UN South Africa's message of support at the South African Men’s Parliamentary Session

SA is faced with a challenging war on women - GBV and HIV. Many women living with HIV reported that they were subjected to intimate partner violence that result

Thank you to the Presiding Officers:

  • Honorable Lechesa Tsenoli, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly ANDHonorable Slyvia Lucas, Deputy Chairperson of the NCOP
  • The Honourable Deputy President David Mabuza
  • Honourable Ministers
  • The Premier of the Western Cape, Mr. Alan Winde
  • All provincial and local leaders
  • Executive and Members of SANAC
  • Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you to SANAC and the Men’s Sector for the invitation to this important initiative. I wish, in particular, to congratulate the Men’s Sector for their consistency in strengthening their movement “Takuwani Riime” since its launch in 2015. Your commitment to grow the movement and establish district men’s parliaments is commendable. We want to see these district parliaments engage men across the length and breadth of this country, to become active participants in the fight against gender-based violence.

SA is faced with a challenging war on women - GBV and HIV. Many women living with HIV reported that they were subjected to intimate partner violence that resulted in them contracting HIV. Therefore, dealing with the HIV contractions among women, requires us to intensify our fight against GBV. This calls for a whole-of-society approach, with men and boys playing a key role, together with traditional and faith-based leaders, communities and families in dealing with the scourge.

There is still a lot of work to be done in this regard. At the heart of gender inequality is male dominance and privilege which is rooted in patriarchy. This lays a devastating foundation for all forms of discrimination and violence against women. You cannot achieve gender equality without transforming the current unequal power relations between men and women. This involves challenging the prevailing notions of masculinity and traditional perceptions of manhood. This will require men to question power dynamics of their mindsets, actions and words at a personal, interpersonal and societal level and take responsibility for change. Therefore, we need YOU – THE MEN HERE – to be at the forefront of changing this status quo.

From global experience - we know we must call out and challenge social norms that reward abusive behaviour. This can be done through community and public engagement. The evidence on this clear. In some parts of South Africa, physical intimate-partner-violence was reduced by nearly 40%, while economic intimate-partner-violence more than halved when the gender norms were tackled head on

Men, let us engage as gender advocates AND speak out as active agents and stakeholders who CAN transform social norms, behaviours and gender stereotypes that perpetuate discrimination and inequality.

It has been done. Like Michael Matsena –a community activist and proud feminist from Mamelodi, who demonstrated the impact that one man can have in curbing gender-based violence. Like many men in his community he was an aggressive man. He did not prioritise his family and benefited from his male privilege until he attended a HeForShe workshop. He then started his fight against GBV by using every opportunity, including social occasions to engage with other men and their sons about changing their mindset and behaviour towards women and girls. Mike also worked with economically vulnerable women, helping them to see the dangers of the blesser-phenomenon. He supported them with the necessary tools to harness an inner strength to gain economic independence. His work eventually led to the formation of a movement, called Young Women for Life, which now has national membership. In July 2020, we sadly lost Mike - a hero who left behind an important legacy through the HeForShe programme and the Young Women for Life Movement. There are other similar initiatives like “Impact of Changemakers community programmes” – that emphasise the role of men in keeping their communities safe. These programmes have great potential for widespread behavioural change.

Yesterday we heard from the various esteemed speakers on the importance of men seeking to improve their own health and sexual behaviour. Please look after yourselves by utilising health facilities for all your healthcare needs, especially testing for HIV and other STDs. Encourage your brothers, sons, nephews, neighbours and friends to do the same.

Be a trailblazer. Encourage conversations that address the roots of GBV. Show the community the inequalities linked to a patriarchal society which often lead to power imbalances. Toxic masculinity must be removed at the root before a young boy grows into a violent man.  

The UN is your ally in this pursuit. In addition to our unwavering commitment to the achievement of SDG5 (gender equality), the Secretary General has issued a call to action for Peace in the Home, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Gender-Based Violence is, in itself, a violation of human rights. In addition to the injuries sustained, women exposed to intimate partner violence are 1,5 times more likely to have HIV; twice as likely to experience depression; and 16% more likely to have low birth-weight babies. The escalation of the GBV numbers in South Africa represent not only a threat to the physical wellbeing and bodily autonomy of women and girls, BUT also their sexual and reproductive health. Other threats include social and economic development which effectively prevents their equal participation in society.

Unfortunately – during a global health pandemic – the shadow pandemic of Gender-Based Violence, in all its forms, escalated in many countries, including South Africa. Some of the provinces reported that more than 1 in 3 women have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate-partner-violence, around 1 in 5 reported sexual IPV, and almost half reported economic or emotional abuse.

Emerging and alarming evidence suggests girls are at an increased risk of child marriage as a negative coping mechanism of COVID-19, associated with economic fallout and school closures. Men and boys are essential allies in changing this scenario. We must move from awareness of the existence of violence, to taking collective accountability for creating a country where women and girls can live in safety.

In the same vein, we must not lose sight of the positives. A strong response from society and government, is outlined in the National Strategic Plan for Ending GBV and Femicide. This multi-sectoral plan harnesses the roles, responsibilities, resources and commitments across all tiers of government, and includes civil society organisations, youth structures, faith-based and traditional structures, media, development agencies, the private sector, academic institutions and all other stakeholders. This bodes well for a whole-of-society response. However, the success of such a plan will always depend on how well it is implemented. Urgency and political will is VITAL. The United Nations is your ally in this effort.

Completely eradicating this scourge requires an effort that must be multiplied many times over. We must focus on the present, through programmes aimed at current perpetrators of violence. Our long-term solution lies in how we raise a different generation of men for the future. So what are the things that YOU as men can do now?

1. If you know a man who is an abuser, take a group of men and confront him to stop. Don’t standby and do nothing because in doing so YOU are also contributing to GBV.

2. If you witness a threat or act of violence, it is your responsibility to report it immediately. Don’t keep quiet, REPORT IT!

3. Support victims of Gender based violence. This support may include helping her to report the case.

4. Find a shelter for abused women and provide financial or in-kind support.

5. Educate yourself and others consistently. Engage with your circles of influence on the topic and build consciousness

6. If you are a father, make a personal commitment to bring up your boy in the same principles of standing up against gender inequality broadly but specifically calling out acts of GBV

7. Do not tolerate jokes that may foster GBV. Call your family, friends and colleagues out when they do share such jokes.

8. Joint the HeforShe Movement to end Gender Based Violence

During the Nelson Mandela Lecture, the UN Secretary-General bemoaned "Everywhere, women are worse off than men, simply because they are women. Inequality and discrimination are the norm. Violence against women, including femicide, is at epidemic levels."

It is through the efforts of MEN LIKE YOU that we can change this reality.

I Thank You !

Speech by
Nardos Bekele-Thomas
Resident Coordinator
Nardos Bekele-Thomas
UN entities involved in this initiative
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
International Organization for Migration
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
UN Women
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Environment Programme
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
United Nations Children’s Fund
United Nations Industrial Development Organization
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
World Food Programme
World Health Organization