Jairos Maruwe used to beat up his wife so badly he once knocked her unconscious and broke her arm. It landed him in jail at least once, but it was the way he was raised.
“We grew up thinking that women are our tools and we can do whatever we want with them,” the 34-year-old farmer in northeastern Zimbabwe’s Marondera region told IRIN.
“We have this tendency to resort to violence and emotional abuse when we think they have wronged us,” he said.
That was then.
Now, Maruwe is the secretary of the local branch of a group set up to reduce domestic abuse in Zimbabwe, where one in three women, according to a 2013 study, experience physical violence by their spouse or partner during their lifetime.
“It is important for us as men to accept that we are the main culprits where GBV [gender-based violence] is concerned,” he told IRIN.
“The reality is that, in most of the cases, we are the ones that are wrong. My involvement in the GBV group has taught me that there are many ways of solving domestic disputes without having to resort to violence. I now preach the anti-violence gospel,” he said.
Maruwe is among hundreds of men in 26 rural districts (Zimbabwe has 59 districts in all, over 40 of which are in rural areas) to have taken part in an innovative project set up this year by local NGO Padare/Enkundleni, with funding and logistical support from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). The scheme encourages men to get involved in the fight against GBV.
It forms part of a four-year, US$96 million Integrated Support Programme (ISP) on Sexual and Reproductive Health and HIV prevention launched by the government last year in conjunction with UN agencies, international donors and local NGOs in an effort to reduce maternal mortality, cervical cancer, HIV and GBV.
ISP aims to provide services to 7 000 survivors of sexual assault and rape, in addition to reaching more than a million people with interventions to address some of the underlying issues that result in violence against women and girls.
Kelvin Hazangwi, director of Padare/Enkundleni, told IRIN rural communities have been largely by-passed by anti-GBV initiatives which have tended to focus on towns and cities.
He said they had so far trained about 50 men in each district on community engagement, gender and human rights issues and methods for working with men to combat GBV. Those men then transfer their skills and knowledge to village groups (each with up to 50 members).
The men in these groups meet to talk about local reports of domestic violence and how to deal with them, in part by engaging with known perpetrators about the negative effects of GBV.
“While there are numerous initiatives and tools to fight GBV, men, who are generally seen as the perpetrators, have largely been ignored as agents of change,” Hazangwi told IRIN.
The groups write “commitment charters” which promise, among other things, to speak out against GBV and use dialogue to stop violence, to end child marriages, and to create partnerships with relevant local institutions such as the police and health centres. The charters, which are written in local languages, are posted on billboards close to busy places such as rural business centres, while local male artists are hired to paint murals at local community halls and livestock dipping points.
Padare is also targeting two schools per district where groups of a 100 male students have been formed to educate their peers about GBV.
In Marondera, where anti-GBV men’s groups have been set up in several villages, the programme is already paying dividends, say activists.
Rugare Samuriwo (60), an elder in Maruwe’s village and a member of the men’s group, told IRIN that cases of domestic violence had dropped sharply since the programme began.
“The village is now more peaceful. Involving us [men] in fighting violence in the home works, because we have the power to change our own attitudes by talking to and counselling each other. Men are now generally ashamed to be violent because they have been made aware of the negative effects of doing so,” said Samuriwo.
Hazangwi said there are plans to evaluate the programme to establish its efficacy; to date there has not been any independent assessment of the project’s impact.
Samuriwo admitted they faced resistance from some male villagers who refused to be part of the group and still felt that beating up their spouses and subjecting them to abuse was a way of asserting their authority in the home.
Female victims of domestic violence, he added, generally still avoided reporting their cases to the police or health institutions.
According to the 2013 study (a baseline survey on GBV in Zimbabwe), only one in every 14 women who were physically abused reported it to the police and one in 13 sought medical attention.