Talking gender equality and health with Traditional Leaders in Eswatini

Speeches Shim

Friday, December 4, 2020
Mr. Zidumo Mkhatshwa

"Women are Minors, their health and gender issues are controlled by us men, it's our culture"

Mr. Zidumo Mkhatshwa is the chairman of the community inner council of KuDvwaleni Chiefdom under Manzini North Inkhundla. He is the second in command from the chief.  His role includes liaison with the chief and the inner council and he is always representing and acting on behalf of the chief on his absence. He is a very traditional man and respects culture and traditions. He is a staunch believer in the differences of roles between man and woman. Babe Mkhatshwa is one of the leaders attended, a training which aims at creating a safe space for young women and adolescent’s girl child, provided by USAID partner, HC3, targeting traditional leaders. These trainings are held at chiefdom level, to engage leaders on discussion on gender and HIV issues. The first day of the training, gender terms and gender roles are topics used to introduce the subject.

A training targeting kuDwaleni Inner council was held at Manzini North Inkhundla, where on the first hours of the first day Babe Mkhatshwa was very vocal that there were duties meant for women and man are not supposed to be seen doing them because it will mean that they are bewitched by their wives. Onlookers will stop respecting that man because he will be regarded as not man enough by the community. On the second day of the training, babe Mkhatshwa confessed to be a changed agent for gender and HIV at his home and the community. During the recapping session, he shared that when he got home from the training day before, while he was busy minding his business, “suddenly the weather changed, I looked outside the window and saw clouds changing its color to dark, it then went dark, yet it was just after lunch. Because of this training, I ran outside and felt moist air on my skin, I rushed to laundry line to pick the clothes my wife had left hanging to dry that morning, to prevent them from socking on the rain. Traditionally as I am, I would not have been bothered about the clothes in the line because I believed that it is a women’s duty to collect them, to say the truth I would not even have noticed that there were clothes in the line. Due to the session on gender roles, where we were discussing roles meant for women and those meant for men, we did conclude the session by saying that all the roles can be done by both,  a man can cook and do laundry and a woman can herd cattle and clean the yard. That is what influenced my decision to pick the clothes from the line”.

My wife was very pleased when she got home. She wanted to know what made me pick the clothes. I started telling her about the workshop on Gender and HIV held at Nkhundleni for inner council. The workshop taught us on the negative effects of gender norms and HIV. The training made me realize that gender issues increases that spread of HIV, hence women are disempowered, and the violation they are subjected to hinders access to health care services. It is a traditional norm to always think that because as man we pay dowry and assume that we have bought the wives to be minors, we can make them do what they want to do yet dowry is only for strengthening the relationship between families. I have learnt that a happy home is a healthy home. For our family to be safe from HIV and be free to engage in healthy communication, I need to create a gender sensitive environment for my wife and kids. Domestic chores can be done by anyone. I am showing my family in small chores, like making tea or coffee for myself, taking my dishes to the kitchen after using them. I do this to show appreciation to wife and exhibit that roles are just roles, they can be shared.  I pledge that in all community meetings I chair, I will create awareness to the people attending on how gender imbalance perpetuates the spread of HIV amongst people. Men have a role to protect their families in all aspects, and stop treating them as minors that needs to be controlled.