41% of all reported rape cases in South Africa are against children. Such shocking statistics reflect a need for national introspection and highlight how rape advocacy work requires the inclusion of all society, as this pandemic affects all of us, not just women and children.
There is no clear and singular cause for the high rate of rape in South Africa except the commonality of the perpetrators, who are men. In her book, Rape: A South African Nightmare, Pumla Dineo Gqola says that “if we are at all serious about making sense of rape’s hold on our society, we need to interrogate the histories of rape in South Africa.” We are all aware of the country’s violent history, which may have created the prevalence of violence, be it structural or otherwise, that the country is facing currently. As the majority perpetrators of rape and gender based violence, male intervention is key if we want to put an end to this extreme burden on our society.
Male involvement is also needed if we are to successfully change the discourse surrounding rape, from one that views rape as solely a female issue. From a very base perspective, rape affects men too as it may be their sister, wife or a female colleague who is raped or in some cases men themselves.
“Men must first acknowledge the privilege their gender gives,” says Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng, sexual health and reproductive rights expert. “They need to understand the issues of gender the same way they understand the issue of race. Men who are against violence must speak to other men. Patriarchy will only listen to itself,” she says on how we engage men on the topic of rape and in rape advocacy work. Masculinity, patriarchy, entrenched gender norms and cultural beliefs are the barriers that prove difficult when engaging men on the topic of rape. Regional Campaigns and Advocacy Specialist at Sonke Gender Justice, Mpiwa Mangwiro says that it’s key to approach men not as only perpetrators, but as stakeholders, who have a role to play in eliminating the scourge of rape in the country. “It’s beneficial for men to address rape and its root causes as this liberates them from subscribing to certain toxic notions of masculinity. While harmful to women and girls, rape tends to be harmful to men’s wellbeing too,” she says. Informing men on how toxic masculinity and patriarchy are, and that this issue is not only dangerous to women and children, but that is can also shackle men, is key when addressing this debate.
During their Safe Ride campaign which targeted taxi personnel including taxi drivers, owners and queue marshals and that looked at sexual and gender based violence across 22 African countries, Sonke Gender Justice found that, when men were addressed in a manner that didn’t condemn them as perpetrators but demonstrated that they had a role to play in addressing the gender based violence, the feedback and results were far more positive. The current Black Label campaign, #NoExcuse, also seeks to mobilise men to stand up against abuse against women in South Africa and is another example of campaigns that are geared towards engaging men on this topic.
The sexual predation of women in South Africa creates an environment that is unsafe for the female body. There are also certain gender and cultural norms which legitimise men as sexual pursuers and women as sexual conquests ‘to be had’ whenever men want, all of which perpetuates rape culture. Dr. Mofokeng says that consent sensitisation is the first lesson in tackling rape culture in the country. “People won’t understand consent for sex if people don’t understand general consent. If all of us are teaching consent around sex only, we are still falling short,” she says. “People are not naming the issues, they’re talking systemic failures, structural drivers of illness and making the individuals internalise that, as if it is caused by individual failures,” she further explains.
The prevalence of rape is a human rights issue as it robs victims of dignity, safety and autonomy, which are values enshrined in our Constitution. When we approach the issue in this way, we can finally begin to truly grapple with the deep violation that rape is and men can finally understand the role they have to play in eradicating it. “When it is highlighted from a human rights perspective, rape can be seen as perpetuating a culture of violence which, while it predominantly affects women and girls, also affects men, as their loved ones can also fall victim to such harm and be robbed of their sense of security, bodily integrity and joy,” explains Mangwiro. But the most effective way to include men, is the painful reminder that any women or child dearest to them, can fall victim to rape. In that way, the issue of rape becomes personal and close to home, as no one wants those dearest to them in harm’s way.
Men need to accept that rape affects them and it’s definitely better to work at preventing rape than addressing the effects thereof. “Living in a community where women and girls are able to realise their full potential, would be beneficial to everyone, men included,” says Mangwiro, which is honestly what we should all be striving for.
By Zanta Nkumane