Launched in August 2009, Brothers for Life (BfL) is a joint campaign by Johns Hopkins Health and Education South Africa (JHHESA), the National Department of Health (NDoH), the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) and Sonke Gender Justice (Sonke). It is a coalition of nearly 50 organisations spread across South Africa’s nine provinces. BfL is a national mass media and community mobilisation campaign targeted at men over the age of 30, with a focus on the range of risk factors driving the spread of HIV and AIDS, including gender based violence (GBV), alcohol, and multiple concurrent partners. Sonke implements the community mobilisation component of the campaign.

The importance of focusing on men is centred on the following prevailing norms/situations:

  • Men as decision-makers influencing behaviour such as multiple concurrent partnerships, condom use and HIV testing.
  • Traditional norms influencing notions of manhood.
  • The role of alcohol and substance abuse resulting in diminished rational capacity and the influence on sexual behavior.
  • The low trends of health-seeking behavior in men.
  • Male health and wellness not receiving enough focus.
  • Men and responsible fatherhood, including involvement in Antenatal Care and Prevention of Mother to Child HIV Transmission (PMTCT) and general lack of male involvement in family health issues.

The following are listed as key interventions in the National Strategic Plan (NSP) on HIV and AIDS and STIs 2007-2011, which guide the development of messages and activities of the BfL Campaign:

  • Accelerate programmes to empower women and educate men and women on women and human rights.
  • Support national efforts to strengthen social cohesion in communities and to support the institution of the family.
  • Introduce programmes to mitigate the impact of alcohol and substance abuse.
  • Develop a comprehensive package that promotes male sexual health and which addresses gender and GBV.

The overall goal of this project is to contribute to the prevention of new HIV infections and GBV in South Africa, by addressing men’s limited involvement in fatherhood, encouraging men to reduce risky behaviours, increase their use of HIV related services, and challenging gender inequalities that are driving the rapid spread of HIV and AIDS. In particular, the project works to bring about a change in men’s attitudes and behaviour to reduce the incidence of multiple concurrent partnerships, alcohol and substance abuse and the use of violence.

To achieve its goal, Sonke mobilises its broad network of partners to implement BfL campaign activities to encourage men in communities towards making safer choices about sex and sexuality in their lives and valuing the importance of a lifestyle that will not be detrimental to their health.

BfL has a strong focus on voluntary medical male circumcision (MMC) as part of HIV prevention. Sonke, through SANAC Men’s Sector, supports safe circumcision i.e. Medical Male Circumcision and Traditional Male Circumcision conducted by registered circumcision schools that are supervised by government departments. Sonke provides technical support for advocacy, education and communication with a theme of shared responsibilities among the key stakeholders. The groups targeted include initiates, parents, female partners, traditional leaders, the NDoH, civil society partners, South African Police Service (SAPS), Department of Justice (DoJ), Human Rights Commission (HRC), and mainstream and community media.