Credit to President Cyril Ramaphosa for leading the way in demonstrating that violence against males, too, is a scourge to our nascent democracy, writes Tswelopele Makoe.
As Women’s Month ended, President Cyril Ramaphosa befittingly engaged young men and boys on the prevention and combating of Gender-based Violence and Femicide (GBVF).
The welcome event took place this week, on August 29th, in Soweto. It was part of the Presidential Young Men and Boys Indaba.
Often, in discussions of GBVF, males are cast as perpetrators of violence. It is pertinent that we begin to address this issue, not only where women are concerned, but also men equally.
GBV is a violation and a crime, whether it is perpetrated against women, men, or non-binary individuals. It is an infringement on human rights, as enshrined in our Constitution.
Although the perpetuation of gender inequalities is a worldwide crisis that predominantly affects females, GBV against boys and men is largely mitigated and overlooked.
In our patriarchal society, men are often silenced victims of GBV. According to Statista, 8 294 males were subjected to domestic violence thus far in this year alone.
According to Gitnux Market Data Reports, over half of all males do not report incidents of GBV, and those that do are often overlooked, ostracised and disgraced. This year, domestic violence assaults against males accounted for about 34% of all assault reports against men.
These statistics include the disabled, mentally ill, LGBTQIA+ citizens, and the elderly. The stigmatisation of men who are abused or attacked is highly problematic and results in a plethora of subsequent societal challenges.
This issue is exacerbated by toxic masculinity, which is defined as exaggerated masculine traits, often negatively impacting those around them.
This further leads to a lack of emotion and empathy, ignoring personal trauma, controlling and dominant behaviours (both physically and psychologically), sexual aggression, homophobia, hostility, and an overall proclivity to violent behaviours.
Those that choose not to abide by these traits are often ostracised, bullied, and subjected to danger and vulnerability.
We cannot paint all men with the same brush. Generalisations and stereotypes are extremely dangerous and negate the punishment of specific perpetrators of violence.
Many males are fathers, brothers, church leaders, community leaders, educators, and activists. The popular Twitter trend #MenAreTrash has been rightfully criticised for vulgarising all the males in our society rather than shining a light on the specific perpetrators of violence.
This not only results in a deep separatism in the fight against societal forms of violence such as GBV, but also “vilifies” and negates the males that, in reality, protect and defend the women in their lives.
We need to place emphasis on the encouragement of males that actively contest violence in our society. In addition to this, we need to tackle the traits of our society that perpetuate this violence, as well as the resultants of this toxic behaviour.
Male GBV victims are commonly blackballed from society or blamed for embodying a “lack” of masculinity. However, masculinity should not be connoted to violence, suffering, neglect and abandonment.
Males are just as human as any other member of our society, and they deserve to exist in a society that supports them mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
South Africa comes from a tumultuous history rooted in disproportionate racial and gender dynamics. It has been proven, time and time again, that the unification of all the people in our society is the only way to meaningfully enact change.
It is, therefore, a transformational move made by President Ramaphosa in engaging young males in our society in grappling with this issue, not only within their own homes, but in our society at large.
By engaging males in our society, where issues of violence are considered, we are able to foster safer homes and communities for younger generations.
We are able to mitigate toxic masculinity, and we are able to support our civic society ventures that actively fight against GBV. This will also promote the practices of consent, healthy public discourses, and accountability for violent behaviours.
This will further de-normalise sexual violence, sexism, and the stigmatisation that comes with abuse. It is pertinent that we review and re-shape what it means to be a positive and meaningful member of our society, particularly amongst young males.
This means standing up against rape culture, understanding accountability and consent, and engaging with other males on challenges that uniquely affect them.
We cannot effectively grapple with the scourge of GBV without the participation of every single member of our society. The creation of gender divisions in our society will never be conducive to the fight against GBV.
We need to promote public participation in engaging with men’s challenges as well. We need to interrogate the details of our social, cultural, and economic sectors that seek to promote toxic masculinity.
We need to obliterate stereotypes such as “boys will be boys” that seek to normalise violent behaviours by males of all ages. We need to understand the dangers of toxic masculinity and the repercussions of these traits in our society.
We live in an unstable global economy where social instability, civil unrest, unemployment, poverty, exploitation, and corruption are rife. It is fundamental that the plethora of our societal issues do not exacerbate our socialisation and also the dynamics of our daily lives.
We need to unearth the details of masculinity in order to understand the positive traits that should be assimilated and the negative traits that should be eliminated.
In our contemporary society, the advocacy for males is often reduced to misogyny, and the mistaken ideal that highlighting violence against males detracts from the severity of violence against women.
However, it is crucial that we stop viewing GBV as an exclusive “women’s problem”. The tackling of this issue requires all the components of our society – from our legislative sector to our law enforcement, our educational institutions, and our religious sector.
I implore our civic society organisations to grapple with gender-based violence – against all citizens – with the gravity that it deserves.
Furthermore, it is paramount that we do not restrict issues of violence to the month of August (women’s month) alone. GBV is an issue that devastatingly affects our whole society throughout the entire year.
We need to start grappling with it with the seriousness that it deserves. This means that this issue should be addressed meaningfully, from January to December, with all of the members of our society and with the inclusion of all of the sectors our society.
Violence is a destructive force, and a weapon of the weak. We cannot actualise the future we want to see without first addressing our own realities. Ultimately, the ramifications of violence are permanent.
It takes great courage to stand against the violent majority, and it is a necessary step in the evolution and betterment of our society and our future. As former president Nelson Mandela befittingly said: “Great anger and violence can never build a nation.”
Tswelopele Makoe is a Gender Activist. She is also an Andrew W. Mellon Scholar, pursuing an MA Ethics at UWC, affiliated with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice. All views expressed are her own.