In a striking show of solidarity, a group of men from Cameroon who have named themselves ‘A Common Future,’ are showing the world they mean business when it comes to equality of the sexes in West Africa.
Wearing women’s high-heeled shoes as they marched in protest down a public street in Bamenda, Cameroon during International Women’s Day on March 8, the men placed themselves in a dangerous line as targets of social ridicule or worse. In spite of this they continued. In an effort to ‘walk a mile in her shoes’ concerned men in Bamenda wore what they called were “pinching and uncomfortable” high-heels as they joined in a protest with 40 women’s groups down Commercial Avenue in Bamenda.
Capital of the Northwest Province in Cameroon, Bamenda’s urban population, according to 2010 figures, numbers 269,530 people in the city and 1,804,700 people throughout the province.
The men involved locally in ‘A Common Future’ are now promoting numerous other events to bring the issues of women’s equality with men to the attention of those who need it the most.
“We seek to end men’s violent and aggressive behavior towards women, children and other men,” says the Mission Statement for ‘A Common Future.’ “We believe that ending violence against women is primarily the responsibility of men. Although women are at the forefront of addressing this issue, we think it is essential that men play a primary role in the solution to end it, as recommended by Ban ki Moon, U.N Secretary General during the launch of the Network of Men Leaders. To do that, well meaning men …men who do not see themselves as part of the problem…need to get involved.”
As a major concern to women throughout Africa, the problem for women and equality in Cameroon does not have a simple solution. It comes from decades of societal attitudes and belief, a belief that is now beginning to be shattered by organizations like ‘A Common Future.’ 52 percent of Cameroon’s nationwide 18 million inhabitants (National Institute of Statistics Cameroon 2008) are women, where an overwhelming amount of 70 percent of the population continues to live in mostly rural areas.
A majority of farming inside the region is conducted by women, even though women are not allowed by law to hold administrative rights over any property and may only be involved with legal paperwork with a husband’s approval.
“We work with men to end violence against women by proposing alternative models of masculinity that are not necessarily in opposition to models of femininity and that allow men and women as well as boys and girls to share love, reproductive health and decision making responsibilities. We achieve this by strategizing with schools, colleges and constituted groups across Cameroon,” says ‘A Common Future’ co-founder Gwain Colbert Fulai.
Literacy and education too is much lower for women than men in the region. Only approximately 21 percent of all women in Cameroon ever reach secondary or higher levels of school in the region (UNDP Gender Equality Index 2011).
Additional program outreach for ‘A Common Future’ also includes training local police in gender sensitivity and awareness, so security officers in the region will be encouraged to file crimes, instead of ignoring them, when women in Cameroon report violence.
The group is also calling on legal reform in court to help enable women have more legal rights.
“Human rights concerns appear in all spheres-home, school, workplace, elections, court, etc. By bringing critical dialogues about masculinities, women and justice into the public sphere we hope bring about gender-sensitive, non-violent advocates,” says ‘A Common Future.’
In addition to their work to educate men on the topics of women’s need for equality, the organization also hopes to get more men to help and support women to enter political office in any future election coming for Cameroon.