There’s no doubt masculinity is an important part of the identity of South African men. This is often not their choice. Ours is a country in which there is frequently enormous pressure on men, from all sides, to be men – to be manly.
This is both a positive and a negative. The negative is that some men may wish to assert their masculinity by abusing those physically weaker than them – women and children. The positive is others embrace their masculinity in the spirit of Ubuntu. For them being a man is to be strong, protective, nurturing and supportive of others.
Today Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg launches a new global campaign as part of her established LeanIn initiative, which fights for the rights of women across the world. This time, Sandberg is asking men to join the fight. In this country, her call has been taken up by Brand South Africa. To mark International Women’s Day on Sunday 8 March, we urge our men to demonstrate how they celebrate and support South African women. This can be at home – creating stronger marriages and healthier, happier, more successful kids – and at work, for better team outcomes.
Sandberg’s global campaign will be supported leaders ranging from top NBA athletes to influential CEOs and public figures such as Richard Branson, Warren Buffett, Melinda Gates, Arianna Huffington, Condoleezza Rice and Mark Zuckerberg.
SOUTH AFRICAN MEN FIGHTING FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS
In South Africa men need to reclaim their manhood as supporters of women, not abusers. There have been too many incidents where men have used their culture, physical strength and ability to earn more than their women counterparts to keep women in subservient positions.
South African men must become role models to future generations of men by committing to being uplifting, caring, present and emotionally stable, for women to fully take their place, as equals, in our homes, communities and society.
An example South African men leaning in for the rights of women is Sonke Gender Justice, a gender-rights civil society organisation set up and run by men.
The organisation’s work includes initiatives such as the One Man Can, which encourages men to become actively involved in advocating for gender equality, preventing gender-based violence, and responding to HIV and Aids.
Dumisani Rebombo runs the One Man Can project at Sonke’s new satellite office in the rural settlement of Bushbuckridge in Limpopo. The project forms part of a four-year randomised control trial being undertaken by Wits University, University of California, San Francisco and University of North Carolina, both in the US.
It seeks to show how Sonke’s the project’s community mobilisation model can reduce levels of violence in this and other communities and ultimately reduce the levels of HIV infection in young women.
According to Sonke, research conducted in 2009 by Chris Colvin indicated significant changes in short-term behaviour in the weeks following One Man Can activities. Twenty-five percent of respondents had accessed voluntary counselling and testing, 50% reported an act of gender-based violence, 61% increased their use of condoms, and over 80% talked to friends or family members about HIV, gender and human rights issues.
New research by Shari Dworkin and colleagues shows further clear evidence that men taking part in these programmes change their attitude and behaviour in line with the objectives of One Man Can.
This new qualitative research assessed OMC participants’ changes in masculine ideologies and health beliefs and behaviours. The study was conducted in two provinces, Limpopo and Eastern Cape, where the researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 60 OMC participants. Questions covered issues of gender relations and women’s rights, violence, relationships and sex, masculinity, fatherhood, gender and HIV risks, HIV prevention and testing, and community action teams.
The research clearly shows that men who have participated in OMC activities afterwards embrace trends towards equality for women, understand their male identity differently and are more involved in household labour and child care.
“A lot has changed in my life,” said one man who took part in the programme. “My childhood observations of a man as boss was wrong and before I attended OMC sessions; I continued to believe that it is the same wrong things that need to be done. But after some sessions and engagement in discussions with various people with various points of view, I then realised that it is wrong to treat women like they do not exist.”
WOMEN HAVE BEEN WRONGED
This year International Women’s Day on 8 March will highlight the UN Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a historic roadmap signed by 189 governments 20 years ago that sets the agenda for realising women’s rights.
The Beijing initiative focuses on 12 critical areas of concern, and envisions a world where each woman and girl can exercise her choices, such as taking part in politics, getting an education, having an income, and living in societies free from violence and discrimination.
UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, in his message for International Women’s Day 2015, said: “When we unleash the power of women, we can secure the future for all.”