The summit against abuse showed us the faces of women who survived. And their men

Last week the National Summit Against Gender Based Violence and Femicide took place in Johannesburg, shining the spotlight on the nationwide scourge of violence and abuse against women in the country.

Yonela Diko discusses the emotions following the summit, and how as a man, he has called on the male population to be accountable and aware of the pains and struggles that women endure on a daily basis.

The National Summit Against Gender Based Violence and Femicide was an emotional and painful event that touched the soul of our collective conscience.

As men, we have been charged by our women – whom we have treated as subhuman and violated for our crass and evil pleasures.

We have been charged by our women for being complicit and pliant regarding known abusers, for not defending them against strangers who prey on them, and against patriarchal systems that continue to relegate them to the fringes of society and assault their dignity.

What came out clearly from the summit is that there are real people, real lives, sisters, mothers, daughters, behind all these terrible yearly statistics. When they say there is war against women in this country, we get to see its consequences with our own eyes.

Statistics South Africa said the murder rate for women has increased by about 117% between 2015 and 2016/17. The summit saw the faces and bodies of those who survived.

Stats SA said women who experienced sexual offences jumped from 31 665 in 2015/16 to 70 813 in 2016/17.

We saw the real and violated bodies of our women behind those unconscionable numbers.

About 40% of all women in the country have experienced sexual violence. This is said to be underreported for multiple reasons including intimidation.

Men are the monsters that have brought so much evil into our world. Paradoxically, most men would acknowledge this state of evil and are deeply offended by it.

The very same men however, who are disgusted by this unending abuse on women, are the abusers.

How do we explain this paradox of doing the very same thing you are appalled by? Is it a sense of cognitive dissonance, or a biological shortcoming in men, or even psychiatric mental disorder, a sense of losing control of our better selves in certain moments?

Answering these questions may well bring us to a proper diagnosis and prognosis.

The real culprits are the familiar people, partners, friends, fathers, who will deliberately violate a woman and still blame her for it or expect her to live by their side in the morning.

The real culprits are the people who physically beat women and emotionally abuse them and still expect them to take it, because women must be put in their place.

It’s been said that those who abuse women do it for no special or different reason than those who don’t.

This would mean all men are affected the same way by issues but some choose to react differently than others. This means all men are capable of abuse.

Those who have studied the psychology of both men and women tell us that men are wired to react physically during times of high emotions. Women are wired differently. They want to talk during moments of high emotions.

The combination of potential violence during moments of high emotion and more talk (likely offensive) is a recipe for disaster.

It usually takes one partner to wisely take charge of his own emotions to ensure such reactions do not lead to physical violence.

Of course, by then emotional abuse may have already taken place.

If the same situation can affect different genders differently, there is no excuse for violence, we have to understand our shortcomings and how to respond to them.

We are said to have as much as 20 times more testosterone than women, making us more aggressive and dominant in our responses to situations than women.

A new study by the University of Haifa has discovered that the hormone oxytocin, which affects behaviours such as trust, empathy and generosity also affects the negative traits such as jealously and gloating. Simone Shamay-Tsoory, who did the research, said: “When the association is negative, the hormone increases negative sentiments.”

Jealousy is first expressed with the overburdening questioning about the whereabouts of the partner and who she is with, which ultimately leads to violence, can be traced to this hormone.

That goes for controlling behaviour, wanting to isolate your partner from the world, forcing her to have sex against her will, and most probably the desire to hold on to a gender-rigid role for dominance.

More research has linked gender violence with expressions of masculinity and its power connotation.

Such masculinity is said to be sometimes expressed through money and jobs and, where that is not available, that turns to be expressed in violence.

Again, understanding these dynamics helps men to respond better.

Ultimately, all men know the difference between right and wrong. There has to be a level of consequence to men who abuse women which will be so severe it must shock them to the core so that they will never, ever, lay their hands on women ever again.

Consequence is still the best cure.

• Yonela Diko is the spokesperson for the ANC in the Western Cape


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