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15 March 2023 | Story Chelepe Mocwana | Photo Grand Epic Photography
Chelepe Mocwana
Chelepe Mocwana serves as the Senior Gender Officer in the Gender Equality and Anti-Discrimination Office within the Unit for Institutional Change and Social Justice on the South Campus of the University of the Free State

Opinion article by Chelepe Mocwana, Senior Officer in the University of the Free State Unit for Institutional Change and Social Justice, Gender Equality and Anti-Discrimination Office.
Gender-Based Violence Challenges Facing Men and Young Boys

Men in South Africa and male students at higher education institutions (HEIs) are faced with the challenge of the social construction of what constitutes a ‘man’. This difficulty is rooted in social norms that are embedded in hetero-patriarchal social systems and beliefs. The manifestation of these beliefs is projected in social realities that are configured within power structures. The scourge of gender-based violence and femicide against women and girls, gender and sexual minorities, is a playout of power dynamics that enable the perpetrator to violate their subject. This form of violence is often perpetuated by men against women or gender and sexual minorities. This is exacerbated and compounded by several issues. 

This includes poverty, socialisation, heteronormativity, political history, mental health, unhealthy sexual practices, and toxic masculinities. Men – especially young men – find themselves without a safe space to express themselves about the challenges they face in society today. Other than men feeling that they have no space to engage, there seems to be a general resistance among men to achieve gender equity and partner with women(x) to eradicate gender-based violence. Some of the resistance is due to the socialisation of men. These are behaviours and cultures that men have adopted over time, normalised, and end up accepting as norms and acceptable behaviour. Men today are faced with the challenge of identity and manhood. 

This begs the question. What does it constitute to be a ‘man’ in this time and age? Issues of manhood and identity among young men today are complex and multifaceted. Historical, cultural, and social factors have played a role in shaping these concepts. In African societies, rituals play a major role in forming our identity and manhood. Some of the narratives around these rituals have led to toxic masculinities and related practices formed by men. Globalisation and social media have influenced men’s views on manhood; therefore, a concerted effort is needed to focus on establishing an identity and manhood that is relevant and applicable to the Global South. 

Why Positive Masculinities

Men must find a space to look at their masculinity again. Therefore, we submit that positive masculinity programmes must be promoted as men engage. The objective of such programmes is to promote healthy and constructive expressions of masculinity. Masculinity that makes men comfortable to express their emotions and to be vulnerable. Spaces where they can engage without being judged when they express themselves. Masculinity that are based on values of respect, empathy, responsibility, and emotional intelligence. Men must challenge harmful gender norms and stereotypes, harmful cultural and social norms that perpetuate toxic and violent expressions of masculinity, gender-based violence, and homophobia, and start to promote more inclusive and equitable social norms.

Men are needed who will empower boys and men. Positive masculinity aims to empower men to become positive role models and leaders in their communities. This involves promoting a sense of responsibility and accountability and encouraging men to use their influence to promote positive social change. Ultimately, the objectives of positive masculinity are to promote a more inclusive, equitable, and just society, where individuals of all genders can thrive and reach their full potential. Accountability entails having awareness and acknowledgment of the power and privilege that comes with patriarchy and male privilege; robustly engaging with institutional policies, procedures, and culture to achieve gender equity; respecting and promoting women’s leadership in the gender space and society in general, and continued cooperation with women and gender activists.

Going into the future

It is time for men to speak up and stop being bystanders and onlookers. It is through the promotion of positive and healthy expressions of masculinity that the scourge of gender-based violence can be eliminated. We will achieve equity when we strive to put women, girls, LGBTQI people, and the most marginalised communities at the centre of our awareness and advocacy efforts. No one should be left behind. Men must be partners in eliminating gender-based violence. Men should listen and take women and children seriously; protect women and children and keep them safe; help them to know their rights to be free from violence and abuse; and choose the man they want to be and/or become.

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