.  They can be defined as the patterns of practice by which people (both men and women, though predominantly men) engage that position”.

And this is very important for all of us as feminists and/or gender activists, whatever identity suits better our commitment to gender equality. We cannot talk about masculinities for the sake of it, we need to use it as a category of analysis to help us in our radical political project of dismantling patriarchy and to promote women’s rights and gender justice.

As a feminist, I am interested in the potential for transformation of human beings, cultures and societies. And that includes the transformation of the patriarchal order and what is sometimes referred to as toxic ideas of masculinities, which are socially-constructed attitudes that describe men as violent, unemotional and sexually aggressive. Unfortunately, and against the wishes of President Machel 45 years ago, patriarchy is alive and well and its negative manifestations are still abundant in Africa and in the rest of the world… Rape as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo; sexual abuse of girls in schools in South Africa; intimate partner violence perpetrated by men in homes in Namibia; rape of underage girls by older men in Tanzania under the guise and protection of traditional leaders in so called child marriages; sexual violence in prisons perpetrated by men against fellow inmates; harassment of LGBTQI communities in Uganda and Malawi… The list is long and exhausting.

And we know it is happening all over the world. The recent disclosures of rape and sexual abuse perpetrated by moguls and actors in the movie industry in the US brought to fore the fact that predators are everywhere, even in the so called developed countries. Even worse, one of the key male political leaders of the developed world is the embodiment of macho behaviour as shown by his predatory sexual behaviour and tendency to beat war drums.

And what is the common factor behind the violence against women and LGBTQI communities? TOXIC IDEAS OF MANHOOD. A recent research among young men led by Promundo – a leading NGO member of the MenEngage Alliance – showed that what seems to drive young men’s harassment of women, more than income level, educational background, age, or any other factor surveyed, is how much they believe in, or have internalized, toxic ideas about masculinity.

Toxic ideas of masculinity – facilitated by social structures and enacted by individuals – is the leading cause of the violations of human rights of women and LGBTQI individuals in Africa. And going back in history again… It was Hillary Clinton who coined the sentence Women Rights are Human Rights in 1995, during the United Nations Fourth World Conference of Women in Beijing. This quote became a rallying cry for women’s rights activists across the world and – after Beijing – radical changes in laws and policies were made globally. But we all know this was not nearly enough to put an end to patriarchy.

We need to change not just laws and policies, but behaviour. Patriarchy is bad for women, bad for gender non-conformist individuals, and also bad for men, as attested by the high levels of interpersonal violence among men.

But not all is doom and gloom… We have indeed made advances and it is wonderful and comforting to see the presence of some many young people in this symposium. It was wonderful to hear last night the conclusions of the youth and LGBTQI forums and to know that a new generation of leaders is propping up. It is of course comforting to see that many men have come forward to become allies in the struggle against patriarchy… Not as leaders of the gender equality movement, but as supporters. And the little walk through memory lane was to show that we stand on the shoulders of giants… The engaging men and boys strategy is but one of the strategies needed to achieve gender equality and the realisation of human rights for all. Masculinities is just a piece in the always fluid jigsaw of gender relations. Men are not the owners of the strategy or the discourse on masculinities.

I challenge the participants in this symposium to learn the history of the women’s rights movement in the continent and build on it. I challenge you to think politically about masculinities and make the necessary links to the women’s rights and gender justice agenda in the continent.

Lastly, I challenge you to make of this symposium a critical thinking space where the African continent – as a leading voice from the South – comes up with concrete actions to fulfil the ideal of human rights for all.

A luta continua!