The month of August is a month that is dedicated to the commemoration of women, in particular the heroes of 1956. However, it is also a month that really puts the spotlight on the current state of women in South Africa. Which, statistically speaking, is a state of constant fear and despondency.
On the 31st of July, Minister Bheki Cele announced the crime statistics for the 2019/2020 financial year. He revealed, among other horrific figures, that there were 42 289 rape cases opened. In addition to this, we learned earlier in the week, with great shock and shame that yet another women was killed by their estranged partner. 45 year old Phumeza Pepeta from Nelson Mandela Bay was allegedly killed by her estranged partner while she was burying her father. The man who committed this horrific crime, allegedly dressed up as woman, gained access to the funeral where he killed a grieving daughter.
The reality is that women in South Africa do not have “safe” spaces anymore. They are harassed by people they supposed to trust. Partners, friends, managers, brothers, and strangers alike have raped, abused and killed many women in this country. Statistics South Africa tells us that 1 in every 3 women has experienced some sort of sexual harassment. That young girls between the ages of 14 and 24, have an HIV/AIDS infection rate that is eight times more than their male counterparts.
As men, of South Africa in particular, we have to change and create safer communities for women. It starts with listening intentionally to the cries articulated by women all over. Whom, under the banner of #MENareTRASH, have tried to explain their pain. That, it is not about the individual, but the group. Because even if you, as an individual, might be a good man who has not wronged anyone. You are a representation of a gender that has consistently wronged women. That if you were to walk anywhere, even with your good intentions, a woman who doesn’t know you and your intentions, will most likely be scared because of what our fellow men have done.
This year’s Women’s Month offers us a unique opportunity as men and young boys to actively listen, to seek information, and to learn and unlearn. We need to prioritize the unlearning of problematic gender norms we have learned, and at times, been groomed into from a young age, such as:
- Outdated patriarchal and gender norms:
Issues such as catcalling, not respecting women and girls who say no the first time, have created an entitlement culture. It is of paramount importance that we, as men, unlearn such behaviours and consciously instil a culture of respect and accountability among each other.
- Forms of abuse:
Abuse manifests itself in various forms. And most people tend to only think of it when it manifests itself as violence. However, research indicates that majority of the time, it starts as gaslighting, emotional and verbal abuse, the instilling of fear and punishment as love and before it escalates to physical abuse and potentially death. Thus, men should commit to educating themselves about all forms of abuse, how it manifest, and most importantly, how to hold ourselves accountable in practising positive masculinity.
- Proactive measures:
There is a grave need to galvanize institutions of societal influence to be proactive in dealing with gender-based violence. Religious institutions such as Churches and Mosques, alcohol friendly environments like taverns and shebeens, and sports hosting places need to be leading the call and conversations in creating safe spaces for women and children. Laws and most enforcement agencies are reactive by their nature. It is only after a woman has been abused or harassed can the police and the legal system do something about it, which in most cases is too late or justice is not served in the first place. Police reports indicate that only 1 in every 9 cases will be prosecuted and convicted.
- Campaigns at schools, abuse tends to start early:
In recent years we have seen an uptick of violence in schools. Viral videos have been shared across different social media platforms showing young boys already being violent to the counterparts and times to the educators. Schools are a microcosm of their immediate communities, and thus it comes as no surprise when such incidents occur. It is time that we go back to the grassroots, to mentor young boy children, to teach them that they are not entitled to women in any form whatsoever, and to rebuild safer space that inclusive of the next generation.
The scourge of Gender based violence does not not need us to only show up in public spaces and social media platforms with empty solidarity. But to actively speak out in our own echo chambers of privilege. To understand that the onus cannot be on the victims and potential targets to solve an issue they fear and experience. It is on us, the men, the potential perpetrators of violence to solve this evil. To unlearn unhealthy and toxic habits, to create safe spaces for women and children, and to hold each other accountable. A safe South Africa starts when we can model good behavior for the youth, when law enforcement agencies can treat victims of GBV with compassion and care, and men can understand that violence, especially towards women and children is not that answer.