It’s time to for all of us in southern Africa to make ourselves deliberately uncomfortable about the extent of gender-based violence and open ourselves up to new thinking about how we are manifestly failing in our mission - given the - and how we can change tack and bring some new thinking to the table.
This work remains seriously underfunded. Supporting victims is often small-scale, uncoordinated and under the radar. Attitudes towards gender-based violence in many local communities remain deeply troubling and unchallenged by our gender movement and our constitutional, human-rights work.
There is a powerful, persistent and malignant idea still out there in many communities that this violence is a marginal problem, confined to a small number of aberrant men. That it is just the problem that sometimes men “take it too far”.
As gender activists we’ve let this happen to some extent. We’ve compartmentalised the problem, labelled it and boxed it into a marketable commodity for funding proposals to donors and governments. We've sought support for our work from only a narrow constituency of benevolent “gender” backstoppers and been content not to think outside of the box.
We’ve ghettoised this as a “women’s issue” and therefore been content to leave the leadership of the challenge to the women’s movement believing in the fallacy that it is a women’s problem. We’ve allocated just enough resources to women’s organisations to manage the dissent and pick up some of the pieces. We’ve patronised and marginalised the small number of men and men’s organisations who’ve taken up the challenge to gender-based violence, drip-feeding their work and just about keeping it on life support.
The women’s movement has done a sterling job in making this a real issue but I feel that now we all need to work far harder at doing something about it. This cannot just be the task of the women’s movement. They need the whole of society to come on board.
The first sea change that needs to happen is that we start to view gender-based violence as a men’s problem, which women suffer from.
The resistance from some in the women’s movement to seeing resources put into work with men and boys has to be dealt with. They need assurances that such funding will not be a “diversion” of resources away from valuable work with women survivors and advocacy that keeps the issue in national attention. Those who work with men and boys need to know that their work is valued and supported, that they can take it to scale.
There is an ever-increasing number of men who are working alongside of women, learning from women, but working in parts of male culture where, historically, there has been very little work done. But we need a lot more men involved; we’re not even close to having a critical mass of men involved for our work on men’s violence against women to be transformative.
We need adult men with power to feel responsible to deal with these issues but many of these men are turned off by our present strategies. The goal has to be to get men who do not abuse women and children to speak out against men who do. It may be sexist to say this but often men can say things that women cannot or men get listened to where women are not but it is true.
We will only make progress when men’s violence against women is fundamentally seen as our problem as men. It’s counter-productive how so much activism on GBV has been corralled into the “women’s issues” arena and has excluded men. We’ve been outside the conversation, the thinking and the action for too long.
Powerful ideas get transmitted much in the same way that genes do — only we call these memes. Once embedded in our minds they become powerfully entrenched. We need a new meme on gender-based violence that will transmit itself quickly and powerfully into all our minds and deep down into our communities.