One Struggle That Does Not Have To Continue

Gender equality gender-based violence Women’s Rights
Wednesday, 1 September, 2010 - 05:30

Commemorating Women’s Month should remind South Africans of the struggles faced by women. Women need to be liberated economically as their liberation will end some of the other daily struggles faced by men. The empowerment of women cannot leave men feeling threatened. Men and women can still unite in the same spirit that united them in fighting apartheid in order to confront the gender struggles they face in their communities. Instead of contributing to making the fight to free women a difficult one, men should join the fight against all forms of oppression against women.

As Women's Month comes to a close, I hope this year's celebration has provided us men an opportunity to reflect about our role in an ongoing struggle facing South Africans today.

It is the struggle to achieve gender equality and the struggle to respect the rights of all women in our country. And as men we should be asking ourselves difficult, unconventional and uncomfortable questions, such as: Does the empowerment of women mean that we should feel threatened?

The Oxford Dictionary defines struggle as "making forceful or violent efforts to get free of restraint" or "making determined efforts under difficulty." I find the two definitions apt, especially considering the many "difficulties" faced by women in South Africa.

Research by the Medical Research Council (MRC) indicates that one in four women in South Africa has experienced physical violence at some point in her life. Another horrifying MRC study found that one in four South African men admitted having raped a woman - and nearly 75 percent of these had done so by the age of 20.

A further 50 percent of men said they had perpetrated domestic violence, with one in every six admitting abusing a woman in the previous 12 months. A national study found that a woman is killed by an intimate partner every six hours.

If this does not a struggle make, I don't know what does.

For many in South Africa daily life is a constant struggle. Because of this, I think it's time men set aside one pointless struggle, the struggle we erroneously tend to think of as our main reason for existence: the struggle to control and dominate women.

Taking up the better struggle - the sharing of power with women - has sometimes made a lot of us men uncertain, confused and angry as we battle to find our place as men in an age of growing women's power and equality. We have no tools, strategies or long-term programmes to address the many inner, invisible struggles we face on a daily basis. But surely violence is not the solution.

The struggle against apartheid was simple, clear and straightforward. We all knew who and what the enemy was and what needed to be done to dismantle that hateful and reprehensible system.

Today's struggle is totally different than yesterdays. Today's struggle is one that involves a mindset and behavioural change in order to bring about a human, non-violent, caring and compassionate society. Black men and black women, in particular, were united in the trenches in fighting apartheid, but the same black men are unable to find a connection to, or solution for, today's gender struggle through which women are also trying to become free from another hateful, reprehensible system: oppressive patriarchy.

What we seem to be grappling with as men is a fear of losing that which we think makes us men. What we don't see is that when woman are liberated from their day-to-day struggle against oppression, it will also free us men - in freeing women we will find our own liberation.

And there are other positive spinoffs.

Freeing women is also about economic liberation - which would mean eventual freedom from some of our other daily struggles. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has a database which measures the economic and political power women hold in 162 countries. Its findings show that in almost every country where women have achieved high levels of power and enjoy greater freedoms; there is a very strong economy.

There are few areas in our lives as men that are not a struggle in the hectic 21st century. There's no need to keep struggling to suppress women - and the fight to free women should not be so difficult.

As men we somehow think it means taking our pants off and letting women wear them. But why can't we both wear the proverbial pants?

It is our inability to confront this new struggle that makes us despondent, desperate, dejected and sometimes empty shells. It's not going to be easy to move forward and confront each other about our own silence and connivance in the degradation and humiliation of women in our country, but it's something we have to do.

While winning our political struggles was a major achievement for this country, so too will be our triumph if we can bring about gender equality in South Africa, if we can set an example for the region and for the world.

As we mark National Woman's Month, we should raise our voices together and shout A luta continua. Although the struggle continues, it does not have to go on forever if we men reject the oppressive nature bequeathed to us by patriarchy. Let us men slip loose from these shackles that tell us we are inherently the only gift to mankind and let us embrace, as equal partners, all of womankind.

- Mbuyiselo Botha is government and media relations manager at the Sonke Gender Justice Network. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service. It is republished here with the permission of Gender Links http://www.genderlinks.org.za.

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