by Mohale Ratiba

As human beings, we are a collective of our different experiences and influences. Our backgrounds play a role in shaping the type of people we become in society. As we grow up, we pick up a lot of patterns and behaviours from our surroundings which influences the type of people we become. Even though we pick up patterns and behaviours that don’t mean that principles must be erased. Principles guide us and lead us to do right to ourselves and others. We are taught to respect, love, and live in harmony with everyone. In the African context, we call it Ubuntu which simply means living together in harmony with shared respect and love. Treating everyone as human beings. This is what we are taught as Africans and it is embedded in us.

Suddenly things started to change and we see a lot of social ills increasing in society. In this case, GBV started getting a lot of attention from the media and everything started to be on the open as the number of cases increased. GBV started being a prevalent topic and it is all over social media and news outlets. The truth of the matter is that GBV has always existed in our societies and the problem was that it was hidden and women were scared to come out and confess. Most of it was because of the cultures that we come from that hide GBV. It was a taboo to even talk about it but it was normalized as the way to solve problems. In my experience, I grew up in a society where a boyfriend will beat up his girlfriend, and people will come out to watch as if they are enjoying the Floyd Mayweather show. People will comment and say things such as “mmethe” meaning beat her in N. Sotho. Even mothers will come out and stand on the streets and say maybe she has done something to him, he can’t just beat her like that instead of trying to stop them. They did not know that they were normalizing the behaviour and their young boys who are also watching there are also picking up the behaviour as the right thing to do when things don’t go well in relationships. We come from spaces where a lot of these ills were normalized not only by men but women as well.

In the current state, this social ill is confronted because people are now better informed and a lot of people are dying every day. Women are feeling hopeless and scared because society has become very dangerous for them. Men are the perpetrators of GBV and many cases are being reported every single day. Every day we wake up to a story about GBV in the media. There are a lot of hashtags about GBV and as a man, I feel very ashamed. Not only that but I am also scared for my mother and sisters too. We have seen hashtags such as #AMINEXT being created by our sisters as a cry out to say ‘stop killing and abusing us’. GBV has always been there but not in the open as it is now. It is good that these cases receive the coverage so that we can be able to solve this issue in the open. It is wrong and it must be confronted head on and men must take responsibility for their actions.

At the same time, I feel that men who want to help are also scared, if not certain about their role in addressing the issue of GBV. They don’t know where to start and what to do to make sure that they contribute to solving the issue. I honestly feel that the current climate is not safe for men to actively be involved in solving GBV because of how social media has been doing with the cancel culture. Truth is some men have somehow inflicted pain on women either when they were young, in relationships, or marriages. They feel as if are the right people to help in contributing or should they stay on the side-lines because at some point in their lives they were perpetrators too. The fear comes from how society is right now, you are either contributing to solving GBV or you are cancelled as they say on social media. I personally feel that in order to solve this problem, we must start creating a space where men who have done this can come and confess what they have done, ask for forgiveness from the person they have wronged, pay for the consequences and then do better. You must be able to show that you have learned your lesson and you are doing something about it to change and be a better person. One fact about life is that everything has consequences and it is unfortunate that you can never run away from them.

Here is how I think men can contribute to solving the problem of GBV. Here are practical ways that men can do to contribute to the solutions. I believe that men to start by fixing themselves first before anything else.

  • Firstly men must stop killing and abusing women. This one doesn’t need any explanations. It just needs to stop.
  • Men need to have honest conversations among themselves about GBV. It is about time that we as men sit together and confront behaviours that we have perpetuated. We need to call each other to order and help each other unlearn these behaviours and patterns.
  • Men need to take responsibility and accountability for their wrongs. Confront them and work on correcting them. It is a journey but it needs to be done.
  • Men need to learn about emotional intelligence and how to solve conflicts in relationships.
  • Men need to learn about how to express their emotions without inflicting harm to the next person.
  • Men need to lead by example which means their actions must be aligned with their words. One thing about behaviour is that it is easy to pick it up and hard to unlearn. Men need to lead by example.
  • Men need to take the responsibility of teaching young boys about respect and how to treat a woman. It must not stop at treating a woman but they must be taught how to treat another human being in general.
  • Men need to teach young boys about entitlement. Young boys need to know that they are not entitled to a women’s body. It does not matter whether the person is your partner or not.

I feel that the government can play a big role in solving this issue by introducing GBV as part of a school curriculum to teach the young boys and girls at schools. It is important that they get the lessons while are still young to help them grow a full understanding of what GBV is. The government needs to introduce strict laws against GBV. Justice must be prioritized.

Of course, all the practical things I have mentioned cannot just happen in one day but it’s a start. This is a process of unlearning and relearning patterns and behaviours that have been taught or picked up by men. This fight against GBV needs both men and women to take part in fighting it. We need to work together to build a better society for young people who are coming after us. We have the responsibility to start this fight and confront it until we make this place a safe space for all of us, especially for women.

Ratiba Mohale is a thought leader, creative thinker, speaker and philanthropist.

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