A decisive response to Gender based Violence: a perspective from the Men’s sector

South Africa has the highest rates of rape reported to the police anywhere in the world. In 2012, the number of rapes documented by the police rose to over 64 000 – or 175 per day. These figures are believed to be a considerable underestimate of the true number of rapes, as many cases go unreported. More than 25% of a sample of 1 738 South African men from the KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape Provinces admitted to raping someone when anonymously questioned. Of these, nearly half said they had raped more than one person (MRC 2010). In 1997, violence against women was added as one of the priority crimes under the National Crime Prevention Strategy, nevertheless the rates of reported rape, sexual abuse of children and domestic violence continue to rise. In many cases lesbian women have also been targeted with so-called “corrective rape” and KwaZulu-Natal has seen an increase in the targeting of women in their old age.

Regrettably, it is men who commit the majority of acts of domestic and sexual violence. Men’s violence against women does not occur because men lose their temper or because they have no impulse control. Men who use violence do so because they equate manhood with aggression, dominance over women and with sexual conquest. These definitions of manhood lead to high levels of violence against women and they also contribute to extremely high levels of men’s violence against other men. South Africa’s National Injury Mortality Surveillance System tells us that the rate at which South African men kill each other is amongst the highest in the world.

In addition to pervasive beliefs that men should have power and control over women, researchers identified a number of other factors which contribute to men’s use of violence.

  • Belief that men have little ability to control their violence and that violence is somehow natural “because men can’t control their urges”.
  • Widespread acceptance of a range of myths that support rape and domestic violence (that she was asking for it; that she likes it; that it was justified under the circumstances; that anyone would have done the same with similar “provocation”; that a man would lose face if he didn’t use violence; or that it isn’t so bad or so harmful) – even as people say that they oppose violence.
  • Widespread frustration and resentment amongst some men that women “have too many rights” under the democratic dispensation and that these rights come at men’s expense.
  • Widespread acceptance of the false notion that men are now victims of overzealous police and criminal justice system action leading to easy and unfair arrests and convictions.

To this end, the SANAC Men’s sector in collaboration with Brothers for Life and the Department of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities are planning a National Dialogue with South African men in August to develop a plan of action on the role that men must play in curbing and promoting healthier and safer communities.

The dialogue aims to bring together prominent and ordinary South African men from all walks of life, from business, labour, political leadership, sports, and other sectors to unite as one voice in calling for the end in violence against women, children and other men. These prominent men have millions of ordinary men who look up to them and can bring about a united call to action for men to actively protect women and children in their communities.

It is proposed that the dialogue be carried live by national broadcasting partners owing to the urgency of the matter in the country.

The programme will be mounted in provinces, culminating in a national process which will include a march where a memorandum will be presented to the authorities with ordinary men signing pledges denouncing violence against women and children and committing to act against it.

It is our hope that through this involved intervention, there will be a groundswell movement of men in all localities acting against all forms of violence against women and children. In the spirit of Brothers for Life, brothers will affirm life. Brothers will not look away, but face the challenges posed by episodes of violence against women and children.

Rev. Bafana Khumalo is the Chairperson of SANAC Men’s Sector; and Snr. Programme Specialist at Sonke Gender Justice