Africa, Development & Aid, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Poverty & SDGs

SOUTH AFRICA: Men Battle Gender-based Violence

CAPE TOWN, Mar 30 2010 (IPS) - When Mbuyiselo Botha decided to take the African National Congress League President, Julius Malema, to court for hate speech against women, he was confident from the start that the case had merit. But he also knew that this would be the most challenging test of his 15 years of gender activism.

Sonwabo Qathula belongs to one of the many groups of men Sonke is helping to break gender stereotypes. Credit:  Kristin Palitza/IPS

Sonwabo Qathula belongs to one of the many groups of men Sonke is helping to break gender stereotypes. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

“My colleagues from back during the anti-apartheid activism days warned that I had taken a career damaging move; I was seen as challenging the black leadership,” said Botha.

Despite the discouragement and the potential of making enemies at the top, he went on with court challenge and won.

On March 15 the controversial Malema was found guilty of hate speech for he insinuating that President Jacob Zuma’s 2005 rape accuser had enjoyed the act. Addressing students in Cape Town last year, Malema was widely quoted saying: “When a woman didn’t enjoy it, she leaves early in the morning. Those who had a nice time will wait until the sun comes out, request breakfast and ask for taxi money.”

The ruling ANC youth leader was ordered to pay 50,000 rand ($6,700) or publicly apologise for his remarks within a month of the ruling.

“Unfortunately, Malema’s comments reflect a general mentality that men in South Africa and Africa as a whole have. They think they have a right of domination over women, which is wrong,” said Botha, the father of three.

Dispelling myths of male superiority

Having been involved in anti-apartheid protests in the 1980s, Botha knows very well the dynamics of activism. He partook in a series of protests, he was shot and injured in the process and left with a permanent disability. The apartheid struggle, he says, made him realise that “all forms of oppression are unacceptable.”

“After the end of apartheid in 1994, I thought we cannot claim to have total freedom when women are still subjected to suffering through unnecessary cultural practices and perceptions.”

Putting it into practice

Changes are afoot in one rural area in the Eastern Cape.

A group of seven men is working as home-based caregivers with the Siyakhanyisa HIV/AIDS support group in Qumbu, 60 kilometres outside of Mthatha, in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province.

Initially ridiculed for doing work traditionally reserved for women, they have quickly become role models and earned respect for their courage to do things differently and take responsibility for the goings-on in their villages.

The men decided to get actively involved in helping others after they learnt about gender stereotypes, understandings of manhood and fatherhood during workshops run by NGO Sonke Gender Justice in early 2008.

They now care for people living with HIV, bathe the bedridden, counsel, educate about HIV prevention and transmission, facilitate access to anti- retroviral treatment, refer patients to social services and assist sick persons in writing their will.

Botha referred, for example, to forced marriage practices known in Nguni languages as ukhutwala and is still widespread in other parts of Africa. “This is not different from rape. South Africa in particular, it is shocking, we have the highest incidents of rape,” he said.

A 2009 study by South Africa’s Medical Research Council revealed that one in every four men interviewed admitted to having raped a woman; the highest rate in the world. The research further found that few cases are reported. The chilling findings are what Botha, through organisations he works with such as Sonke Gender Justice Network and Men’s Forum, seeks to reverse.

Men acting against gender-based violence

When Sonke Gender Justice Network (Sonke) was formed in 2006, the organisation found that a majority of men they surveyed in Johannesburg believed they were not doing enough to end domestic violence. Since then the organisation has been educating and training boys and men to “realign their thinking”.

“We have been working in six of the country’s 10 provinces and we are looking forward to expand our foothold,” said Regis Mtutu, the organisation’s National Programmes Coordinator.

Sonke means “Together” in Nguni languages. And this is the strategy of the organisation in its bid to realise gender equality. “We simply believe that working in the context of men, talking to them together with organisations that push for women’s rights, we can attain our goal,” added Mtutu.

Spreading the message

Currently the organisation is embarking on its flagship programme, “One Man Can”.

“We want to show men that they can respect, love their women passionately, that they can change their values and fight equality within their communities,” Mtutu explained.

The project has seen the organisation train boys and men in various communities – especially rural and high-density communities. Training, the organisation says, is conducted using imagery and testimonials through audio. The more sophisticated groups are targeted through social networking media such as Facebook and Twitter. Sonke aims to reach out to at least 20,000 men in the next three years and establish many branches that will be permanently located within the communities.

The organisation has been working with traditional chiefs towards the goal of establishing permanent presence in most parts of the country. The aim, Mtutu says, is to change the false ego of man’s domination through the custodians of culture. Men’s sense of supremacy is a product of culture, tradition and religion, Mtutu says.

“When that false sense of masculinity is reversed, we will see a decline HIV simply because forced sexual activities and rape myths would have been eliminated.”

Elsewhere in Africa, Sonke is working in collaboration with like-minded organisations such as Padare/Enkundleni in Zimbabwe, the Kenya-based Men Can and the Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre. Together, the organisations resolved at a 2009 symposium to assist African governments through capacity building and implementation of policy.

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