Addressing everyday inequalities will help transform our society into a less brutal place to live in, write Rebecca Helman and Kopano Ratele.
February, the month of love, has been a violent month. Not only have violent protests sprung up at several universities, but Valentine's Day marked three years since Reeva Steenkamp was shot and killed by her boyfriend Oscar Pistorius.
This month also marks three years since Anene Booysen was raped and murdered. One of the accused, Johannes Kana, received two life sentences for these crimes.
Pistorius has served some time for his crime, and might be going back to prison after a successful appeal by the National Prosecuting Authority in the Supreme Court of Appeal to put aside his earlier lesser conviction for culpable homicide.
Whatever reservations we may have about the uneven public attention to different categories of victims of violence, the events of February 2013 when Steenkamp and Booysen were murdered marked significant points in the way we think about violence, and particularly gender-based violence.
Public response to the two murders show that racial and class biases pose a challenge to the swift reduction of gender and sexual violence.
However, the murders of the two women reconfirmed that violence is a fundamental way in which we, at all levels of society, relate to each other.
Many South Africans are always ready to show aggression towards one another, those close to us as well as those we regard as strangers.
Three years on it seems that we need to be reminded again, as women continue to be killed by their partners, including Jade Panayiotou, Rachel Dolly Tshabalala and Fatima Choonara.
However, it is a well-known fact that these high-profile cases represent only a fraction of the problem. The Gender and Health Unit at the South African Medical Research Council reports that a woman is killed “every eight hours”.
To honour the lives of the thousands of women and girls who have been killed, not only the high-profile cases, we have to re-examine how we act against each other in order to get beyond the violence that pervades our streets and homes.
But to focus on the lives of women and girls does not give us a full picture of the nature of violence in our society.
Although men are the predominant perpetrators of violence, police statistics and research show that they are also the majority of victims of other men’s violence. Men’s violence against other men, like men’s violence against women, is gender-based violence and needs to be fully recognised as such.
We know that particular ideas about gender play a central role in perpetuating practices of violence. In a society where inequality is rife, not only between men and women but also among different groups of men and women, violence occurs as a somewhat routine event.
In such a society, violence becomes a socially sanctioned way for men to demonstrate their power over women and other men.
In a context where violence has to a great extent become unremarkable, we need a meaningful way to disrupt these practices. Paying attention to everyday practices of inequality is an important place to start. This includes reflecting on things that people do not even necessarily think about as linked to inequality, such as what we do and talk about at home on a daily basis.
In order to make violence unthinkable, we need to dramatically transform our everyday thinking.
As part of the work we do to disrupt violence, we have taken a closer look at everyday inequalities. This involved speaking to a range of different families about how they think about and practise gender equality within their homes, with a view to understanding how parents and other adults in the family talk about equality with children. These discussions show that what parents, children and other family members are doing about equality at home has the capacity to perpetuate practices of violence. There is encouraging evidence that some families, particularly those that consciously think about what equality means, are creating an environment in which violence is not a normal way to relate to one another.
Based on the results of our research we have complied a policy brief (http://www.samrc.ac.za/policybriefs/GenderInequality.pdf) which outlines key insights and recommendations for policy-makers.
It is hoped that by prioritising the connection between everyday inequality and violence, we can begin to transform our society into a less violent place to live.
* Helman and Ratele are with the University of South Africa and the South African Medical Research Council.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.