In Malawi, there is the popular belief that men must not shed tears. There even is an adage that buttresses that belief.
So, throughout their childhood, boys are told to be strong and not shed tears over anything. That, their parents and other community members say, is reserved for women.
But Zenus John Banda of Malunda Village, Traditional Authority Mponda in Mangochi District, is no respecter of tradition.
He is crying for help—sometimes, literally.
Banda, 51, describes himself as a victim of gender-based violence (GBV), that callous monster said to be affecting women most. His wives have pounded him heavily and they get away with it.
Authorities can hardly believe the women perpetrate the violence, he claims.
In 32 years, Banda has married three different Women. One of his previous wives is currently serving a custodial sentence at Mangochi Prison after she was convicted of burning her son’s fingers for allegedly misusing K100 for vegetables.
This was Banda’s second marriage.
His first marriage ended when he was fired from his job. The wife could not manage to stay with an unemployed man for long. Eventually, she started denying Banda his conjugal rights. She only granted him when there was money in the house.
“When I lost my job, she started complaining. By that time, she was selling firewood in Lilongwe. One day, when I was coming from searching for a job, I found her with another man in our house.
“She asked me to excuse them so that they could finish what they were doing. I could not believe what she had said,” Banda claims.
He says although he was willing to continue with the marriage, she still sent him packing.
Banda then moved to Mozambique in search of a new lease of life. There, he married another woman with whom he had three children before they returned together to Mangochi.
The marriage ended allegedly after the wife got involved with another man.
“I was just hearing that my wife had an extramarital affair. Of course, she could not admit it. One day, I returned home in the evening, from doing piece-work only to find that she had moved out with another man.
She had taken everything with her except my clothes. I tried to reason with her to give me back some of the household items but she refused,” Banda continues to claim.
After several years, he married another woman. The two were staying together with their six children, one who Banda had brought in from his previous marriage while the other five were from his new wife’s previous union.
“I was not complaining that I was taking care of a lot of her children. I took them as my own children. But I was surprised that she did not want anything to do with my children. She used to say that she married me and not my children,” he says.
The dislike for Banda’s children allegedly grew in his wife such that she started abusing them physically and emotionally.
“One day, she found me talking to my son on the phone. She snatched the phone and threw it in the toilet. She then pulled me inside the house and started slapping me while her children watched. It was painful but I could not hit her back for fear of being arrested,” he explains.
She dumped him and left with all household items to her home village in Ntcheu.
It was at this point that he decided to approach Mangochi District Social Welfare Office who referred him to Youth Net and Counselling (Yoneco).
He claims that has also visited several human rights organisations so that they can intervene and allow him to get some property that his wife bolted with.
“At Yoneco in Mangochi, they sent me back to our marriage counsellors. But these counsellors have already failed to assist me,” Banda charges.
His experiences over the years compel him to believe that rights of women matter more than those of men.
But still, there are those who believe men who go through such situations cannot claim to be wholly innocent. They argue there could be something that such men are doing wrong that is pushing wives out of their lives.
But Banda maintains his stand that if it was him abusing the women, he would not continue being a free man.
“I could be in jail by now. I am a living testimony that in Malawi, married men have no rights like those of women. This is bad because men too are suffering. We often suffer in silence because of what society takes to be real issues about abuse,” he says.
At the moment, Banda has no clue about where next to take his matter after those he had hoped would assist him allegedly rebuffed him.
Mangochi Yoneco District Manager, Funny Chipofya confirmed to have handled Banda’s case although she denies that her organisation was failing to assist him.
“We first told him to go and discuss the matter with village heads and marriage counsellors. But when he reported back with the same complaint, we started handling the matter to ensure that he is assisted just like any other person,” she says.
Chipofya says currently, Yoneco Mangochi office is working with their counterparts in Ntcheu to summon the woman so that she can respond to the allegations levelled against her by Banda.
“As an office, we don’t discriminate against anybody. All forms of human rights violation are not acceptable and we bring the perpetrators to book. We will treat this case the same way we treat cases when a child or a woman has been victimised,” she says.
Some studies relating to GBV indicate that men face more emotional violence at the hands of women.
In some cases, men are denied their conjugal rights by their wives due to various factors. However, few men are willing to come in open and seek help when they are victimised by women.
This is said to be one of the factors that lead to increasing cases of men suffering from mental health. Last year, it was reported by the police that a total of 102 men committed suicide within the year against seven females.
Chipofya agrees that most men are reluctant to report to relevant authorities when they are victimised due to a culture which regards them as superior to women.
In most cases, Chipofya says, men prefer reporting their cases anonymously for fear of being branded weak when they come in the open and lodge a complaint against women.
“Our statistics from the National Helpline indicate that most men prefer reporting anonymously than walking in person to our offices. It is women who prefer visiting our offices to complain in person,” she says.
Banda could be among thousands of men who are suffering at the hands of their wives but refuse to reveal their ordeals because of the superiority aura that they choose to surround themselves with.
But Minister of Gender Mary Navicha believes that there is already a platform for men to freely express themselves although society sometimes holds them back.
“We want equality between men and women. But this does not mean that men should be victims. We are aware that some women take advantage of gender advocacy to start abusing men. This must not be encouraged,” she says.
The minister calls on gender officers in all districts to ensure that there is equal treatment among women and men wherever issues of human rights are involved.
For people like Banda, Navicha says her ministry will make sure to work with other stakeholders to ensure that cases of women that assault men or their children are handled with priority to set an example that nobody is above the law.