Many women in SA and across Africa live in fear – fear of being robbed, raped, mugged, killed, harassed, mistreated, humiliated, discriminated against and even sold as a slave.
We hear daily of vicious and cruel attacks on women and children, high levels of violent crime including rape and murder, single mothers battling to make ends meet, and sexual harassment in the workplace by senior corporate executives and powerful politicians.
We know of countless stories of physical and emotional abuse in relationships and marriages.
We, as men, are the source of that fear.
We have made life unbearable for so many women – they feel less safe in their homes, places of worship, schools, universities, places of work, communities and even in places of fun and recreation.
This fear knows no age, race, religion, nor geography – women are under siege everywhere.
They are losing trust in those of us who are meant to be the closest and most trustworthy – husbands, boyfriends, managers, religious leaders, teachers, coaches, brothers, uncles, fathers and even sons. We are the source of that fear.
None of us can have peace when half of the continent and country’s population is in pain, lives in fear, is undermined, insulted and has no peace. We cannot truly celebrate our own freedom when the majority of citizens have no freedom to love whom they want to love, dress as they feel like, travel where they wish, move freely where they wish regardless of the time, and have become prisoners in their own homes.
We cannot absolve ourselves of this responsibility.
We may argue that we are not involved in any of this, but the reality is that there are many men doing these things, every day.
We should loudly declare “not in our name”.
As men, we each need to take the most concrete steps to do the following:
- Listen deeply to the pain, anxiety and fear being felt by women;
- Challenge our own prejudices, bigotry and sexist views and the influence we may have on others;
- Openly stand up against all forms of abuse, rape and violence against women and children, regardless of how powerful, prominent, or connected the perpetrators are;
- Become role models to younger men on how to treat women as equals, and how to appreciate their contribution, skills, expertise, experience and attributes in all spheres of our lives;
- Raise our daughters to be fiercely independent, confident, self assured and ambitious to realise their potential;
- Raise our sons to be loving, caring, considerate, respectful, sensitive, hardworking, ethical and conscientious about all people, especially women, given the current fears women have;
- Make sure that in all our environments we are sensitive to any words, actions and behaviours that may create fear, discomfort and pain to women and children;
- Ensure that women have an equal yet unique voice in our relationships, marriages, places of work, places of learning and places of worship;
- Re-examine and review our practices, norms, rituals, rules, traditions in all spheres of society – we must preserve what creates unity and diversity and change what promotes and perpetuates misogyny and patriarchy; and
- Educate and inform other men about the benefits of a non-racial and non-sexist society, where women thrive, succeed and prosper.
We do not require public declarations, social media campaigns, nor publicity seeking slogans.
What we require is reflection and introspection about our own words, actions and behaviours in our daily lives.
It is to start to do things differently, to listen with more empathy and change our behaviors. Each one of us must become the best image of the kind of men many women look up to – men they love, admire, respect and feel safe with.
Who are these men we should seek to be:
- The caring and protective father who would do anything for their daughters, and who believes that his daughter can do anything she sets her mind on;
- The loving and sensitive husband or boyfriend who always puts her interests first and makes her feel loved, respected and appreciated;
- The supportive, nurturing and empowering line manager who sees her as a committed, competent and dedicated professional who deserves equal pay and all the opportunities for growth and leadership;
- The knowledgeable business mentor who gives up time and expertise to help her grow her business without expecting sexual favours in return; or
- The family member or male friend she can feel comfortable and safe with, regardless of the time and the place.
Let us be that generation of brave men who will make a difference to the lives of our daughters, wives, mothers, friends, and family members. It starts with me.
How I behave and conduct myself as an executive and a leader in my organisation, a father to my children, a husband to my beloved wife, a friend and a mentor to women, an uncle to young women and a member of my community. Then it’s you.
How you conduct yourself, how you behave and how you help us remove the fear that many women face.
I hope you will join me on this journey and we can make freedom to be real for women in our country.
This will not be easy. It won’t change by a declaration, the pain is too deep, the fear is too real and the mistrust has gone on for too long – but we have to start somewhere.
Our best source of guidance will be women – they will guide us, and lead us.
I hope we will each start a difficult conversation with those women closest to us, by asking simple, yet deeply profound questions such as:
- What are your fears in your daily life, at work, school, work, university etc;
- What was your scariest moment when you felt vulnerable, fearful and under threat;
- What behaviours do I exhibit or words do I use that make you uncomfortable; and
- What can I do to help fight against the scourge of women and children abuse?
We need to start in our own environments.
Here is where I hope we can start this journey and then continue on our quest to be that generation of brave men who will stand up and be counted.
Some men have started on this journey, some are further ahead, but we need ALL men to be on this journey.
There will be setbacks on this journey, disappointments, differences of opinion and moments of doubt and anguish, but we must stay the course – our common enemy is the fear we must eliminate.
We must take steps to eliminate that fear in our homes, places of work, families, places of worship, places of recreation and throughout the country and our continent.
I hope we can be those brave men.