Sonke participates in a number of landmark global conferences

In order for Sonke’s work to have an increasing and ongoing effect, there needs to be a supportive national and global environment in which the importance of involving men and boys in gender equality work is recognised. To this end, Sonke takes an active role in international conferences and meetings, raising issues related to gender and HIV, and promoting the need to involve men and boys in gender work.

In the last quarter, Sonke staff have been particular active in this sphere, participating in:

  • the 53th session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York,
  • the Commission on Population and Development meeting in New York,
  • the Global Symposium on Engaging Men and Boys on Achieving Gender Equality in Rio De Janeiro,
  • the South African National Aids Conference in Durban, and
  • the Country deliberations regarding CEDAW in Pretoria.

Commission on the Status of Women

This year’s Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women was held in New York, from 2-13 March 2009. The session focussed on “The equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS” which falls squarely within the ambit of Sonke’s core objectives.

The organisation participated in the expert group meeting in Geneva, helping to set the agenda for the session. We were also involved in the national preparatory meetings for the session and were invited to form part of the South African delegation at the CSW but opted to attend independently.

Sonke staff members attending the CSW were very active at the event itself, speaking at a total of 11 sessions, and shaping the way in which people at the session talked about male involvement in gender equality, particularly in relation to the burden of care, which has traditionally fallen squarely onto the shoulders of women.

The presentations emphasised the importance of reducing the overall burden of care families face by increasing public sector capacity (in the form of childcare facilities, old age facilities and health care services) and by improving HIV prevention and access to treatment. The importance of firm objectives, like those set out in the South Africa National Strategic Plan which aims to have 25% of men involved in home-based care by 2011, was also highlighted. The lack of monitoring of these objectives was also discussed.

Throughout the presentations, sessions and discussions, Sonke pointed out the evidence that exists supporting the need to involve men and boys in gender equality initiatives.

Sonke also responded to the comments that former Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang made at the CSW.
Sonke staff members also spoke at and attended the International Women’s Health Coalition workshop on Advocacy Impact.

Commission on Population and Development

Bafana Khumalo, Sonke’s co-director, attended the Commission on Population and Development meeting in New York. The meeting marked 15 years since the landmark International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994 set a new progressive agenda for reproductive health rights. The Cairo resolution set concrete goals for providing universal education, reducing infant, child and maternal mortality, and ensuring universal access by 2015 to reproductive health care, including family planning, assisted childbirth and prevention of sexually transmitted infections including HIV.

The 2009 meeting was called to assess the progress made thus far in terms of the commitments made at Cairo. There is general concern that governments are nowhere near meeting their targets, and questions were raised about revising some of the commitments, putting mechanisms in place to hold governments accountable and linking the Cairo commitments to the Millennium Development Goals. At the end of the conference, 77 countries signed a resolution which basically confirms the commitments made in 1994. The new resolution however includes a focus on young people and the importance of providing information and access to services to this important segment of the population.

Sonke attended the meeting with the objective of promoting male involvement in all issues related to gender equality, and reproductive rights and health and to promote viewing sexual reproductive health and HIV as inter-related. The panel discussions recognising the need to view sexual health and HIV in a holistic manner were very encouraging. The South African government has been very supportive of this approach.

Global Symposium on Engaging Men and Boys on Achieving Gender Equality

Sonke is a steering committee member of Men Engage, who organised the Global Symposium on Engaging Men and Boys on Achieving Gender Equality which was held in Rio de Janiero from 29 March to 3 April 2009.

Dean Peacock, Sonke co-director, attended the symposium and presented on role of men in the care economy. Dean also formed part of the committee that drafted the Rio Declaration which calls on individuals, communities, NGOs, governments, the private sector, the media, donors and the UN to invest in men and boys in order to change their behaviour and attitudes towards gender equality.

Southern African Aids Conference

The annual Aids Conference was held in Durban from 31 March to 3 April 2009 and was focused on the theme of “Scaling up for Success”.

Regis Mtutu, Sonke’s Migration Project Co-ordinator, made a presentation on the work Sonke has done with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) around Migration, Gender and HIV.

Country Deliberations regarding CEDAW

One Man Can Co-ordinator, Mbuyiselo Botha, attended the Seminar on implementing CEDAW in Pretoria on 30 March 2009. The seminar focussed on Harmful Traditional Practices and discussions centred around practices like polygamy, virginity testing, forced marriages and initiation schools. Participants included the Minister in the Presidency, Dr Manto Tshabalala Msimang, Advocate Thoko Majokweni (who chaired the seminar), the Law Commission of South Africa, the National House of Traditional Leaders, the Commission on Gender Equality, POWA and Sonke Gender Justice.

The debate was heated, with Sonke taking a strong stance against certain traditional practices, like virginity testing, arguing that these practices violate fundamental human rights, including dignity.