Ask most men, and they will tell you that gender-based violence (GBV) is something they have seen at some point in their lives. GBV is so systemic in our society and communities that most of us know a woman or girl who has been affected. And yet, every conversation, protest or campaign against GBV is led by women. If we’re going to turn the tide of this ‘second pandemic’, that has to change.
As the father of teenage daughters, myself, the conversations I have with them about their experiences of the outside world, and their fears, are at best sobering; at worst, terrifying. They don’t even want to get into an Uber by themselves, let alone contemplate going anywhere without someone accompanying them for safety. Is this the world we want our girl children to be venturing into? How do we allow them to live their lives fully and without fear?
What is clear is that we, as men, are not doing enough. In fact, most of us are doing nothing, except looking away. Globally, we are the main perpetrators of GBV. We need to take a stand and start leading the fight against GBV ourselves. We need to hold each other accountable for our actions. We must have the hard-hitting conversations that not only shine a light on our darkest behaviours but change them fundamentally.
I am fully aware of what it means for us to say something, and the difficulty of starting the conversations. As much as we say we need to speak up, what is the social cost of speaking up? How will we be seen, as male voices speaking to male audiences? It sounds ridiculous to say, but how do we create ‘safe’ spaces for men to have the conversations, and open up and share their personal experiences?
Those are some of the core questions we’re currently asking at the company I work for, Kumba Iron Ore, as part of a range of initiatives that seek to root out GBV - not just in the workplace, but within our homes, schools and communities. We know that to break the cycle, we must encourage men to be the drivers of change, become positive role models to boys in their communities and support women’s and girls’ initiatives.
One of the critical elements of the scourge of GBV is that it must be understood within the context of men’s and women’s relative social and economic disadvantage and discrimination in South Africa. Addressing GBV requires breaking stereotypes, and understanding and challenging gender inequality, in the many arena that they manifest themselves.
That’s why we deliberately conducted one of our recent internal conversations in the kitchen, which is still seen as ‘a woman’s place’ by many. So, we had six male Kumba leaders cooking a meal and then sitting around the kitchen table, talking about how we can become more involved in curbing GBV. This conversation was both revealing and encouraging for both the participants and the audience. The next step is to get all 13 000 men in Kumba to start not only talking about GBV but doing something about it.
Why engage men? For a start, in most cases we’re usually the problem. We also tend to hold the power and influence in our homes and communities, for better or for worse. If our positive voices are heard, perhaps we can be more effective change agents. If meaningful change is to happen, and be sustained, it is essential to engage the whole community – and not only the female half of the community.
Once men start having these conversations, it’s often an eye-opener for them to learn what other people regard as harassment. In fact, it’s empowering to be able to evaluate our own actions and the impact of gender inequality from the perspective of women. What men often dismiss as ‘harmless’, ‘only a joke’ or ‘I meant nothing by it’, is part of the systemic problem. We must shift our perceptions of what’s acceptable and appropriate, and what isn’t.
One important step that can come out of these conversations is to get men to understand why they engage in GBV sometimes consciously, and sometimes unconsciously. If we can understand it, we can start tackling it. We need to get reformed perpetrators talking about their experiences and getting violent men to get insight into their behaviour and change it.
Equally importantly, men must know there is help available if they find themselves in a situation that might lead them to becoming violent.
We also need to be doing more as men to bring up our sons better; sons who will grow up with a more balanced view of equality in our society; sons who treat others with respect and don’t resort to violence to resolve their problems; sons who take responsibility, and become the men who openly stand up against the violence, especially with women they are not related to.
We have a long way to go. But we cannot wait any longer. We as men have a choice: become part of the solution or remain the problem. It starts with me and you.
Piece written by Bothwell Mazarura - the Chief Financial Officer at Kumba Iron Ore
This post and content is sponsored, written and provided by Anglo American.