On Wednesday evening, a webinar titled Accountability: How Men Need to Show up to Stop Gender-Based Violence, was expertly moderated by Gail Smith of the Soul City Institute.
Hosted by the Daily Sun and supported by the delegation of the EU to South Africa, the panel raised many salient points. I have selected the ones that resonated with me.
As men, we often approach the conversation of accountability by addressing gender-based violence as a problem of “other men”.
The panel stressed that we men need to reflect on our role in participating in the story of violence against women and girls.
The discussion encouraged me to have honest and vulnerable conversations with myself and the men around me, and ask questions like: “Where have I held/do I hold sexist views towards women?”
This led me to realise that some of the ways in which our conversations have been framed focus on the individual while ignoring the systemic drivers of violence against women and children.
As a result, our interventions may focus on the incarceration of the offenders and retributive justice, while ignoring the need to critically reflect on and address the systemic, cultural and historical environment that produces violent men.
These conditions include colonial and apartheid histories of violence, endemic poverty, substance abuse and deeply held patriarchal attitudes about a woman’s place in society. The panel emphasised the need to address inequalities holistically.
One of the panellists lamented the fact that men’s movements, which are often well-resourced, have action plans that have the effect of “soothing” men rather than holding them accountable.
Instead, these men should be leading the radical changes that would be meaningful to women.
For example, they could do this by refusing to socialise with unrepentant men who are either perpetrators of gender-based violence or men who willingly participate in the drivers of violence against girls and women.
Another panellist highlighted the need to identify violence against women and girls as a social justice issue and recognise the privilege that comes with being a man in our society.
The reality is that, as a country and as men, we have demonstrated repeatedly that instances of violence do not translate into the will to change – no matter how gruesome the details or how widely the story is shared in the media. Women know this.
Accountability is much more than the low bar of just speaking out against gender-based violence.
Instead, we men must call out other men for their problematic behaviour and be the meaningful change agents within our communities, as well as in our cultural practices and within our religious institutions. This extends to our political leaders and civil society.
Most importantly, the conversations that will bring about these radical changes must extend to the “everyday” conversation level where the potential to make a material difference to the daily experiences of ordinary women is greatest.
The panel reflected on how gender socialisation is important in ensuring that all children grow up with the freedom to nurture healthy relationships with themselves and others outside the confines of harmful stereotypes, norms and discrimination.
In this regard, I am encouraged by Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, who often speaks about how he is learning to raise his son in ways that intentionally counter harmful stereotypes and behaviour while he himself commits to holding other men accountable to demonstrate his commitment to ending gender-based violence.
Mashua is the CEO of the Kolisi Foundation. Kolisi was due to be on the panel, however a bereavement prevented him from attending. Find the full webinar recording here.