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Horrific stories of rape and murder – think 14-year old Thandeka Madonsela and 17-year-old Anene Booysens – have outraged South African men. Now they are doing something about it.
On Tuesday 16 April a movement working to end violence against women was launched with the first Men’s Dialogue on Gender-Based Violence, attended by 200 men and boys at Turbine Hall in Newtown, Johannesburg.
With the slogan “Not in our name”, the first-of-its-kind movement is a platform for South African males from all backgrounds to talk seriously about ways to end violence against women. Similar talks will be held across the country, with the aim of producing a new crop of men actively opposed to the abuse of women, and the rehabilitation of existing abusers.
The Men’s Dialogue on Gender-Based Violence is backed by Brand South Africa, Brothers for Life, the South African National Aids Council, Lead SA and the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities.
The launch had strong government support, with representation from national departments and deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe opening the dialogue in his capacity as chair of the South African National Aids Council.
Also present were Brand South Africa board member Danny Jordaan and stakeholder relations director Ignatius Sathekge, as well as religious leaders, academics, and delegates from political parties, NGOs and the South African Police Service.
Alcohol abuse and gender sterotypes
Alcohol abuse, Motlanthe said, was one of the main reasons men attack women. Yet these men try to escape responsibility by using their drunkenness as an excuse.
“Most perpetrators, even when they are under the influence of alcohol, are aware of their actions. So there is no excuse,” Motlanthe said.
Health minister Aaron Motsoaledi said popular culture – advertising, in particular – made alcohol acceptable, which worsened the problem. “You can teach children about the dangers of alcohol during a life-orientation class, but when they get home they watch television. THey see alcohol adverts, and all that education gets eroded.”
Alcohol abuse is a trigger, but Motlanthe pointed out that at the root of violence against women is the enduring attitude that men are superior to women.
“As we deal with gender-based violence we must also deal with social determinants and stereotypes handed over from generation to generation.”
Violence begins at home, Motlanthe said. As a response, “We should set a target to make homes the safest places.” Parents should take responsibility by teaching boys, from an early age, that women are human beings with human rights, and deserve respect.
A good attitude starts at home
Reverend Bafana Khumalo of the South African National Aids Council also highlighted boys’ upbringing as a cause of discrimination and violence against women: their early socialisation could have “dire repercussions” later in life.
As an example, the seeming innocence of buying a boy child a toy gun, he said, could cause that child to enjoy violence, dominance and bullying – behaviour that could become permanent.
“Boys will feel that in order to assert themselves, they need to be violent,” Khumalo said. Instead, parents should give toys that let their boys express their masculinity in other ways.
Khumalo also said parents could make a difference by teaching equality at home. “When chores are allocated at home, boys should also be able to wash dishes and do the cooking.”
He said fathers to should friendly and open with their children, comfortable to discuss anything with them.
“We need to be present in our children’s lives. We need men who do not see themselves simply because of a number of women they can have; men who do not see themselves simply because of how aggressive they can be.”
A fear of weakness and community attitudes towards men seen to be weak often makes them try to assert their manhood by beating up women. Khumalo said men should be taught to deal with the stresses in their lives, not bottle them up. “The downfall for most men is the fear of feeling weak,” he said. “When a man shows vulnerability, when a man shows the softer side, or any sign that is supposedly the weaker part of a human being, people frown about it.”
Men must learn that it’s okay to get help, Khumalo said, to talk about family problems or any other issues in life.
Nobody should be treated differently
Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, the deputy minister for women, children and people with disabilities, echoed the call for equality. “There should be an understanding that men and women coexist; no-one should be treated differently.”
She commended the men gathered for the dialogue: “It is time that you take the first step to say no, not in our name. We need to see you organising marches against women abuse.”
A number of suggestions emerged on how best to tackle gender-based violence. Sdumo Dlamini, president of labour federation Cosatu, suggested intensified youth-outreach programmes to teach young men the values of being a man. This would help curb rape and other forms of abuse commonly committed by boys.
“If we were to win the war against gender-based violence we need to start with the youth,” he said. These programmes, he said, were most needed in rural areas where gender stereotypes remained entrenched.
Boys need a good example
Television personality Patrick Shai, an ambassador for Brothers for Life, a national campaign targeting men over 30, confessed to abusing his wife and children for years. He echoed Dlamini’s call for work to be done among the youth at grassroots level.
“The gang rapes that are happening around the country have become almost like sport,” he said. “There is no one to be an example to the boys.”
Shai said fathers needed to drive programmes to teach boys how to be real men. He said stokvels and other social clubs where men gather should be used for dialogues.
“We need more platforms where men can engage before raising a fist. Before all, we need ekhaya la madoda,” – a home for men, Shai said.
Mpho Matee, a young entrepreneur who spoke for the youth, also stressed community as key: “We need a community-centric approach to dealing with gender violence.”
Matee said churches have a key role in cultivating the ethics of the young. “Churches are part of a community. Pastors need to start going out there and speaking to the youth.”
He cited the notion that it takes a village to raise a child. “If every member of the community reprimands a child when they are out of line, I think we might go a long way. Young people need role models.”
Declaration against violence
The day ended with Motlanthe and the other men gathered signing a declaration committing themselves to act against violence against women and children.
The declaration opens with: “As men of South Africa today we acknowledge the damage caused by acts of violence committed by some men in our communities; affirming that violence against women and children constitutes a violation of the rights and fundamental freedoms of women and children enshrined in our constitution.”
In the closing remarks, Brand South Africa’s Ignatius Sathekge stressed the dialogue was not simply a pep talk: real action must come out of it.
“The conversation that we started should not end within these walls,” he said. “We must ensure that it lives on in our homes and communities.”