Have you ever imagined how the campaign against drunken driving would have gone if we had focused on everyone but the driver?
Our slogans would be very different from what they are now.
Imagine seeing a poster that says, “Break the silence! Report your drinking and driving father”, or maybe “Take a stand, end deaths on our roads – protect other road users from drunken driving”.
How about when a pedestrian is knocked over by a car, and we ask this person who has just had a near-death experience: “Did you report it to the police?”
And can you imagine how the campaign against HIV/Aids would have gone?
Perhaps the poster might have read, “Protect your friend from the virus, make sure they use a condom”.
Nonsense, isn’t it?
Yet we are subjected to the same kind of disrespectful campaigns every day when dealing with gender-based violence (GBV).
It seems to be that when it comes to GBV we address everyone in society but the very perpetrators who are the protagonists.
It’s completely mind-rattling.
One would swear that we do not know if the perpetrator is listening and we just want to pass on the message through a third party.
Or that, as if he were a king, we are too afraid to confront the man directly about his wrongdoing and we are forced to be diplomatic to ensure he does not get offended.
And, as a result, we address everyone but the person who actually abuses the woman, often to the point of death.
Although we certainly must and will continue to commend those who have raised their voices in support of campaigns against GBV, it’s important that we look critically at what we have been saying. All messaging that aggravates the victim’s situation must stop.
Our focus should be on men because men are the perpetrators.
We must address men before they contemplate the crime, when they do it and after they have done it.
Our messaging must be a deterrent that alienates this behaviour, while modelling and promoting the behaviour we want to see.
This is an important counter narrative because everyday conversations already create a societal narrative that sustains this kind of behaviour.
All other kinds of messages should be secondary because what will actually stop GBV is when men stop being violent.
Messaging that does not challenge the socially ingrained patriarchal attitudes of men and fail to directly address the issue will not take us anywhere.
The common messages we have seen are “break the silence” and “protect ‘our’ women”. We know that breaking the silence is important, but many cases reported to the police by women who have found the courage to break the silence do not even make it to prosecution and this exposes women to the continued danger of abuse.
Although some women successfully manage to get restraining orders, many have died with those orders in force.
We know that many of the crimes against women happen in intimate spaces where victims are isolated.
So, what do we really mean when we say that men must protect women from these? Sure, I agree that an occasional walk with her in the dark might help deter aggression from a man. But that will not end GBV.
Of course we agree that these campaigns are important and contribute to the broader efforts but I am convinced that we would see more traction in the fight against GBV if we started speaking to the perpetrator and not over his head or around him.
To that end, I believe that if we want to end the crisis we need to be more direct.
How about messaging that says, “You don’t own her”; “Don’t do it”; “Don’t be violent”; “Violence is not a sign of love”?
I’m sure the creatives can do better but the point is made.
So, next time we get a chance to contribute to the discourse on ending GBV, let’s try to find the courage to address the main problem, the man, and work towards changing his mind and attitude.
Nhlapo is an activist
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