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Durban- The key to beating the country’s terrible rape figures lies in addressing the way boys are brought up to be men, says a gender expert at the SA Medical Research Council.
Professor Machel Jewkes was speaking during the build-up to Valentine’s Day One Billion Rising Campaign on Thursday.
The campaign was founded by Eve Ensler, playwright of the acclaimed Vagina Monologues, and the “one billion” is a reference to the number of women likely to be raped in their lifetimes, according to UN statistics.
“South African men generally do not see rape as a criminal activity that can lead them to prison. The majority of them think that if you want to have sex with a woman, you can have it, even if a woman does not want to.
“This is seen as a norm, and we need to change that mentality from a very young age,” said Jewkes, who is the head of the council’s gender and health unit.
She said most of the interventions that seek to combat rape in the country have targeted women only.
“I have friends and family members who have girl children and, in the conversations that we have about rape, they are always telling me how they have been teaching and some enrolling their girls in self-defence classes…
“But what about our boys, who is teaching them about not raping, who is teaching them what it means when a woman says no, that it means no?
“We need to start having conversations at the family level rather than focusing wholly on women,” said Jewkes.
Lisa Vetten, a senior researcher at Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, said boys were exposed to violence as the only way of getting their way from a very young age.
“Our society is very violent and very patriarchal. So it is easy for boys to be conditioned into using violence to persuade a girl to have sex with him, even if it against her will – and this is seen as socially acceptable,” Vetten said.
She said that in order to fight the surge of rape there was a strong need to address the vulnerability of men towards the use of violence.
“For every woman killed in this country, there are six men that are killed; violence among men themselves is extremely high proportionately. So if men cannot relate and solve their issues amicably, how do we expect them to connect and address issues they have with women?” she said.
Cookie Edwards, the director at the KZN Network on Violence Against Women, said that the battle against rape would be won when communities start making rape everybody’s issue.
“Violence against women and children reflect the general well-being of the community. If community streets are not safe for women and children, then those streets are not safe for anyone else in the community.
“It is every community member’s responsibility to make those streets safe by standing against any sort of violence against women and children,” she said.
A SA Medical Research Unit study, released in June last year, found that 28 percent of men surveyed had raped a woman or a girl, with one in 20 saying they had raped a woman or girl in the past year.
The 2011/12 crime statistics revealed that 64 000 cases of rape had been reported to the police.
On Valentine’s Day, one billion women and men in 190 countries, including South Africa, will take a stand against women abuse.