Cheating: why it’s OK for men, but not for women
Traditionally, there are many things Rwandan society believes are okay when done by men, but frowned upon if it’s a woman that is involved. More often than not, such beliefs would tend to be reflected in the laws of the land.
One such conception concerns adultery. Ancille Nyirabageni, 57, although not approving of it in any way, expresses her disappointment about the inequitable treatment of people caught cheating on their spouse by their families and the society as a whole.
“After all they have both been doing something reprehensible, their role and responsibility is the same,” Nyirabageni observes. “But you find that the woman receives the most blame, while the man is not even looked at or his acts are considered as tolerable.”
This is confirmed by Edouard Munyamaliza, executive secretary of the Rwanda Men’s Resource Center (Rwamrec), an organization that tries to get men involved in the fight for women’s emancipation. “Adultery seems to be tolerated in our society when it comes to men, but for women it is considered a disaster,” he says.
This kind of behavior at times finds its roots in traditional culture, still influencing people’s behavior consciously or unconsciously. Dr. James Vuningoma, the executive secretary of the Rwanda Academy of Language and Culture, points out that in the old days having many women and children was considered as a form of wealth, which may be the reason behind society’s tolerance.
“When caught in the act of adultery, it was considered as a curse to the woman and she was dishonored,” Vuningoma explains, adding that at times she would even have to leave that place because public opinion was against her, while the man was even hardly noticed.
Munyamaliza remarks that it is even more worrisome when this kind of belief and culture of treating women unfairly is reflected in the laws. For instance, the inequitable treatment of women was reflected in the old law on prevention and punishment of gender-based violence, in the section that provided penalties for adultery in case the offended spouse complains. The old law stated that men should be punished with six months to one year imprisonment, while women were liable to a sentence between one and two years. “It was all about oppressing women,” comments Nyirabageni.
However, in the new law that came into force in 2008, the inequality has been removed, and it now states that ‘any person convicted with adultery shall be liable to imprisonment sentence of between six months and two years.’
For Munyamaliza, this is how it should be because the offense is the same and so should be the punishment, regardless of gender. However, even though progress was noted in the law, the mindset of society has not yet followed suit.
“The understanding of society is still the same and adultery is still tolerated for men,” Munyamaliza points out, adding that an entire community may be aware that a certain man is cheating on his wife but they will consider it as something that can be done, and at times even admired in a way.
Surprisingly, even some women take that view – Munyamaliza says out that when asked, some women may consider it acceptable that their husbands have children with another woman, yet put the question to men what they think about cheating women, and they will unanimously call it an abomination.
“There some people who joke about this saying that women are okay with men cheating on them as long as they don’t know about it,” Munyamaliza complains.
For Vuningoma of the culture academy, it is not unusual that the woman would carry and still carries the heavy weight of the offense because she is considered the custodian of morality in the society. “She is the mother of society. Our society is built around families and the woman is the pillar of the family,” Vuningoma explains. “As such, she is the one who teaches morals to the children, so who will do it if she no longer has any morals to transmit?”