Fathers of the future

2013-01-25 00:00

THERE are no little things in life. Everything counts. Gender-based violence (GBV) is another social expression of our time in the equation. Service delivery and development feels its presence. It tends to discourage development gains at the most sensitive level — the household. Gender-based violence thrives and replicates itself at this level. I hope you will agree with me that there is no reason for violence in a household, even when a man’s ego is rubbished. The same applies to women.

There is hope for the communities living in the Ubuhlebezwe Municipality. Sisonke Cares, a Canadian government-funded intervention, has prioritised a five-year strategic intervention programme to address HIV and gender-based violence. It combines components of research with finding out about attitudes and beliefs among community members on gender-based violence and HIV infections. This is done so that, together with communities, appropriate interventions for reducing HIV infections and gender-based violence can be implemented.

In the second week of January, Sisonke Cares facilitated an experience-sharing workshop with stakeholders from Ubuhlebezwe Municipality that deal with these issues.

Communities acknowledged the problem of household violence and we must applaud those women for taking action against many violations that happen to other women and children in their communities. The approach of the facilitator, Simphiwe Zondi, and the way participants expressed themselves, blended nicely to give a new complexion to the challenge as well as hope of overcoming it.

During the discussion, it was very clear that gender-based violence largely remains the expression of power that gives meaning to gender identities, roles and societal expectations. We know this very well. We also know that denial and fear of rejection remain the main culprits for reproducing this kind of violence. Victims fear denting their social status and family relationships. Some people believe that poverty and failures of our economic system are to blame. What we did not know is that rural women are now tackling domestic violence head on, irrespective of the feared consequences. There are men out there who have completed the equation. As young fathers or fathers of tomorrow, we would expect our daughters to be loved, cared for and treated with respect. What men may not have realised is that gender-based violence is also their central problem. It is not a concern for women only.

The discussion of the day deliberated on many issues and possible solutions. One obvious solution is the engagement of men. It was interesting that these community-based organisations are already dealing with the problem in many ways.

Besides the usual awareness campaigns and engagement with men, they also provide limited psychosocial support to the victims of violence. They facilitate and provide places of safety within and across communities. They make temporary food available. They take care of orphaned and vulnerable children. They also provide support for victims to ensure the perpetrators are brought to book.

A very sad story was shared here. In one of the communities around Ixobho, a respected community leader denied child support and care to an orphan he was living with. Members of a local community-based organisation took the challenge and brought the matter to the attention of the authorities, despite threats and consequences associated with male-dominated institutions. The problem was resolved. This is a real step forward.

What can be the solution? The participants prioritised their expectations of the Sisonke Cares programme.

First, there was consensus that the intervention should identify good practices and behaviours from tradition and culture. The obvious one is the protection of women, children and the weak by men. Linked to protection of the victims, participants want clear anti-gender-based violence messages. Participants hoped that the programme will explore ways that will encourage families to provide places of safety, especially for children, and encourage adoption of orphaned and vulnerable children. The African tradition does encourage adoption at a community level.

Second, in the process the programme should be able to identify those attitudes, beliefs and practices that tend to promote gender-based violence. This should include elders and traditionalists so that progressive programmes can be designed and implemented. One of the issues the programme has to face head on is the practice of early marriages. This practice tends to condemn young women to perpetual slavery and acceptance of the status quo. Protectors of stereotypes enjoy defending this practice as part of tradition and culture but this is an excuse. What they don’t say is that African culture promotes protection of women, children and the elderly.

Third, is the big one. Women need to change their assumptions and beliefs, and stop normalising the behaviour of men. Some women accept violence as central to masculine values. Sadly, such acceptance reproduces everyday violence.

The planned Sisonke Cares intervention will be very unique. It will combine research and programme intervention by integrating the priorities of the communities. We hope it will identify and test community-led intervention that promotes men as responsible fathers, sons as future and responsible fathers, and women and girls as co-pilots in this life expedition. And we wish them well.

• Nqe Dlamini is a rural development consultant and chairperson of the national board of the SA Red Cross.

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