Do we need a men's empowerment campaign in Tanzania?

The Tanzania Human Rights Report 2023 indicates that cases of violence against men have been increasing, rising from four percent in 2022 to 10 percent in 2023

What you need to know:

  • In this analytical piece, psychologists, sociologists, clerics, and human rights activists demonstrate the importance of campaigns advocating for men’s emotional health in facilitating their journey towards self-actualization

In the discourse surrounding gender equality, the focus has predominantly been on women's rights, addressing issues such as domestic violence, economic disparity, and educational access.

While these efforts are crucial and have led to significant progress, there is a growing conversation about whether there is also a need for a men's empowerment campaign in Tanzania.

This discussion is fueled by the reality that men, too, face gender-based violence and societal pressures that are often overlooked.

Men have also been put in a cultural box, expected to be stoic, resilient, and self-reliant.

In most cases, men are expected to endure hardships without complaining, reinforcing harmful stereotypes about masculinity.

From a young age, boys are taught to suppress their emotions, leading to mental health disorders and hindering their ability to seek help when needed.

The executive director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), Dr Anna Henga, explains why quick intervention measures are required to rescue men.

Making reference to the Tanzania Human Rights Report 2023 (THRR-2023), published by LHRC, she says reported cases of violence against men have been rising.

She revealed that the THRR-2023 indicates that violence against men rose from four percent in 2022 to 10 percent in 2023.

"Gender roles in Tanzanian society have traditionally been rigid, but they are slowly evolving. However, many men still feel the pressure to conform to outdated notions of masculinity," she says.

This pressure can prevent them from accessing needed help and contribute to feelings of isolation.

Former National Assembly Speaker, Job Ndugai, is of the view that successful women's empowerment campaigns, such as those underscored by Beijing's World Conference in 1995, have ironically revealed significant gaps in the treatment of boys.

“Speaking from the community perspective (not the government's), we have abandoned the boy child. They have turned out to be street beggars, victims of illicit drugs, and in prison," he remarks.

"When comparing girls and boys, even during school visits and interactions with students, the girls tend to come forward while the boys remain at the back," he adds.

Giving an example, Mr Ndugai notes that church choirs with 40 members often have only two to three boys, and girls are leading in national examination results and self-esteem.

Nowadays, girls are more engaged in income-generating activities after leaving school, while boys stay at home with their mothers.

"Unfortunately, we don’t see that because it involves a male child. We hope that it will sort itself out. Who do we expect those boys to marry?" he questions, linking it to a decreasing number of weddings in villages.

Mr Ndugai, who doubles as the Member of Parliament for Kongwa, recommends that efforts to liberate the girl child should continue, but not at the expense of the male child.

Advocacy efforts should be comprehensive, including the boy child, rather than allowing them to grow up without proper guidance, he further clarifies.

A psychologist from Saint Augustine University of Tanzania, Fr Leons Maziku, explains that men's empowerment should involve recognising that men can also be victims of abuse.

He added that it should also encompass understanding the societal expectations that harm their mental and physical health.

"By doing so, we can not only assist men but also build stronger and more resilient families and communities," he notes.

A sociologist from Saint Augustine University of Tanzania (SAUT), Ms Zabibu Idrisa, explains that the Tanzanian culture has subjected men to psychological and emotional distress.

"They are providers and protectors. This discourages them from seeking help even when they go through personal difficulties, which could lead to chronic mental health disorders and sometimes suicide," she notes.

She notes that it is essential to provide men with support systems to foster a healthier society.

Another SAUT sociologist, Mr Alfani Mduge, says campaigns to promote men's mental health and challenge harmful gender norms are crucial for social cohesion and overall community well-being.

A sociologist from the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), Ms Faudhia Mfaume, says the push for men's empowerment is fundamentally about human rights.

"Everyone, regardless of gender, has the right to live without fear of violence and access the needed support. Addressing men's concerns through dedicated campaigns and the enactment of policies will reaffirm the dignity and rights of all individuals," she says.

A clinical psychologist from Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH), Dr Saldin Kimangale, says men are often discouraged from showing vulnerability, which can lead to suppressed emotions, increased stress, and severe mental health disorders.

"A men's empowerment campaign is essential to challenging these harmful stereotypes and encouraging men to seek help without fear of judgement," he says.

Another clinical psychologist from MNH, Dr Isaac Lema, also says socialisation has taught men to suppress their emotions from a young age.

"Early conditioning has long-term negative effects on their mental health and relationships. By promoting men's empowerment and addressing these issues from childhood, we can foster healthier emotional development and create a more supportive environment for boys and men alike," he says.

A Dar es Salaam-based cleric, Sheikh Shafii Shomari, notes that scriptures teach that vulnerability is not limited to girls and women.

"Boys and men too can face challenges. But they suffer in silence due to cultural expectations. We religious leaders are supposed to promote compassion and understanding for all, regardless of gender," he notes.

He explained that men should be made to understand that speaking out or seeking help is essential for the well-being of the entire community.

It is unjust to overlook the suffering of any member of society, including men, who opt to quietly endure hardships, believing they must be strong and silent.

A cleric from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT), Richard Hananja, explains that both men and women were equally created by God.

"It is time that the Church’s advocacy efforts for women’s rights are extended to their male counterparts. The purpose shouldn’t be diminishing the progress made in advocacy for women’s rights but equally supporting the two," he suggests.