‘No sex without fighting’–tackling toxic masculinity

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has some of highest rates of sexual violence in the world. But a new approach is trying to tackle this by encouraging men to confront and question their toxic masculinity.

Moises Bagwiza is one of the men who now reflects with regret on his past, and his recollections of how he treated and raped his wife, Jullienne, are frank, graphic and disturbing.

“Sex with her was like fighting. I didn’t care what she was wearing – I would just tear it all off,” he says.

In a modest bungalow in the quiet village of Rutshuru, eastern DR Congo, Mr Bagwiza recounts one particular assault when his wife was four months pregnant.

“I turned around and gave her a small kick on her stomach,” he says, explaining that she fell to the floor, bleeding, while concerned neighbours rushed over to take her to hospital.

Her crime? She had secretly been saving up money for household expenses through a local women’s collective.

In the lead-up to the attack, she had refused to give him money for a pair of shoes.

“It’s true, the money was hers,” Mr Bagwiza says. “But as you know, nowadays when women have money, they feel powerful and they show it.”

This resentment lies at the heart of what some are calling a crisis of modern African masculinity.

For centuries, men have been raised with very clearly defined ideas of what it means to be a man: strength, emotional stoicism, being able to protect and provide for your family.

But evolving gender roles, including greater female empowerment, combined with continued high levels of male unemployment are thwarting men’s ability to live up to these traditional ideals of manhood.

And for some men like Mr Bagwiza, a financially independent woman poses such an existential threat to their sense of entitled manhood that they are thrown into crisis.

A builder in the local village, he says he felt violence was the only way he could communicate with his wife.

“I thought she belonged to me,” he says. “I thought I could do anything I wanted to her. When I would come home and she asked me something, I would punch her.” –BBC

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