By Katy Migiro
NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When the elderly man, in his black-and-white striped prison uniform, confessed to raping his 18-month-old granddaughter to prove his manhood, Reverend Timothy Njoya knew he had made a breakthrough.
“He stood up and testified: ‘I wanted to show who has the penis, who is the boss’,” recalled Njoya, a retired Kenyan cleric who campaigns for gender equality.
“‘My son had a Mercedes, my daughter-in-law a BMW and I was still driving a Volkswagen. I had to prove that I still have what it takes to be a man,’” the prisoner said.
One after another, dozens of sexual offenders in Naivasha Maximum Security Prison, 90 km north of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, admitted that they had raped women and girls because they believed they were entitled to sex or felt frustrated about their lives.
“This was a phenomenal transformational experience,” said Njoya, who has held workshops to discuss masculinity with hundreds of thousands of men and boys across Kenya over the last decade.
SEX ON DEMAND
Njoya, 73, is widely respected as a fearless cleric who fought for an end to the dictatorship in Kenya in the 1980s and 1990s. He was defrocked by the Presbyterian Church of East Africa for preaching for the restoration of democracy and beaten unconscious by the police for demanding free and fair elections.
In his retirement, he has shifted his focus from national to women’s liberation.
“We need to cure the source of women’s problems and it is men; it is masculinity,” he said during an interview in his office, decorated with photographs of meetings with luminaries like former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
After 37 years of counseling parishioners whose marriages were in crisis, Njoya believes the root of the problem is that men are socialized to oppress women.
“So long as men prefer to eat before, and more than, their wives and children, and to have sex on demand and have more sex than women, then the relationship can only be maintained by violence, by the fist,” he said.
African cultures teach men that they must be providers, protectors and owners of property, which includes their wives and children. When men fail to achieve these goals, or women make gains that threaten them, they explode, Njoya said.
“Gender violence is mainly driven by boredom, stress and redundancy,” he said.
“If a woman is doing everything and you are doing nothing, it breeds guilt and violence, especially if food is late. Because you didn’t wake up to go and cook, you go and beat the woman for what you should have done.
Feminists cannot succeed in their struggle for equality, Njoya believes, unless they work with men to redefine masculinity.
Njoya set up Men for the Equality of Men and Women (MEW) in 1999 to challenge men’s perceptions of what it means to be a man.
“My aim is to transform,” he said. “You start with the boys and you cure them from those tendencies (towards domination).”
His inspiration comes from his mother, Wandia, who rebelled by running away from home on the day she was due to be circumcised in 1925, and later refused to allow her husband’s clan to pay a dowry, or bride price, for her in the form of goats, cattle, liquor and honey.
“What a revolutionary she was,” Njoya said. “She taught me how to be human. To be human, is to be sovereign, is to be free.”
Although Njoya was only nine years old when she died, she has been a guiding force in his life.
MEW is not as confrontational as Njoya’s mother. It sugar-coats its gender equality pill by appealing to men’s self-interest. Trainers tell men at workshops that they will live longer if they help out with domestic chores like cooking and childcare.
“We tell men to hold babies. Cuddle them and that will give you about 10 years more to live, that alone,” Njoya said.
“God did not make women mothers and wives. He made them human and the rest is their choice.”
(Reporting by Katy Migiro, Editing by Lisa Anderson)