World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
150, route de Ferney PO Box 2100 1211 Geneva 2 Switzerland E-mail: media

10 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 33

Jonah Gokora of Ecumenical Support Services, Zimbabwe, waited until the North American woman sat down in the small circle of chairs before he handed her a small brochure labelled: "For men only -- are you an abuser of women?"

"When we give this brochure to women," he explained quietly, "we ask them to give it to the most important man in their lives." The brochure lists eight signs of a potential abuser and tells men they can seek help from Padare/Enkundleni (the words mean meeting-place in Shona and Ndbele), Men's Forum on Gender, based in Harare.

The Men's Forum has eight groups in Zimbabwe, Gokora told an informal meeting Thursday (10 December) at the World Council of Churches Eighth Assembly, which has gathered in Harare. The groups give men a chance to discuss gender issues and "change attitudes", he explained.

A video showed Zimbabwe men and women summarising the problem in soundbites. "Men have got a physical advantage over women," said a man. "That is why they normally beat them." Another man said: "Whether in Zimbabwe or England or Japan or China, men are brought up to understand one language and one language only, and that is "smack' in the face."

Men need to get together to work through these problems, Gokora told the group. "Whether we like it or not, we men have become collaborators in a system that is so unjust it needs to be exposed. Men say, "I've never raped a woman, I've never been violent, it's not my problem.' But we can't escape. We share this manhood and we need to express to one another what problems we have with that kind of behaviour."

"I think it's fantastic what you're doing," said a Canadian woman. "The same skills required to keep the peace at home are those needed to keep peace in society. The whole society would benefit enormously by keeping the peace so we can build the things that matter in the world."

Most of the men who made comments were from North America. "Men are raised to be isolated," said a US man wearing a burgandy T-short emblazoned, "Create community, not conflict." He added: "One of the things I have found is that men have a fear of intimacy, with themselves and with each other. Part of (the solution) has to be men working with men on intimacy."

A German woman who described herself as a feminist and a lesbian asked how Zimbabwe men could dare to share intimate feelings with one another in a society she described as homophobic. Gorkora replied: "We live in a patriarchal culture that is very homophobic." The Padare/Enkundleni Forum has made it clear that "the gender justice struggle and the struggles of gays and lesbians (are) the same".

The Forum was an organiser of a 16-day campaign against gender violence in Zimbabwe that concluded 5 December with a men's rally in Harare, Gokora said as he sat beneath posters reading: "Real men do not abuse women" and "We are looking for a few good men".

But it is not the intention of the Forum to let men set the agenda for the discussion.

"It is women who must set the agenda. We are trying to make men more visible" in their changing attitudes toward gender abuse.

Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
Press and Information Office, Harare
Tel: +
E-Mail: WCC media

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 339, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.