13. Sep 08 - 20. Sep 08

In Partnership For Gender Justice: Towards Transformative Masculinities

Blantyre, Malawi


Created in the image of God: From machismo to partnership: perspectives from the Caribbean, Africa and Asia

WCC/WARC Consultation

 13-20 September 2008.

 Grace Bandawe Centre, Blantyre, Malawi.



In my doctor's office is an interesting plaque which reads, "Women's' faults are many. Men have only two: everything they do and everything they say."!

Some may remember a Dolly Parton song: "My mistakes are no worse than yours just because I am a woman"


These two quotations suggest what the situation is at present. There is a battle raging: men against women. The solution for a long time has been to talk to women and empower them for the struggle. There is no doubt that when bringing groups from the margins it is necessary to have them apart for empowerment without the dominant lot. However, the dominant lot always reads that as ganging up against them and in reaction, either sneer at the programme or out rightly work against it. This is what has happened with gender work. It has been construed as women trying to work against men and emasculating them. The camps dig their trenches and the battle lines are drawn. Mutuality, interdependence and partnership envisaged by advocates for gender equality and justice are missed. Men feel threatened and see the world rising up against them.  Their masculinity is at stake and their defences go up.


When it comes to gender issues, the main challenge for Christian men remains to be the epistemological search for what it means to be imago Dei. How do men conceive themselves as God's image within their historical contexts especially of enslavement, colonialism and still existing racism? In the global south, the changing realities of urbanisation with more women taking up roles that ‘traditionally conceived as exclusively male (as bread winners) and the rise in men's unemployment pause another level of challenges to the understanding of masculinity. Most men feel that they are no longer relevant. All these contextual differences and challenges need to be worked on before partnership can be actualised.  Partnership is impossible unless both men and women realise what it is that God has called them to being.


Without peace there will be no justice and without both there will be no partnership. This may require isolating the males for some socialization into gender issues and also an affirmation of their masculinity and engendering a proper perspective on the same. This may sound like empowering the already powerful but if done well may help males face the truth about the hegememonic masculinity they live and use. Hopefully in that exercise will lead to a discovery of the masculine is one that is not defined by its difference (if not superiority) to the feminine. Patriarchy needs debunking but cannot be debunked in a heated battle. It needs a safe place were the truth can be confronted without losing face. One is reminded of the anti racism workshops in the United Kingdom in the 1980s. Self esteem and self worth have to be understood to be intrinsic to our humanity and not based on subjugation and hegemony. Ontological reality needs not be a cause for fear, superiority or domination or vice versa. Once there is confidence in masculinity there will be a likelihood of the complementarity of the sexes, sex roles and thus gender partnership. Gender is not a neutering of the sexes or a creation of an androgynous society. Sex difference was intended by God to be complementary. However it has to be acknowledged that there is a serious differential set by our patriarchal society and hegemonic masculinity. The internalisation of this by both sexes is part of the problem. A conscientization, reorientation and socialization are required. There needs to be a transformation of the self understanding of the males leading to an appreciation of their masculinity by both sexes regardless of what gender role they take up in society.


Some people believe that the masculine has to be defined by what is not and by a caricature of the female. (Something like: the masculine cannot be defined without the female (inferior) therefore masculine equals not-female but dominant, hegemonic.) The masculine is the epitome of the human! It cannot be defined apart from this power dynamic. This leads to all the biological differences, advantages, superiorities being applied to subjugate and not to complement and consequently to violence as a demonstration of these qualities. The woman who dares to be different is breaking the law/norm. If by chance that breaking of the norm is taken positively she is taken to be "male" since superiority and prowess in any form is understood to be male.  In our language people say of such a woman: "Mkazi amene uja ndimwamuna" (translated that woman is a man!). Even male weakness is understood to be superior to femaleness. It is as if the female is the epitome of weakness. A wimp is a woman!


These stereotypes abound and are generally the lenses through which males see the world and women. The injustices perpetrated against women have roots in these perceptions and attitudes. In order to fully redress the imbalances and eradicate the abuses and abusive tendencies in the males it is imperative that men change their perceptions of women and see women empowerment and ascension to what has been traditionally understood as the male domain not as a threat but an egalitarian approach to the mission of God in the world. For God created them male and female and gave them the authority to subdue the earth. Not one without the other but both. The Genesis 2 story read as male being created first and women as an afterthought in the light of male loneliness reinforces the treatment of women.


"For many centuries, women around the world have struggled against gender- based subordination and its multiple manifestations - including violence and abuse inflicted upon them by male partners and family members. However, it continues to be a way of life for far too many women and girls in all communities, rich and poor, the world over. Domestic violence is often not seen as a social problem but as a private matter between a man and his wife. In many cases it is accepted as a part of "married life" and as a normal means of discipline of a woman by her partner. It is also accepted that the woman is the property of the man and what he does with his property is his business. If this kind of violence is done outside o the home and against someone who is not a relative, it is then moved to another level and is seen as a public matter to be dealt with by the law."  (WARC, 2003: 121-122).



The exercise will therefore need to also address our biblical heritage which has been used to reinforce the hegemony. The patriarchy of the Old Testament and some of the Pauline corpus will need to be reviewed in the light of partnership and gender justice. Not only is biblical hermeneutics at issue here but also a hermeneutic of suspicion needs to be applied to our cultural and social contexts together with the changing dynamics of our societies that have led to calling to question gender role stereotypes. Partnership will not be achieved if the gender dividend continues to favour the male in employment and remuneration both in our secular society and in the church. Matters of leadership will therefore need to be faced squarely just as the issues raised by affirmative action. Our governments in the SADC region have committed (not necessarily achieved) themselves to 30% of positions in leadership being women. The Anglican Consultative Council recently voted for 50% participation of women in its structure. To what extent are such measures an answer? Matters of ordination even though they seem to more and more common place for women have still not been entirely resolved. If the church is an instrument of God in God's mission partnership in mission means male and female in partnership and not a masculine hegemony with token women leadership. The matter of justice which is part of God's shalom has to be reflected in the structures of those who are called to be his body. It can therefore the height of hypocrisy for the church to champion justice is its structures mirror the unjust structures of society. It is therefore imperative for men and men leaders to begin to appreciate that the hegemony in which they live and have the power is counter cultural in the culture of the Gospel.


The hoped for transformation of masculinity will help on the road to transformative masculinity. This is where maleness will not be used for dominance nor be defined by what it dominates but as a God created given, not for hegemonic purposes but for the transformation of society into a just and egalitarian community.


"It is important for the church to influence decisions and choices in accordance with Christian values which include compassion instead of greed, care instead of selfishness, cooperation instead of competitiveness and respect for human rights instead of serving structures and systems that are created to exclude rather than to include people. This must be done with an inclusive perspective in which the possibility exists to transform society into one that cares for all people." (WARC, 2003: 110)



It is for this reason that a gathering of male leadership in the church is necessary as one of the many ways by which this matter can be dealt with. Given the different context from which we come one cannot claim that there is one understanding of masculinity. Even though the discussion has dealt with the matter as though that were the case it is recognized that the many manifestations of hegemonic masculinity will be discussed. However, the differences all fall within the patriarchy in most of our societies to the extent that really to say masculinity would be enough as the others are but different manifestations of the same phenomenon. With respect to importance of the context of socialisation, this consultation will bring the African and Asian perspectives to dialogue. Since both emphasise the communitarian spirit and interdependence as the basis of unity in the church, it is hoped that this dialogue can lay some foundations that will contribute to the theological reflections on masculinities of transformation and justice.


This being the case the matter of the socialization of males and the male child will need to be looked into. What will also need to be borne in mind is that this is but one of the many attempts to redress the imbalance leading to true partnership. It is also hoped that the fruit of all this will help in the dialogue towards the realisation of the dream of the equality of men and women in God's mission. "In Christ there is neither male nor female  ..." for we are all called and empowered by the same Spirit.


Situating this consultation in Malawi gives a certain perspective to the socialisation of masculinity.  The Chewa, Nyanja, Lomwe and Yao ethnic groups form the majority of the Malawian population. These four ethnic groups still practice matrilineal family system. Since Malawi is still 70% rural, it means that a majority of men are socialized within the matrilineal context where progeny is traced through the maternal ancestry and husbands and fathers are not in control of their families but maternal uncles are. What kind of masculinity do such men get socialized to? Is there something transformative that the church can learn from such matrilineal masculinities? This consultation will be interested to search for such answers and the collaboration of the KuNgoni Arts at Mua Mission Centre under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church will be important for this process.


Some questions to be considered:


1.     Identify elements of Christian teachings, culture and systems that reinforce and perpetuate patriarchy, hegemony, masculinity and empire?


2.     How might we now address these teachings in a way that is liberative and faithful to the Gospel of Christ?


3.     How are men disempowered in today's society and what are the consequences for change in the area of male identity and roles?


4.     Explore understandings of power and possible ways of exercising power that will lead to mutually enhancing relationships in communities.


5.     What positive role can the church play in this process and what tools are needed?





1.     Handbook of resources for churches "In Partnership For Gender Justice: Towards transformative Masculinities", including gender advocacy training for men.


2.     Proposal for a process of education and awareness for churches.