Updated: Dec 25, 2020
by Thandie Balfour
As a country, we have just gone through 16 days of Activism to end Violence against Women and Children. This is an international campaign which started in 1991 and is currently supported by over 187 countries. It is intended to increase consciousness on what is unacceptable behaviour in this regard. What happens is that there are a number of events all over the country by different interest groups, from talks to marches, to heighten awareness.
I must admit I have mixed feelings about this entire concept, it leaves me both sad and mad.
What makes me mad?
So while accepting that this initiative has become necessary I am mad that there actually is a need for it. I am mad that the levels of abuse are at such levels that we need a national campaign. It’s absurd that time has to be made to remind our women and children of how bad our men can be. It’s crazy that we must warn them about the very same men that they live with or will end up marrying.
Secondly, I’m upset that we’re expected to believe that talking about abuse for 16 days in a year will make a difference and create consciousness in the mind of the abuser. If the situation is that bad should we not be creating awareness all year long, making it a lifestyle instead of an event?
Thirdly I feel the initiative has lost the initial gravitas it had and has become a fad with ‘everyone’ jumping on the bandwagon trying to appear relevant and trendy. Everyone becomes an expert on abuse and feels the need to share their two cents worth, no matter how ill-informed. Everyone becomes an armchair or social media activist, jumping on the bandwagon (makes you wonder what they get up to the rest of the year).
Finally, I am mad that year after year the focus is on awareness and we don’t seem to move beyond that. Where are the stats to show us the impact of this campaign? Is there proof that the abuse rate has dropped as a result of the campaign or will we just continue harping on awareness? Is there even proof that awareness changes behaviour? For example, has a heightened awareness of HIV resulted in a change in behaviour?
What makes me sad?
I am saddened by the fact that we don’t seem to be making much progress when it comes to gender-based violence, instead things seem to be worsening.
Secondly, I am sad that this campaign seems to be targeted at women. The focus seems to be either on victimising women and making them feel weak and helpless against the perpetrators. Alternatively, the focus is on rape-proofing women by focusing on how they should behave around men. The message is that it is the woman’s behaviour which needs attention! How is that logical!
Thirdly, what about the boy child? I am saddened by the fact that this campaign demonises the man the boy child is going to grow up to be. What hope does the boy child have if what he has to look forward to is being part of a group that everyone is warned against? What is there to look forward to in adulthood if he will enter it already laden with suspicion? What does it do to his sense of identity?
Lastly, my fear is that the campaign runs the risk of being divisive and may serve to further widen the gap between men and women, boy and girl. Making men the enemy only serves to create an ‘us and them’ situation. This will result in resentment in boys/men.
Having said all that, I am not ignorant to the fact that we do have a problem as a country and it needs to be addressed.
So what do I think would be an effective solution?
Isn’t it time we spoke about what good men do instead of what bad men do? ( Actually, what good people do instead of bad people) Doesn’t highlighting the negative behaviour only reinforce it? Should we not emphasise what we want instead of what we don’t want?
I also believe the focus is misdirected. Shouldn’t the change in behaviour be targeted at the perpetrators and emphasising what is acceptable behaviour instead?
We need a campaign that focuses on how the community can mould the boy child into the kind of men we need. A campaign that will put the responsibility on every one to engage in building the society they want. It will focus on taking the pressure off the girl child to be abuse weary and place it on the community to create safety and security.
What if we use positive reinforcement on the boy child? What if the focus on the boy child is what men need to feel validated and wanted?
What if instead of 16 days of activism we have 365 Days of Making Men! Imagine if this became a lifestyle and we created a new culture.