South Africa: Violence and Masculinity

Tessa Lewin
27 November 2007

by Tessa Lewin

As you may know South Africa has one of the highest levels of domestic violence and rape of any country in the world. Ten years ago I was working on a research project in New Crossroads, Cape Town, and writing a thesis on Violence and Masculinities. We were looking at why, in a group of uniformly disadvantaged youth, some managed against all odds to succeed, while most did not. I was particularly interested in the gendered nature of violence in Cape Town, specifically amongst the group of young people we were looking at in our study. Why was violence a path so frequently adopted by men and rarely by women? I was also frustrated with the gendered nature of feminist politics on campus – both academically, and in activist circles. Gender, it seemed, was women’s issue, as (with a very few rare exceptions) was feminism.

Tessa Lewin is Communications and Learning Officer for the Global Hub of the Women's Empowerment RPC - Pathways of Women's EmpowermentTen years later I found myself, very recently, at a conference in Dakar on ‘Politicising Masculinities’. At the conference were a number of men, self-proclaimed feminists and activists, a number of who were from Cape Town. For one of these men, an anti-apartheid activist, gender -and gender violence in particular- was the next logical injustice needing to be fought in South Africa. His activism was inspired by the human rights approach that drove his anti-apartheid activism, and a deep respect and love for his mother, who raised him. I was truly amazed and honoured to meet this group of black and white South African men, feminists and activists - people who believe nay, who know that they as individuals have the power (and commitment) to change the world. The statistics on gender violence continue to make or grim reading, but I defy anyone to not feel some hope in the knowledge of the existence of these men.

For more inspiration see www.genderjustice.org.za

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