The 2nd MenEngage Global Symposium- Men and Boys for Gender Justice will be held in New Delhi, India from 10th- 13th November 2014. We are pleased to announce that the deadline for submission of abstracts has been extended to 15 June 2014.
Please hurry and send in your abstract forms!
The Abstracts may be in English, Hindi, French or Spanish. The details of registration and other rules and fees can be read in the FAQs online at http://menengagedilli2014.net/faq/
The abstracts will need to be submitted around the seven interdisciplinary key tracks of the Symposium:
2. Health and Wellbeing
3. Poverty and Work
4. Sexualities, Identities
5. Care, Relationships and Emotions
6. Peace building
7. Making of Men – from masculinity to humanity
14 February marks the anniversary of the death of Reeva Steenkamp at the hand of her sporting hero boyfriend, Oscar Pretorius. It is also Valentine’s Day, the day where across the globe, a billion dollar industry is fed in celebrating normative, and predominantly heterosexual, constructions of romantic love.
South Africa has one of the highest rates of reported rapes in the world. High levels of sexual and domestic violence have become an integral part of our social norms with almost a million contact crimes against women reported to the police over the course of the past few years. Recently, a 9 year old girl was raped and left for dead in Delft. Her attacker had the gall to laugh as he set her alight, boasting that she would not be able to identify him after. Given the low conviction rate for rape (6.97% of the total crimes reported), the message is very clear: rapists mostly do not get convicted and if you do, you can count yourself a very unlucky exception to the norm.
Yet for the victim, while the physical suffering of rape and other forms of gender-based violence may eventually dissipate with time, the psychological and emotional trauma will, in all likelihood, remain with her for the rest of her life. Once a human being has been subjected to torture by another, one’s sense of being safe in the world will never again be intact. The fact that the infliction of cruelty is a choice and that someone intentionally set out to hurt you, will forever change your sense of being secure.
Rape and domestic violence are a central ways in which power operates in a society. Many perpetrators of gender-based violence locate such violence within a twisted version of a romantic framework. Views such as “She wanted it, she asked for it and how could she not want sex when she was wearing such a short skirt?” are commonplace in the perpetrator’s narrative of abdicating responsibility for violence. Attempts are often made to construe the victim’s response as approving behaviour, translating forcible rape into romantic seduction, an account which not only frames cruelty, but enables it.
The challenge then becomes how to move the debate on gender-based violence from being one about women as victims and keeping them safe, to one that deals with the constructions of masculinity that makes such violence possible. Studies conducted by the Medical Research Council show that 27.6% of men interviewed in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal and 37% of those interviewed in Gauteng, admitted to having raped. Yet many South Africans have become desensitized to the horror of rape and gender-based violence. It has become so much a part of the prevailing social norm that there seems to be a sense of sensory fatigue with the many stories that are told. This is a serious indictment on our society and it is time to reassess how we take a collective social stand to say “Hands Off Women’s Bodies!” Valentine’s Day, with its reinforcement of gendered roles within relationships, is an ideal time to begin to join such a social movement.
The One Billion Rising Against Sexual Violence or V-Day campaign which takes place on 14 February, is one opportunity for taking an activist stance. The campaign began in 2013 as a worldwide call to end violence against women and children. Based on the statistic that one out of every three women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime, the campaign is an attempt to get a billion people across the globe to form part of an activist movement to end gender-based violence. It comprises a form of protest or “risings” which take the form of art, dance, marches, flash mobs and story circles.
Some of the Cape Town based events on 14 February will include silent protests outside the Mitchells Plain, Bellville and Bishop Lavis courts. Women from the Cederburg, George, Worcester and the Klapmuts regions will congregate at the Cape Town Civic Centre and march to the Cape Town high court. With the theme of “The State of Justice for Gender Based Violence,” the protest will focus on demanding justice for victims. Other aspects of the campaign include the hosting of an interfaith discussion by the Claremont Main Rd Mosque, opportunities for men to come together and frame their responses as men and story telling circles for victims of gender-based violence. The campaign is one example of the potential power of spreading a message that we all have a role to play in questioning, confronting and subverting the social order that makes violence against women thrive.
South Africa is in a state of crisis insofar as violence against women and girls is concerned. We live in an innately violent context, so much so that our views on what constitutes force and violence have been somewhat affected. The more horrific the act of violence, the more likely we are to sit up and take notice. Sadly, we have become less responsive to psychological aggression and subtle intimidation and the day to day power interplays in relationships that create the social context where more brutal displays of violence become possible. Many of our men hold inherently violent attitudes towards sexuality. We feed the gendered myths of what it means to be men and women in ways that are potentially dangerous. Most worrying, we tend to abdicate responsibility for gender based-violence as a social issue that requires a response at a community and social level. When planning the roses, the red hearts, the champagne and the romantic love this Valentine’s, let’s spare a thought for those who have died in the name of love.
The high rates of corrective rape (lesbians raped to ‘correct’ them of their homosexuality) in South Africa have recently caught the attention of the international media. Last year, Clare Carter, an American journalist travelled to South Africa to meet victims of corrective rape and published an article for the New York Times and an award-winning film and photography project detailing her experiences. The stories Carter tells are nothing short of horrific. Most of the attacks that the victims recount were accompanied by further acts of extreme violence; one woman, Noxolo Nogwaza, had her eyes pulled out. Many were killed after being raped. The photographs of survivors depict scarred and stoical women.
The phenomenon of corrective rape is not a new one. Nor is it exclusive to South Africa: cases have been reported in countries as diverse as Thailand and Ecuador. But, as Carter points out, corrective rape is on the rise. South Africa’s already high rates of gender-based violence and the influence of fundamental Christianity combine to create a uniquely ripe culture for corrective rape. Another theory is that corrective rape culture in South Africa is a response to emasculation, an ‘extreme performance of masculinity by men who feel the need to reassert their masculinity when it is called into question’ by unemployment and female emancipation. But perhaps most pernicious is the simple, but widely held belief of many that homosexuality is just not African. Whatever the cause of the hostility, many parts of South Africa are dangerous for lesbians who wish to live openly.
But the homophobia that is apparently felt by many South Africans is curiously out of sync with the legislative framework governing LGBTI rights. The South African Constitution is one of the most progressive in the world: co-authored by radical lawyers including Nelson Mandela and Albie Sachs, it was the first of its kind to expressly prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. In the case of Louw, the Women’s Legal Centre fought to ensure that the assault of a lesbian woman would be considered unfair discrimination on the grounds of gender and sexual orientation in addition to being a crime. South Africa was also one of the first countries to legalize same-sex marriage following the case of Fourie v Minister of Home Affairsin 2005. So-called liberal countries such as the United Kingdom have only just caught up: gay marriage was legalized there as late as last year, and the first ceremonies will not take place until mid-2014.
Many gay women are beneficiaries of the progressive stance taken by the South African state in this respect. Since 2006 (when Parliament amended the Marriage Act to conform to the ruling in Fourie) over 3000 same-sex weddings have taken place. Last week at Beaulah, a popular gay bar in Cape Town, I asked young, predominantly white women about their experiences as lesbians in South Africa. Many told me that they felt comfortable telling their parents about their sexuality and about their relationships with other women, and that in Cape Town at least, they were able to walk down the street holding hands with their girlfriends. However, most were also aware that their lifestyles would not be possible in other rural and/or deprived parts of South Africa.
It would be wrong to reduce the complexity of the South African lesbian experience by dividing it into white and black, rich and poor. But as Clare Carter’s article shows, life for gay women in rural South Africa and in the townships (where eighty per cent of the country’s population reside) is dramatically different to the lives of the women I spoke to in Beaulah. The corrective rapes that Carter writes about took place without exception in these places, and all of the women in her photographs are black. The traditional Zulu monarch, whose people account for roughly one-fifth of South Africa’s population has reiterated his belief that homosexuality is morally wrong. At a recent black lesbian poetry reading hosted by Free Gender, an organization dedicated to securing LGBTI rights, women from Khayelitsha (the third largest township in South Africa) talked of the extreme joy but also of the deep pain present in their lives. A dominant theme in Rivers of Life, the excellent, published collection of the women’s poetry, is a refusal to be silenced.
The troubling increase in rates of corrective rape in South Africa once again raises difficult questions about the value of the Constitution, or more precisely, its value to gay women living outside of South Africa’s wealthy metropolises. Justice Edwin Cameron, the Constitutional Court judge and gay rights activist has conceded that ‘Constitutional equality and legal protection are not enough’ but also added that ‘they are an indispensable beginning’. In last month’s edition of the Big Issue, he wrote that ‘gay and lesbian youngsters from the rural areas…all not only accept the legitimacy of the values the Constitution sets out – they claim them loudly for themselves.’ But Funeka Soldaat, who established Free Gender after being correctively raped herself, is scathing of the so-called rights granted to lesbians by the Constitution. Soldaat has said that ‘the Constitution is there but it doesn’t mean anything to anyone. Even if you know how the Constitution works, you don’t know how to use it to protect yourself.’
Soldaat’s despair is understandable. Free Gender recently worked in collaboration with the Women’s Legal Centre to secure the conviction of Andile Ngcoza for correctively raping Millicent Gaika, a black woman from Gugulethu. Harrowing photographs of Gaika, taken just after her attack show a woman severely bruised and beaten. Outside of Wynberg court, Soldaat told reporters that Gaika had suffered deep psychological trauma and had attempted suicide as a result of the rape.
Soldaat has also (rightly) pointed out the way that poverty restricts access to legal remedies against injustice. Her contention that the Constitution is meaningless for many black and impoverished South African lesbians seems difficult to deny at times. But two things ought to be remembered. Firstly, Biblical inspired venom against homosexuals from the mouths of religious leaders serves to actively negate the good work of the Constitution, and the tolerant, progressive attitudes that its precedents seek to usher in. In a 2011 report on corrective rape in South Africa by Human Rights Watch, organized religion was identified as one of the root causes of corrective rape, and the church as one of the most important spaces in which ‘social attitudes and ethical responses form’ for South Africans, and where ‘significant discrimination occurs’. In the townships especially, researchers found that ‘pastors and other church leaders wield immense influence on moral and social matters, influence that can directly impact lesbian members of the congregation, often in a negative way’. Elsewhere in the report, victims recount incidents of homophobia based on Christian precepts. Just before being correctively raped, one woman in Johannesburg was told that ‘this thing [homosexuality] doesn’t make sense. This is a sin, God doesn’t like this’. Another victim recalls men shouting out to her, ‘God didn’t make women and women, he made Adam and Eve’.
Religious opposition to homosexuality is not limited by geography or by class. In England too, Catholic priests in expensive parts of London frequently voice their distaste towards homosexuality and their objections to gay marriage legislation. Nor should it be forgotten that religion offers hope to millions worldwide or that religious leaders very often preach love and acceptance. But anti-gay religious leaders in South Africa ought to remember the context of their words. Here, it is estimated that a woman is raped every 15 seconds, and incidents of corrective rape are increasing year on year. The authors of the Human Rights Watch report go as far as to recommend state action to address situations where the actions of private persons, such as pastors, risk creating violations of the rights of others.
Finally, before dismissing the Constitution, critics should consider very recent events in other African countries. Just last week, an Islamic court in Nigeria subjected a man to 20 lashes for engaging in homosexual activities. In Uganda, new laws are being contemplated which would allow for life-sentences to be passed on those convicted of committing homosexual acts. Social attitudes are taking a long time to catch up with progressive legislation in South Africa. This is lamentable, but the prospect of a government and judiciary condoning hatred and violence towards gay men and women must be a far worse reality.
Concepts such as femininity, womanhood and other issues directly impact a young woman’s sense of self growing up in this patriarchal world, especially concepts of virginity, ‘purity’ and honour. Feminist discussions on these topics invite young women to participate and provide a platform where we can voice the challenges and obstacles that we face and how contemporary and orthodox definitions of the topics listed above stifles our actions and voices.
These discussions have been extremely helpful for young women such as myself to help define ourselves where our immediate social circles may be dominated by male interests, thoughts and actions. Much of this conversation has also targeted the ideas of masculinity and manhood and how these have come to be exhibited in our societies past and present in an oppressive manner towards women.
Many women feminists have also approached this topic in an academic way, deconstructing the masculine identity very effectively. I was eager to find out if there was a space where young men were given the opportunity to deliberate, discuss and debate these ideas, a lot of which have great relevance to the creation of their identity. I was looking for a platform where men can voice their opinions in this regard and watch them deconstruct historical and societal notions on manhood and create their own definition of this identity.
It was to my great delight to have found a new youth movement that has dedicated itself to filling in this vacuum and addressing issues of masculinity and ‘maleness within the context of South Africa, that is, addressing issues surrounding young South African men.
AmaDODA is a student-based social movement at the University of Cape Town. It is keen on targeting topics and issues affecting young males and encouraging them to be better educated and sincere to the world around them, which not only makes them better allies for women’s rights movements, but it also creates disciplined, conscientious and moral individuals and citizens. The conversation that they have started is important because it encourages men to question their privileges and realities.
To find out more about the movement, I spoke briefly to one of AmaDODA’s co-founders, Dalisu Jwara, who highlighted certain aspects of this project.
Sona. M: What purpose is AmaDODA trying to serve in the community?
Dalisu.J: Amadoda aspires to raise men of value. We have noticed the dearth in good male role models in society, and we are trying to create a positive change in our generation.
SM: What main issues will AmaDODA be tackling?
DJ: Issues we are tackling are leadership, values based manhood and of course, the contentious gender debate. We have created a platform where people are engaging on issues of masculinity and the possible effects of such a movement as perceived by feminists.
SM: Will AmaDODA address the issue of gender inequality?
DJ: Not sure on gender inequality, I think indirectly we may be tackling this. But this is not our sole purpose. We are saying, we see that as men we are perceived in a negative light, we have left many homes, fatherless, how can we be better and useful “men” in society. And I guess this begins by recognizing that men and women must co-exist, we are both equal, but face different issues.
SM: What are you doing right now to carry out your vision?
DJ: We have formed a partnership with international women’s organization V-day, and are bringing an initiative called One Billion Rising to UCT. We are also taking part in Cape Talk/Primedia, 16 day activism campaign in December, and are scaling up nationally-we are looking to launch in JHB and in the Eastern Cape.
SM: How does one became part of this project?
DJ: Like our Facebook page, join in on the discussions. We don’t have a formal process. One can purchase a T-shirt to show that they support what we stand for.
SM: Is AmaDODA open only to men?
DJ: No it isn’t. If one identifies with our ideals, they are free to be part of the movement. We welcome criticism (as it stimulates debate) and open, frank conversations between men and women.
The news broke last Tuesday that four men were found guilty of the notorious rape case in Delhi in December that had India and the rest of the world sickened to the core.
Similar to global events that have changed the world forever – Princess Diana’s death, the 2004 tsunami off of the coast of Thailand, Haiti, 9/11 – the story of the 23-year-old woman who was violently raped and assaulted by a gang of men on a bus while they drove around Delhi shocked entire nations. The woman died two weeks after the attack due to her injuries.
Today, some may feel like justice has been served and indeed, in a legal way, it has. Four men will be sentenced on Wednesday and the case has sparked the introduction of stricter laws to punish sexual offences. A victory of sorts, some might say.
The problem, however, is what led these men to commit such a heinous act in the first place. What were they thinking? How could they live with themselves after abusing someone so violently, so intimately? How did their families feel, their mothers, that these men could do such horrible things?
More crucially, how do we live in a society where something like this even crosses a person’s mind?
In our journey to create a more balanced world, a feminist world, we seem to be celebrating and empowering women but failing the men of our society. There is clearly a very large gap, a huge flaw in the masculine identity and how certain men are finding ways to feel like more of ‘a real man’, often in violent enactments. Forget locking up men who commit these violent acts of rape and abuse, we need to start mending the problem at the source.
How do we do this? How do we change such deeply entrenched flaws?