Gender Links (Johannesburg)

5 December 2012

Southern Africa: Who Is to Blame for GBV? All of Us!

Lusaka — At a recent Transformative Masculinity workshop in Zambia, Reverend Solomuzi Mabuza shocked the group when he said, "A case of corrective rape and murder of a lesbian woman happened in my village. We harassed the young woman, we gang raped her and subsequently murdered her."

The soft spoken pastor and activist said these chilling words to a disbelieving group of other leaders of faith based communities and activists. One delegate found the courage to ask, "Did You participate in the rape and murder of that young woman?" This is the question that I'm convinced each delegate present in that room wanted to ask too.

Mabuza did not participate in the rape and murder of the young woman. However, he spoke about the corporate We of his village and society.

At another Transformative Masculinity Workshop held in Botswana in 2011, Professor Musa Dube of the University of Botswana made a radical utterance that, "when a man rapes a woman he rapes all women on behalf of all men."

A very emotive discussion ensued.

What Dube meant is that rape has far reaching tentacles that it affects the whole society. When women hear of the violation of a woman, even in a far off land, they experience a real fear and feel vulnerable.

That GBV persists is symptomatic of something gone terribly wrong in society. The critical question is not so much, "Why is this individual perpetrating GBV?" as "What is in our society that is engendering this unfortunate behaviour?"

GBV has deep rooted antecedents in our social structures and moral fabric.

How Mabuza related the rape and murder that happened in his village is critical. He brought into sharp focus the role and responsibility of every member of society in the fight against GBV. He triggered a mental shift among the delegates.

Unless people adopt a new way of thinking, understanding and feeling, there will be hopelessly little or no progress in the fight against GBV.

Only a change of heart in the direction that Mabuza pushed his fellow delegates can yield the awareness and commitment that is necessary to meaningfully combat GBV in society.

I recall vividly a speech on domestic violence made by Ted Butch some years ago in Baltimore Maryland. He said society believes that there are two types of men in the world namely, men who abuse women and men who don't. He emphasized that most men believe that they are in the majority, men who do not abuse women and loathe the minority of men who batter women.

Many men are ready to support the belief that they don't abuse women by showing their clean track record of never having struck a woman as evidence.

Unfortunately, argued Butch, this belief is not true. The majority of men in the world abuse women and only a very small minority of men do not.

The majority constitutes men who actually beat up women as well as all the men who look upon this behaviour with tacit approval and unconscious acceptance. The men who give silent approval to the abuse of women become accomplices of perpetrators.

If your golfing mate beats up his wife and you get to know about it but at the same time you go on to play golf with him as if nothing has happened, you unwittingly condone the violence.

Men who do not abuse are the very few who will challenge a peer and refuse to play golf with him as long as he is battering his wife.

This insight into the complicity of the majority of men in violence against women is critical in devising strategies to end GBV. The mainstream culture of men needs to be interrogated and those structures within it that ferment GBV needs to be analysed, challenged, re-imagined, shaped and reformed. Men need to be made aware, in their minds and hearts, of their role in accepting and approving their peers who abuse.

As long as those practices and usages that give men a sense of privilege and entitlement over women's physical and psychological space remain, GBV will persist.

Recently in Zimbabwe, there has been a spate of the rape of men by a gang of women. The horror of men folk and society in general, at this behaviour and their call for immediate, timely and efficient intervention to end this aberration has angered and shocked women.

Only when this has happened to men, does society begin to demand that "all the king's horses and all the king's men" be enlisted to deal with this problem. Such a call and a response has never been heard and seen all this time that women have endured statistic breaking rape cases.

Mabuza, Butch and Dube call for a radical change of mind, heart and attitudes. Until we take collective responsibility we will not be able to end this scourge.

Father William Guri (CSSR.) is a Catholic priest based in Zimbabwe. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service series for the Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

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