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This unidentified woman wearing a mobile dress decorated with newspaper articles on gender violence victims, turned heads at the arts and crafts street festival, Streetopia, in Observatory on Saturday.
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Unacceptable levels of gender-based violence in South Africa are evidence that current interventions are not working. It's time to recognise arts and culture that work on a social level to help shift attitudes, writes Fergus Turner.
Africans are reeling from a series of horrific attacks on women and children,
which culminated in protest marches across the country this September.
According to the latest data, a woman
is murdered every three hours in South Africa. Deputy Minister of
Social Development, Henrietta Ipeleng Bogopane-Zulu, at an event early in
September acknowledged that “some of our systems have not worked as we wanted them to work”
and pledged to step up actions to fight gender-based violence (GBV).
But studies show that South Africans themselves have worrying attitudes towards
gender-based violence. A 2018
study by Statistics South Africa revealed
that there was a percentage of women – even though it was small at 2.3% –
who thought it was acceptable for a man to hit a woman. Study authors said, “It
could therefore be fair to conclude that it is not possible to eliminate
violence against women when there are women who still believe that it is
acceptable to be hit by a man.”
How do we change beliefs and attitudes towards women
and children, transform the thinking around violence and domestic abuse as well
as femicide? A challenging task, to be sure, but not impossible. And there are
spaces where such work is easier to do, where the topics for discussion present
themselves more naturally, allowing for the necessary dialogues and
conversations that create and build awareness – which in turn shapes our
thinking and ultimately can change behaviour.
These spaces exist in our arts and cultural spheres,
where festivals in particular can be potent agents in the countering of
gender-based violence. Not only do stories, music and art bring people together
and mobilise them, but they boost social cohesion, stimulate regional economies
and allow for divergent voices to be heard.
There are many examples from across the world where
festivals have been used to bring people together and spread knowledge on
various topics – including GBV. Oxfam,
for instance, launched a series of events, including film festivals and poster
design competitions in countries like South Africa, Zambia, Morocco, Indonesia,
India and Pakistan to spread positive messages on gender equality, promote
feminist songs and street theatre shows.
And while this may seem like a soft approach, there is
hard evidence that such cultural interventions can successfully
address GBV. In one study in Uganda by Columbia University, researchers
randomised control trial on violence against women and revealed that showing
videos to community members, encouraging them to speak out when there is
domestic violence, led to a reduction in domestic violence itself. It appeared
that the videos raised awareness about domestic violence being wrong and
demonstrated that there was no shame in speaking out about it, which helped to
reduce the incidences of violence.
In South Africa, the Ulutsha
Street Festival 2018, which has been held in Port Elizabeth for
the past four years, actively seeks to involve community members and especially
young people from disadvantaged areas where there is a lot of domestic
violence, in a range of activities from drama, music and poetry to games and
street soccer tournaments. The 2018 event raised awareness of GBV with
appearances by the Masifunde LGBTI Group as well as the Masifunde Positive
Masculinity Group performing a GBV flash mob. The SAPS Social Crime Prevention
Officer also spoke about the importance of reporting cases of domestic
violence, and at the end of the day, poems about violence were shared publicly.
Such public events can enhance community cohesion,
creating a platform from which advocacy and activism can be launched. Positive
messages to raise awareness, to educate and inform, are absorbed more easily in
an atmosphere that has been uplifted with fun and games. Festivals create
opportunities for better understanding across cultural boundaries as well as
for greater resilience within marginalised communities. They provide a playful,
non-political arena for cultural understanding, reconciliation, and
Additionally, festival organisers are able to bring
people together, from city officials and strategic partners to activists, into
a festival arena, getting key role players to commit in whatever way they can,
to work together towards a common aim. Festivals are non-threatening by nature,
they are celebratory spaces where people come to relax and share good times,
and to many institutional players festivals can be a safe space to become
involved with a certain theme or topic that may otherwise pose problems for
them in another official setting.
This then allows an interface platform for issues and themes to be explored via
poetry or expressive dance or any other art form. Performance,
carnival, storytelling, etc. are much more effective and safe mediums for
disrupting and re-imagining antisocial memes that are systemic rather than
symptomatic. In the case of GBV, it can help to curate new narratives and aid
in performing them with a variety of mediums.
And playing with
ideas and the emotion around especially sensitive and potentially explosive
topics like GBV in such a manner, has a higher likelihood of reaching audiences
who may not have been open to such messages before.
How we perceive boys and girls, is socially – not
biologically driven – says
Kristin Mmari, associate professor at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public
Health. So if we want to change perceptions about men and women, we need to do
this at a social level. Using schools and workplaces to change perceptions and
ideas about gender is vital, but how much more effectively could we get
positive gender messages across at festivals, where people – and especially
young people – are relaxed, accessible and open to what is happening around
them? It sets the stage for real social justice and true societal change, with
an audience ready and willing to engage with the message.
- Fergus Turner manages the
Bertha Centre’s Scholarship Community and is an alumnus of the UCT Graduate
School of Business’s MPhil specialising in Inclusive Innovation. He also
coordinates the Muizenberg Festival and is Director of The Hive, a creative hub
space and cultural incubator.
Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.
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