In-depth: Closing the gap: Gender-Based Violence in South Africa

SOUTH AFRICA: Men slowly turning away from gender-based violence

Photo: Sonke Gender Justice
Men take a stand against domestic violence in South Africa
Johannesburg, 1 February 2007 (PlusNews) - South African men are becoming more willing to take action against the growing problem of domestic and sexual violence against women, a recent study has found.

A survey of 945 men in the greater Johannesburg area at the end of 2006 by Sonke Gender Justice (SGJ), an HIV/AIDS, gender and human rights nongovernmental organisation, found that 50.1 percent of respondents felt they should be doing more to end gender-based violence.

However, officials from the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), an advocacy group, stressed that this new show of interest by men had to be speedily translated into action or risk falling by the wayside, "like our progressive constitution and strong laws against related violence and discrimination".

"The situation with men could easily be likened to that of our constitution ... while it works wonders on paper, the situation on the ground is a lot more worrying," FEW's community relations officer, Zanele Muholi, told IRIN PlusNews.

Although lauding the efforts of SGJ and its partners, Muholi pointed out that when considering how few organisations were dedicated to promoting the greater involvement of men as advocates for change, the fight for gender equality still rested mainly on the shoulders of women.

Dean Peacock, a co-director of SGJ, said although many men were becoming more active in correcting gender imbalances, "a large number of them still feel threatened by gender transformation and resist it due to fear of losing their positions of power in society and in the home".

Peacock has argued that violence against women was a tactic used by men to demand power, and hypothesised that some men also used violence more when they feared they were losing the ability to control their partners.

But this is beginning to change, as more men are changing their attitude to the role of women in society, and accepting that gender-based violence is wrong.

"Many men are now willing to talk about how awful it was to grow up in a home where their fathers brutalised their mothers, and how much they wanted to be better fathers and partners," Peacock said. "We [SGJ] are using our research to develop the necessary interventions to encourage the broader involvement of men, not just as activists, but also as educators of their peers in the fight against domestic and sexual violence."

Valencia Meth, 33, a single parent of two children, welcomed the efforts of groups such as SGJ, noting that however slow, they were important interventions. She recalled the prolonged abuse of her mother over a period of more than a decade, and the consequences of her attempt to defend her mother.

"I was charged with manslaughter at the age of 16 when I stabbed my mother's fiancé and his brother in an effort to prevent their almost daily violent attacks on me and my mom," she told IRIN PlusNews.

She was acquitted on grounds of self-defence and began the long road to self-empowerment. "Things were very different then, with hardly any women's groups to turn to for protection. My faith in the police system was also very shaky."

Meth stressed the importance of men and women working together to instil positive values in boys and girls, but pointed out that women often had to bring up children on their own while supporting the family when men failed to share this responsibility.

She was confident that with the help of gender advocacy groups like SGJ and FEW and the greater involvement of men and boys in working towards much-needed change in attitudes among their peers, the necessary balance in power between the sexes could eventually be realised.

Lead Feature

 "Free Indeed"
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Links & References
  • Gender Links
  • Sexual Violence Research Initiative
  • People Opposing Women Abuse
  • Violence against Women: Eldis

Broken Bodies Broken Dreams: Violence Against Women Exposed

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