The second, and probably the most important day of the conference dawned on Kopanong Hotel and Conference Centre with the usual chilly air on 27th of May 2014. Ten participants in the gender-based violence (GBV) category, one which aims at putting forward projects which address GBV in the SADC region presented on best practises they have implemented at country level.
After the high level round table meeting held on Monday, 26 May, talks about the shocking statistics from the GBV Indicators Baseline Study (89% of women suffered from violence in Zambia, 86% in Lesotho, 68% in Zimbabwe, 67% in Botswana, 50% in South Africa and 24% in Mauritius), two major issues came out from the GBV presentations. Participants agreed that there is need to engage men in combatting GBV and to economically empower women so that they have a choice to leave abusive relationships.
One of these topics of discussion received much interest. Reaching out to men and boys, as enunciated by the Zimbabwean and Zambian delegations in the round table meeting, is a priority for the SADC region.
Malawi, one of the low rankers at the conference due to the recent drastic drop in female representation in political decision-making is leading the way. Indeed, the two participants from the Malawian delegation in the GBV category, Limbhani Phiri and Samora Mkama, are presented projects geared towards the concept of men as partners instead of men as perpetrators.
Limbhani Phiri's project 'Men Travelling Conference' (MTC) regroups men of all professions who receive training around behaviour change in their communities. "Men of quality should not be afraid of equality," he said boldly.
Similar actions are being carried out throughout Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Lesotho. According to Boingotlo Gupta from Botswana, men are being empowered in GBV issues; even men from the LGBT community are being targeted, although with mitigated response due to societal forces at work.
Jeanne Kabuo, from DRC, says that the 'MenEngage' network, which is an international web of connections, is encouraging men to be protectors and is striving to change the traditional patriarchal attitudes, a rigid social structure that is hindering the fight against GBV.
The need for a shift of mind-set is also relevant in numerous other countries. Boingotlo Gupta said about social taboos, "We do not talk about it [sex] and yet we are sexual beings." This results from the perception that the Sexual Health & Reproduction language is an insult to morality. From what fellow countrywoman Leanne Britton, from Chobe Safari Lodge, says, social barriers seem to stand as a real hurdle in Botswana. From a bird's eye view, the judging social eyes become the perpetrator of GBV.
She illustrated this statement by introducing a Botswana woman being persecuted by her community because she has a mentally challenged child - a sign of witchcraft still persistent in some African regions.
The summit also featured local and community-level projects. Joahnnes Roto from Lesotho explained the 'Men As Protectors' initiative which brings men together, enabling them to have man-to-man dialogue - the only way for real change to emerge on African soil.
Shiksha Ghura, representing ANPPCAN from Mauritius, added a word of caution that, "time will be needed to change the mind-set."
The judges still have to listen to five more presentations in this category, before they make the decision on who will get the first prize this year.
Kelvin Suddason is a student at the University of Mauritius. This article is part of the GL News Service special coverage of the SADC Gender Protocol Summit underway at Kopanong Hotel and Conference Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa, offering fresh views on everday news.