By Kevin Rutter, Founder of Fathers in Africa @fathersinafrica
In South Africa, violence against women continues unabated without any profound consequences for the perpetrator, something many victims and survivors know all too well. Our country is infamous for horrendous gender-based crimes, especially of a sexual nature, despite having some of the most progressive legislation in Africa; the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998 has one of the broadest definitions of violence against women. Studies still report that 40% – 50% of women in South Africa have experienced intimate partner violence. On top of this, incidents of violence against women are severely under-reported, as is violence in general. The approximately 55 000 rapes reported annually in South Africa are estimated to be nine times lower than the actual number. This means that in reality, there may be nearly half a million rapes committed in South Africa every year.
This shows that violence against women is firmly entrenched in South Africa, and it doesn’t appear to be changing. Rather, violence remains an accepted way for many to assert and reassert masculinity and dominance. We know that there is a direct relationship between violence against women and power. Society constructs men as being more powerful than women, regularly favouring them at the cost of women. Within this social system – patriarchy – gender inequality is supported, facilitated and enforced. Power is intimately linked to the potential for violence; one way of enacting masculinity is through violence. It is a way to assert the status of a man, male identity, and men as a group. It is often resorted to when more acceptable, traditional displays of masculinity, such as steady employment and a good salary, are unavailable.
Civil society argues that allocating enough financial resources for comprehensive prevention would be cheaper than responding to the consequences, but this is clearly not happening. Currently 10% of funds for tackling domestic violence is spent on prevention and 90% on reactive work. This needs to be reversed if we are to see any impact on the statistics. Current research tells us that engaging men and boys is a vital intervention strategy. Effective violence prevention begins by recognising that humans are profoundly influenced, in many ways, by messages received from the social conditions and forces around them which shape relationships and violence. External influences such as the media, popular culture, and tradition play a significant role in desensitising people to violence and creating a culture where violence is “normal” and an appropriate response to a number of situations.
Prevention efforts recognise the effect of these messages and considers how they can be transformed to reflect positive ideas about relationships and create an environment where violence is unacceptable. Primary prevention, like resocialisation, seeks to prevent violence before it starts.
Fathers in Africa is actively involved in this resocialisation process. We engage with boys at school and men in the community to help them transform their lives and help them realise that non-violence is a solution to live healthier and happier lives.