Breaking the Silence – Sonke speaks to Government

Silence in the audience…

People are slowly entering the room, one after the other, choosing their seats carefully. Some of them look bored; some a little excited. All of them remain silent.

The room is big! It promises something great: indicates that something important is about to happen – but the hoards do not arrive. We sit and wait for the upcoming talk about the activisim against gender-based violence, against sexual assault and rape.
People seem sceptical when the first speaker approaches the floor. All of them look up.  Micheline of Sonke Gender Justice talks about her work on promoting gender equality and why it is important to engage with it. We feel affiliated to it, listening to what she is saying.

“Sonke is working with men to promote women’s rights. We want to know why men are abusing women. We want to know why they are raping women – how could rape ever sort things out? We want to help them change!”

I can feel a slight tension arising. Something gets people moving, wakes up their minds. “Why don’t you engage directly with women?”

Micheline answers: “There are many organisations working with women on gender equality. We have chosen to work with men. But we do not forget women in the fight against sexual and gender-based violence. We need the feedback from the communities, from the perpetrators’ families, especially from their women. We need to know, if we want change to happen.”

A murmur in the audience.

“What about men’s rights?” a women asks. We are surprised it is a woman who raises this question.

Micheline’s response is prompt: “Women are especially vulnerable! Often, they have no choice in having sex or using a condom and have no control over their husbands’ sexual relations.”

Sexual offences do not only affect women; they affect their children, their partners, and their communities. Ubuntu reminds us that we are all connected. Fighting for women’s rights is fighting for men’s rights!

The questions that arise are perhaps not indicative of any sudden, dramatic change. The audience is asking questions, but is not yet considering themselves accountable for change. However, the silence has been broken.

People thinking, people discussing, people arguing on the issue. Something has moved inside of them, that seems to stir them up deeply.

And suddenly we realise: Something important has happened.

Date: Wednesday 30 November
Topic: Talk on Sonke’s Work: Engaging Men for Gender Equality
Venue: Western Cape Provincial Government Offices
Sonke Staff: Micheline
Sonke Interns: Stephanie, Leila