THIS year’s edition of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign coincided with deep reflections about the men in my life to whom I have always mattered and to whom I will always matter because in a world where it is easy to love the wrong men, it helps to be loved by several good ones.
I thought this would be a fortuitous time to celebrate these men, the ones who don’t stand idly by while their sister is beaten senseless by a man she met along the way and whom she married thinking she would live happily ever after.
This year I am thinking of those heroic fathers, who follow their daughters (against the norm) to abusive matrimonial homes and yank them out of the clutches of abusive men who cannot appreciate their precious daughter.
I am remembering the love and devotion of my uncles and my brothers and my male relatives, friends and champions who have drawn closer to me in times of trouble, despair and distress — men in whose eyes I could see my personal anguish reflected.
These are the men I hope we will be celebrating this year even as we speak out against gender-based violence because it is good to remember that oftentimes one cannot hurt a woman without hurting the men who love and care about her.
If you’ve ever watched a father with his daughter, you will know that he is her champion, her defender, her staunchest supporter.
But when she marries, the father lets go and in Zimbabwe, the sad thing is that most fathers rarely come to your defence after you become a wife.
Even when they can see you’re in trouble and even when they know the man’s not treating you right — most of them will do nothing.
But there are a few, a rare breed of fathers who do not care how married you are or how long you’ve been Mrs so-and-so — they will come rushing when things go sour because you will always be their daughter.
These are the men that the 16 days should be about — the men who will not stand for violence against the women they love and who in turn will abhor it in their own intimate relationships.
Once upon a time, the safest girls were those who had many brothers or whose brothers had a reputation for being good fighters because those girls thrived under the fierce love and protection of their male siblings or relations.
Any boyfriend these girls had would tread carefully knowing that if they hurt her, they would have her brothers or male relations to deal with and the retaliation would be swift and visceral.
It was mostly impossible, in those good old days, to hurt a woman without hurting the men to whom she mattered; men like her brothers or her father or her uncles or her sons and other male relations.
That is why in a country where gender-based violence is as rampant as it is in Zimbabwe, one might ask what happened to the men who used to care so much that they were willing to stand up for the women who mattered in their lives?
Where did they all go?
And why do we need a campaign to run every year for 16 days to remind them that their own sisters and mothers and aunts and daughters and female cousins or friends need them to care about their pain, to act and to put an end to it?
Now we need laws to protect women because the men to whom they matter have chosen to preserve the status quo in which violence against a woman is normal because tomorrow, they too would like the opportunity to beat up their wives or girlfriends without repercussion.
There are several things that serve as a safety net for a woman when she is involved with a man or even gets married to him and in the absence of these things, no woman is safe from being abused.
The first safety net every woman has is her family. The extent to which your family is protective of you is the extent to which your partner will be deterred from wantonly harming you.
It is often said that people treat us the way we permit them to treat us and I think the same applies with families – people will treat your daughters and sisters the way in which you permit them to.
The second safety net a woman has is her family’s resources. Women who come from poor families are more dependent on their partners and husbands. They are less likely to get support from their family if that family relies on her husband’s money to survive and she is an easy target for abuse.
If she comes from a well off family or has a doting wealthy relative – chances are they will come to help her to rebuild her life anew if she opts out of the abusive relationship.
The third safety net is education (which really should be the first as well). Education empowers a woman, gives her the capacity to create wealth of her own, makes her less financially dependent and less susceptible to economic abuse.
Some women stay in abusive relationships because they have no other choice — they literally need that man and his money more than they need their next breath – which is sad.
Wherever you are, I’m certain that there’s a man somewhere to whom you matter – be it a brother, father, a son, an uncle or male cousin – there’s a man who flinches at the sight of the scars on your face or the bruises on your body.
I think every woman matters to some man. But that’s just me. And I could be wrong. We can always agree to disagree.
Delta Milayo Ndou is a journalist, writer, activist and blogger