“Toxic Masculinity, Violence against Women and Children, Racism, are all pernicious diseases prevalent in our world. Along with pandemics, we need to get rid of these vicious negativities as well. We have to make this World change for the better.” – Avijeet Das
Gender-based violence has become increasingly more prevalent in the media as the demand for more effective resources are needed to protect vulnerable women and children from harm and danger. By considering the severity of gender-based violence in South Africa it will also be possible to understand how patriarchal ideology in traditional culture and religion perpetuate it. Additionally, by understanding the role of deviance in society and how, by scrutinising it, one may be able to conceptualise effective social change strategies.
The severity of gender-based violence in South Africa
The South African public has recently been inundated with media reports of horrific, violent, and senseless acts against women. Ranging from murder to rape and mutilation, the declining feelings of safety and trust in the criminal justice system have led to a nation-wide outcry for something to be done (National Strategic Plan, 2020). During a November 2020 dialogue to mark the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children campaign, President Cyril Ramaphosa exclaimed bluntly: “For how much longer must we say, ‘enough is enough’, only for it to continue? It simply cannot go on.” (Ramaphosa, 2020). Along with the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and with President Cyril Ramaphosa declaring gender-based violence as a second pandemic, the South African government has placed increased efforts to tackle such violence in the country (Modise, 2020).
Gould’s 2018 article from the Safer Spaces website describes South Africa as being “at war with itself” (Gould, 2018). This becomes painfully clear when considering the 2017/2018 crime statistics released by the South African Police Service (SAPS) that showed murder overall increased by 6.9% and continues to incrementally increase year on year (Gould, 2018; South African Police Service, 2021). Research from the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the 2009 national femicide study found that over half of all femicide cases in South Africa were at the hands of intimate partners, and an average of three women were killed every day by their partners (MRC, 2013, 2014, as cited in Artz, 2018; National Strategic Plan, 2020).
Along with the high murder rate, South Africa experiences one of the highest rates of rape and sexual assault in the world with Interpol labelling the country as “The rape capital of the world” (TEARS Foundation, 2012). The 2009 national femicide study found that more than half of all women murdered, intimate femicide was the leading cause of female murder representing more than half (56%) of all women killed. The same study found rape femicide was identified in every 1 in 5 women killed (19.8%).
Therefore, with all this information, I felt it was pertinent to focus my effort on raising awareness on the issue of gender-based violence in the South African context, with a specific focus on the male’s role in gender-based violence, femicide, and domestic abuse. I felt it was important to reframe the concept of what it means to be a “real South African man.” As agents of social change, we felt it was crucial to allow men to associate the characteristics of being a “real man” with the responsibilities of 1) respecting a woman’s role in society, and 2) most importantly, of refraining from committing violent acts against women and children.
Challenging patriarchal ideology
South Africa has a long-standing history of cultural violence, oppression, and patriarchal hegemonic dominance that Apartheid left in its wake. This is often exasperated by high levels of unemployment, corruption, poor service delivery, and degrading educational standards that as Executive Director of Amnesty International South Africa, Shenilla Mohamed stated “major change is needed urgently” (Amnesty International, 2020).
Adding to the complexity of cultural violence is the deeply rooted systemic patriarchal approach to addressing family values and traditions, religious beliefs, and assumed gender roles, that lean towards a societal acceptance of male dominance and a subsequent female oppression and subservience. By taking a deeper look into the values, beliefs, and assumptions of traditional culture and religion, we get a glimpse into how embedded into society these facets may be, and more troubling, how destructive these ideologies can be when mis-interpreted by self-indulgent leaders with hidden agendas and/or ignorant lay people that do not question the status quo.
Understanding deviant behaviour
Sociology views deviant behaviour as a social dysfunction that lacks effective social integration (Findlay, 1999), so it was important for our awareness campaign to steer clear of demonising men, while still being able to bring attention and awareness to the severity of gender-based violence in the South African context.
The renowned French sociologist, Émile Durkheim noticed that every society had deviance. This led him to the realisation that deviance, however bloody or violent was “normal” and served several important functions for society. He noticed that deviance 1) defines cultural values and norms and increases conformity; 2) it strengthens social bonds among the people reacting to the deviance by clarifying moral boundaries; and 3) it can help lead to positive social change. By allowing men to verbalise: “real men don’t hit women”, we felt this could help re-define cultural values and norms by allowing men to be role models for this new standard of conformity.
During his candid TED Talk on violence against women, Katz (2012), discusses the “bystander approach” philosophy that makes effective use of bringing the conversation of gender-based violence into family and friends dialogues, and places special emphasis on developing men leaders to help re-define the man’s role. Furthermore, he suggests that men and/or boys should lose status among their peers if they are found guilty of unfair comments or misconduct towards females. This ideal approach encapsulates the philosophy of Durkheim’s role of deviance in society, and how, by addressing it correctly, positive change can result.
Creating positive change
In Reckless and Dinitz’s 1972 experiment on what differentiated good boys from bad boys, and how these findings impacted juvenile delinquency, they noticed that good boys often exhibited the following: a strong conscience; they were good at coping with frustration; and they identified with conventional cultural norms. While the bad boys displayed the exact opposite behaviour in every way.
Since personality can viewed as a matter of socialisation, so then can deviance be viewed as improper or failed socialisation. Robert Merton’s Strain Theory (1940, as cited in Burton & Cullen, 2012) argued that the amount of deviance in a society depends on whether that society has provided sufficient means to achieve culturally defined goals. Hence, we felt it is important to address conflict and potential for violence within the home, since a dedicated gender-based violence population-based study on women in Gauteng (2011) discovered that more than 1 in 3 women (37.7%) have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence (IPV), 18.8% reported sexual IPV, and 46.2% reported economic or emotional abuse (National Strategic Plan, 2020). Therefore, if one can work with Durkheim’s role of deviance and what it can teach, Katz’s (2012) philosophy of the “bystander approach”, and apply Reckless and Dinitz’s findings to a philosophy of how to groom, mentor, and teach boys and men, with a focus on defined goals for dealing with frustration, equality and conscience in the home, then it may be possible, as our video is hoped to display, that men and boys can be taught how to behave, how to cope with frustration, and how to become effective leaders in society, leading to positive alterations of conventional cultural norms.
As society evolves, the norms, beliefs, and/or values that are not ethically sound should be challenged and re-evaluated. By becoming fully aware of the negative impact of gender-based violence, individuals, cultures, institutions, and religious organisations, to name a few, should challenge outdated doctrines and dogmas that do not place equal value among all members of its society, thus ensuring altruism and guidance for future generations.
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