Men in the Movement: The Journey of a Pro-Feminist Man
Wanjala Wafula, Guest Contributor
Twelve years ago, I made the unprecedented decision to quit journalism and start a journey into the what was then unfamiliar territory. I had written too many news stories about gender-based violence, sent out too many appeals, and helped too many victims seek redress to no avail. The screams that had punctuated my childhood became too loud, and my conscience was too beset to remain still. Memories of the torture I had witnessed, including that of my own mother and sister, had overtaken my desire to become an author of international repute. So, I left that path behind to work toward a different vision.
At the time I founded the Coexist Initiative, it appeared strange, if not downright bizarre, to imagine that men might play a key role in ending violence against women. If it were an illness, we could easily call it a pandemic. If it were an oil leak, we’d identify it as an environmental catastrophe. Yet, despite gender-based violence being an everyday affair that manifests in numerous forms and cuts across all social, educational, economic, racial, and geographic demographics, it is treated with a casual callousness. It is a slow murder that is swiftly swept under the carpet.
What started out ten years ago as a “fanatical” idea has now spread to all corners of the country and established links across the world. Over ten thousand men and boys are members of Coexist, a testimony that men want to be part of the solution. I have seen men who were erroneously socialized to ill‐treat women wail in regret. I have seen them put up posters condemning violence and sacrifice heavily to send their daughters to school. I have counseled them at family planning clinics as they take an HIV test and responded to their calls to represent the issue in the media.
Tackling men’s violence is not easy. We have been labeled 'sissies' by men and called 'cowards' by some women. The funding for our programs has been minimal, and we have undergone public scorn and ridicule. Yet, the result of our work is that we better the lives of women, girls, men, and boys. Tackling gender-based violence requires nothing less than full dedication to parity for women and the redefinition of what it means to be a man.
As a pro‐feminist man and anti-violence advocate, I plead with all men and boys to undertake a commitment not to disregard or remain quiet about aggression against women. With power and love, we are all obliged to work alongside women to bring this violence to an end.
Wanjala Wafula is the Founder and Director of the Coexist Initiative, a grassroots organization focusing on the elimination of gender-based violence in Kenya.