OPINION | SA needs to confront problem of toxic masculinity

The #TotalShutdown march in East London.
The #TotalShutdown march in East London.
Image: Gugu Phandle / File

On August 1 women in different provinces in South Africa marched to protest against gender-based violence.

They called on the state to act against femicide and to introduce harsher sentences for those convicted of it.

Often, there is a view in society that the justice system is not sufficiently tough on perpetrators but victimises the victims.

As the country pays homage to women this month, it is critical to acknowledge that a lot more needs to done to root out gender-based violence (GBV) in our country.

Confronting deeply entrenched practices, stereotypes, and expectations about gender is key. So is addressing the unequal power relations between genders.

There are also aspects of the justice system that need to be addressed if the violence against women and girls is to be stamped out.

According to the SA Police Service, young women aged 18 to 29 years constitute a large proportion of the victims of attempted murder, sexual offences, common assault and assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.

Indeed, achieving gender equality is critical to achieving inclusive and sustainable development in South Africa.

The SaferSpaces initiative notes that a major driver of violence against women and girls in South Africa is “gendered power inequality rooted in patriarchy”.

Evidence collected globally shows that GBV is prevalent in those societies that consider male superiority a norm and where a culture of violence is prevalent.

Goal five of the sustainable development goals – which aims to achieve gender equality – is recognised to be at the core of achieving inclusive and sustainable development.

The National Development Plan also notes that addressing violence against (young) women and girls is a development imperative.

The case of Sandile Mantsoe, sentenced to 32 years in prison for killing his partner Karabo Mokoena, is one among many incidents of GBV.

Another is the incident involving former deputy minister, Mduduzi Manana, who admitted to assaulting three young women outside a restaurant in Johannesburg.

He was also accused of assaulting Christine Wiro, his domestic worker.

Indeed, South African society needs to confront and question a toxic masculinity that often underpins violence against women and girls.

In this toxic masculinity men are defined as naturally violent, aggressive and unemotional.

Only through rejecting these kind of notions and replacing them with different narratives, will South Africa make progress in tackling this scourge of violence so that all its citizens can begin to realise their full potential.

There have been many reports of police officials further victimising women who have suffered genderbased violence – this through insensitive methods of dealing with the cases that are brought to them.

This is thought to have been a reason for the underreporting of incidents.

Some police officers have gone so far as to refuse to open cases for victims, or to ridicule the victim or attempt to convince the victim to go and resolve issues with a partner in private in cases of domestic violence.

The Soul City Institute for Social Justice notes that “officials are too often indifferent to reports of domestic violence or refuse to register cases of rape, or worse, tell women they had been asking for it”.

These attitudes of the police, whether they are men or women, may also reflect dangerous societal attitudes that need to be both challenged and remedied on many different levels.

The Soul City Institute suggests that government should prioritise social context training for all police officials who deal with gender-based violence issues.

The remedial services offered within the correctional services department is another area for tackling gender-based violence.

The department provides social and psychological services to convicted offenders. These services include assessments, diagnosis and treatment for those who have committed an aggressive and/or a sexual offence.

The treatment is offered through group therapy, individual psychotherapy and structured programmes.

It is imperative that offenders deal with the psychological issues that influence their behaviours. And so should South African society.

It is also vital that the perpetrators be offered a platform to be part of the solution to GBV. Labelling men, as seen with the recent #MenAreTrash phenomenon, does not solve the problem.

While resolving the issue might take time, now is the time to start challenging the deeply ingrained cultures, practices and norms that people may have. 

Indeed, achieving gender equality is critical to achieving inclusive and sustainable development in South Africa.