Both Father Gilbert and Father John are passionate about the proverb that if you educate a woman you educate society, one of the first Tanzanian proverbs we learned. It has been the cultural touchpoint for much of women’s development in Tanzania, but I’ve had my concerns about it. While it might be a foundation for women’s education with the idea that they will then educate and thus change the next generation, by focusing on women, it unfairly places the burden on them, and seems to overlook the role of men.
I gave the example of our friend whose father made him and his siblings help their mum and the other women with the housework, but who did not help himself. What my friend learned from this is that children and women are the servants of the father, and that one day he could be that father and have his wife and children be his servants. My friend needed to see a different model of masculinity, not just to be taught by his mother how to do certain household tasks.
Father John and Father Gilbert believed that the antidote to this toxic situation is still women’s education. If they do not believe that they are equal, how will they be able to speak back and challenge their husbands? How will they be able to teach their sons that they should be a different kind of man? I was struck by the similarities to Ufoo’s burden in Biblia na Utajiri to tell people that life is not hopeless, and that with God, all things are possible.
These guys are men who are leading the way in their own lives as well. Father Gilbert told the story of washing the clothes of a visiting bishop, to which the bishop responded, “Where is your wife? She can do it!” Father Gilbert said she was resting, and he was able to do it. This isn’t just a guy who cooks and washes a bit while his wife is a way; this is a guy who makes space for his wife to have downtime. Later that night I got to hear from Father John about the strategies and approaches he takes in his parish in regards to domestic violence.
This discussion reminded me of some cartoons I’d seen in the Tanzanian Women’s Media Association’s campaign against gender violence. Father John and Father Gilbert loved them.
I had assumed that this campaign was aimed at men. After all, in my culture, we all agree that women getting hit or raped or abused is wrong, but our failure is that we don’t raise men not to hit or rape or abuse. But after talking to Father John and Father Gilbert I see how these are also aimed at women, educating them about what gender violence is, and what they don’t have to put up with, that there is a better way.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.