Sonke Gender Justice

This Entry has been submitted.

Sonke Gender Justice

South Africa
Project Stage:
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Dean is challenging entrenched gender inequality in South Africa by engaging men as change agents to tackle health and violence issues that stem from the way they relate to women and, in doing so, is building a broad civic movement to re-shape the framework of manhood in Africa.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Africa has amongst the highest levels of domestic violence and rape of any region in the world. According to the Centre for Social Science Research (CSSR), in South Africa, nearly half of all men say they’ve assaulted an intimate partner, and nearly one in six says they have done so in the last 12 months. Twenty seven percent of men say they’ve raped a woman, nearly one in twenty in the last 12 months. Various research conducted shows that every six hours, a woman is killed by her intimate partner. Furthermore, there is clear indication that male supremacy is entrenched in institutions. Only one out of nine victims of rape reports it, and fewer than 10% of reported rapes lead to conviction, with the conviction rate no higher than 37.3%. Put another way, over 90% of rapists and nearly two thirds of men who kill their intimate partner go unpunished in South Africa (Department of Justice and Department of Correctional Services). A study by Physicians for Human Rights has shown that the rates of violence across Southern Africa vary but are disturbingly high. In Namibia, 36% of women interviewed reported physical violence and 20% reported experiencing physical or sexual violence during the past 12 months. A study by Physicians for Human Rights found that in Botswana 30% of women reported that their partner alone made the decision whether or not to have sex and in Swaziland 34% of women, compared with 4% of men report not being permitted to use a condom by a sexual partner at least once in the past year. Despite legislation in South Africa prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of gender, little has changed regarding how men and women relate to each other. Various scholars and researchers point to the deep-rooted patriarchal society which accommodates women superficially. South African society is highly religious and traditional beliefs preach the concept of ‘patriarch’ as ‘the father and ruler of the family and the tribe’. This is not unique, as across much of the world, cultures are influenced by the idea of the supremacy of fathers. This ideology is referred to in religious books as well as in traditional social practices as a system of domination of men over women regardless of economic class; elevating the idea of leadership of the fathers to a position of paramount importance in society. The problem arises when this once positive ideal of the father as the head and protector of the family extends to all spheres of life in gender relations perpetuating the notion that women are generally inferior and thus developing an uneven power-relationship of supremacy and subordination. The intrinsic authority of women in various areas have been suppressed fueling harmful perceptions that encourage men to engage in high risk behaviors, condone violence against women, grant men the power to initiate and dictate the terms of sex, and make it difficult for women to protect themselves from either HIV/AIDS infection or violence. A growing body of research shows that these wayward definitions of manhood are not just root causes of gender-based violence, alcohol, and drug abuse but also exacerbate the spread and impact of HIV and AIDS. Almost one-third of sexually experienced women reported that they did not want to have their first sexual encounter and that they were coerced into sex. As a result, young women in South Africa are much more likely to be infected by HIV than their male peers. When men equate manhood with dominance and aggression, sexual conquest and fearlessness, research shows they are also likely to exhibit more negative condom attitudes and less consistent condom use. Men who hold rigid and inequitable beliefs about manhood also tend to have far more sexual partners than women, placing both themselves and their partners at high risk of HIV infection. Men’s violence against women does not occur because men lose their temper or because they have no impulse control. Men who use violence do so because they live in a world that all too often equates manhood with aggression, dominance over women and with sexual conquest. This is why men’s behaviors are significantly influenced by exaggerated and distorted notions of what they think other men do and think. For instance, men might drink excessively or have multiple partners or pretend they do not cook and clean because they believe that most men drink a lot, have lots of sex or regard participation in domestic activities as unmanly, even when that is in fact not what most men believe or do. Popular representations of men in the media make it easy to believe that most men have many sexual partners each year. Often men are afraid that they will be viewed as less than a “real” man if they apologise, compromise or share power. So instead of finding ways to resolve conflict, many men resort to violence. These definitions of manhood are a recipe for disaster—for women and for men. They certainly lead to high levels of violence against women but they also contribute to extremely high levels of men’s violence against other men, and to many other debilitating health problems. Even though domestic and sexual violence are so widespread and the consequences related to violence and HIV/AIDS so devastating, efforts to transform gender roles and relations remain limited. South Africa is widely regarded as having some of the most progressive gender policies and legislation. However, the progressive legislation is undermined by poor enforcement. For instance, only 10% of rapes are actually reported and less than 10% of reported rapes lead to conviction. Expressions of commitment by the government have not been matched by the financial and human resources required.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

In South Africa, nearly half of all men say they’ve assaulted an intimate partner and twenty seven percent say they’ve raped a woman. To address the urgency of this calamity, many organizations and government initiatives have embarked on participatory life skills development and AIDS education geared to empower women and girls. However, Dean realized that the main root cause of this problem is related to the rigid gender norms, and harmful perceptions of what it means to be a man or a woman. And no one was truly engaging men – who are always seen as only as part of the problem and not of the solution. He believes that at the core of the problem is society’s perception of masculinity and its supremacy over women. He thus seeks to deal directly with this deeply embedded ideology. Dean created Sonke Gender Justice with the conviction that men can be mobilized to play an important role in achieving gender equality, preventing domestic and sexual violence, improving their health and that of women, as well as contributing to a society in which all are healthier, happier and more able to access and enjoy their rights. He has seen how men also benefit in real and tangible ways from a world with less rigid and less violent models of manhood and thus should engage directly in ending violence against women and in promoting gender equality. Through the organization’s flagship campaign, One Man Can, Sonke conducts an average of 230 workshops, 80 community events, 150 stakeholder meetings and a range of community activities reaching almost 42,000 people per year. Research showed that this strategy leads to important behavioral change in men. After engaging in these activities, 25% of them had accessed voluntary counseling and testing, 50% reported an act of gender based violence, 61% increased their use of condoms, and over 80% talked to friends or family members about HIV, gender and human rights issues. Dean’s work is now translating to the greater Southern Africa region through Sonke’s research and community mobilizations and training. Through collaborative efforts with Ashoka fellow Gary Barker’s Promundo, Dean co-founded and co-chairs MenEngage: a global alliance of 400 CSOs and international agencies, such as the UN, from 30 countries that seeks to engage boys and men to achieve gender equality. Dean also created the regional version, The MenEngage Africa Alliance, which has grown rapidly and now convenes 15 country networks in South, East, West and Central Africa, each of which is currently comprised of many local organizations working with men and boys in urban and rural communities.