On the last day of the 16 Days Campaign on No Violence Against Women and Children in South Africa, here is my short contribution.
It is not much. I am not the only one who has said what I am about to say. It isn’t the first time I have said this. But, who knows, maybe from reading this, a new project, an effective campaign, better mobilisation tactics, or even if only a better way of being in the world with others, might get generated – and who knows what might follow.
Each year when the Campaign rolls around I become ever more convinced that, in South Africa at least, perhaps we need to start taking much more seriously the contention that we will get nowhere fast until our national anti-violence campaign includes all forms of violence.
Could it be that we are trapped in the World Health Organisation’s typology on violence? What is the barrier against seeing that men’s violence against women and girls is part of the same cloth with men’s violence against other men and boys?
What keeps us from recognising and including in the Campaign the gendered nature of men’s violence against other men?
As I suggested earlier this year on this blog and in different newspapers, there is a link between men’s violence against women and girls and xenophobic violence against refugees and migrants from other African countries. And there are women who use violence, mainly against children, who in turn learn that with adult power comes violence. I wish to posit that something similar is at play in countries like the US, Brazil, El Salvadore, and other countries troubled by differing but relatively high levels of violence. It seems to me that men’s violence against women, men, and children is closely intertwined. Hence, it is likely that we will not overcome violence against women and children unless we pull away men from the attractions of violence against men. Certainly, it cuts both ways. Unless men desist from committing violence against women and girls, we shall not wean men from causing violence against other men.
If these forms of violence are indeed interconnected, and we cannot overcome one without prevailing over the others, what is the way out of the trap of prevailing typology that governs our discourse and interventions?
On a practical level it means that, if we feel that we cannot do without the 16 Days Campaign, we then have to have other campaigns that recognise that men make up a disproportionate percentage of victims of homicidal violence. The fact is this violence is about masculinity.
Then there is sexual violence against men. How can this sexual violence not be seen as gender-based? It seems that we can’t even begin to admit that simple fact. Men and boys get raped, mainly by other men; and rape always implicates gender and sexual power. Let’s at least concede that, and perhaps then we can get beyond the unhelpful categorisation that renders violence, particularly sexual violence, against men and boys as less deserving of our empathy and political attention.
On an explanatory level, it seems that most of us are yet to be convinced that men are a gender. If men are a gender, then sexual and gender-based violence must include violence against men.
Of course, violence against adult men is overwhelmingly perpetrated by other adult men. However, violence against male children is perpetrated by parents of both sexes as well as other children. Cognisance of the genders of boys and men is a critical step towards furthering our understanding and prevention of violence.
It is not as if we don’t have enough evidence that violence is not restricted to women and children. My own proposal is that we have to consider new, integrated, and hopefully more effective campaigns against all forms of violence if we are all going to live in a society free from the fear and effects of violence that affects us all.