By Esethu Seholoba
The African Masculinity Symposium, co-hosted by the Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction (CSSR) and the School of Journalism and Media Studies, occurred earlier this month at Eden Grove Blue. The event aimed to tackle the topic of Challenging Patriarchal Norms for a Safer and More Equitable Society. The objective was to address pressing matters such as Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and its connection to violent masculinities; and how it has provoked social media movements and prompted national debates calling on the need for change.
The event brought together speakers who are experts in their respective fields, offering unique insights and perspectives on the relationship between gender dynamics and violence. The speakers addressed the impact of patriarchal norms on men, women (cis- and transgender), and gender-queer or gender-diverse people, highlighting the urgency to find collective solutions to address violent patriarchy and its devastating consequences on society.
Dr Lesley Ann Foster, a prominent figure in advancing gender equality and women's rights across African societies and globally, was the first person to speak. She has played a significant role in addressing gender-based violence and has been actively involved in developing policies to combat GBV. Dr Foster notably stated that having partaken in the two national summits on GBV, which aimed to cultivate new ways to address this pressing matter, it is evident that our country is not yet at a point where it can tackle the unhealthy masculinities which are the root of GBV.
She believes that the best technique to resolve this problem is to look back in history to understand the origin of these unhealthy masculinities. She explained that reflections on our history offer us essential insights into our current forms of masculinities, and how this history contributes to violence in general. Dr Foster then noted that there seems to be a misconception about GBV and its nature, recognising women solely as victims and men as perpetrators. She highlighted that "gender-based violence" or "violence against women" focuses on the gender imbalance and acts of individual men, forgetting the role that social processes and institutions have played in promoting and sustaining systemic violence. Furthermore, she highlighted that GBV was previously defined according to the patriarchal nature of men. However, this view has changed, shifting focus to the impact of race, gender, and sexuality on GBV. Dr Foster cautioned that more attention must be paid to the influence that socioeconomic factors such as unemployment and poverty have on this pressing matter. She warned policymakers not to use a narrow approach to GBV policies.
The second speaker, Mr Hosia Malekane, the Co-Founder and Executive Chairperson of Dijal Property Group, is a devoted gender and sexual orientation activist. Malekane highlighted the tragic deaths of women at the hands of their male partners and companions over the past five years. He explained that his books have contributed to resolving this problem, particularly the most recent one, "The Imperatives of Revoking Our Silence".
Malekane implored men to speak up against these tragic events caused by other men. He noted that his research has discovered young men are both victims and perpetrators of GBV. Malekane cautioned that fathers and older men are responsible for teaching young men the importance of respecting and protecting their female counterparts. He discouraged the continued promotion of violence in young males as "showmanship of their masculinity", which has led to toxic masculinity. Malekane is positive that gender equality is possible but advised that this success is only possible as a collective effort.
The third first speaker was Dr Nyx McLean, a transdisciplinary researcher specialising in LGBTIAQ+ identities, the internet, and digital communities. Their recent work on "The Left Out Project" focused on challenging and reconceptualising current framings of online gender-based violence (OGBV) to include transgender, non-binary, and gender-diverse individuals. They highlighted statistics that indicate that gender-based violence has gone on to affect sexual identities other than female-identifying people. Dr McLean stressed that Transgender females have faced more violence than any other identifying group. They explained that online GBV had exposed gender-queer and non-conforming people to condemnation of their gender identity. GBV then takes the form of hate speech and hurtful comments, and people are victimised for expressing their sexuality. GBV has also been perpetrated through threats of violence and death. Dr McLean noted that in some instances, online GBV has translated into offline (physical) GBV for some victims. She cautions that there is a need for an inclusive reframing of GBV policies to accommodate various sexualities and recognise different forms of gender-based violence.
Finally, Professor Malose Langa, who is a Senior Research Associate at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation and a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Witwatersrand, spoke extensively about the importance of humanising Black boys and men to prevent unhealthy masculinity, which leads to GBV. He cautioned that in resolving GBV, one should not try to tackle violence and crime caused by men. He suggested that a more suitable approach is to investigate the psychological space of these perpetrators and the impact of their backgrounds, cultures, and doctrines on their actions. He warned that the current approach, rather than combating the problem, works to confirm the existing stereotypes, which does not seem to bring any solutions.
Through collaborative efforts, the symposium aims to contribute to the ongoing discussions on fostering a society free from violence and harmful gender norms.