[OPINION] #365 days of activism #metoo #dontlookaway

Where are the real men? I live with four good men: three sons and a husband. In our friendship circles and lives we associate with nutritious people who are loyal friends and great role models to our four children.

The thought that 1 in 5 South African women have experienced or experience domestic violence is something to understand. That statistic implies that I must know many women who are being impacted by domestic violence.
It is a shameful secret. It is not obvious who the people are who are abused. It shocks me to look at relationships and wonder, is she safe? Are their children okay around the violence, regular or sporadic? I would love to believe that my friends would reach out if they were in that situation.

We are often asked to acknowledge that men are also abused. Physically, emotionally and financially are some of the facts. Bearing this in mind we should not be distracted from glaring statistics and evidence that most abuse is inflicted and perpetrated by men.

I fully believe that both the survivors and perpetrators of all and any abuse are victims. Victims of a life lived in or around violence as a response to stress, domination, suppression, emasculating circumstances that are not happening at home but in society, places of work, extended families and friendship circles. None of this is a justification; it is a place to understand that violence is a symptom of an unseen problem.

For known reasons men have been exonerated from responsibility. The responsibility includes inflicting violence or not speaking up against it. Over a long period of time domestic violence has become a women’s issue. Pregnancy and menstruation are women issues. Domestic violence is a collective issue. I heard these examples recently which clearly demonstrate the call to men to take a public and private position on gender-based violence.

Mostly when we say a gender issue we equate it to a women’s issue (as if men don’t have a gender), sexual orientation is an issue for gay people (as if heterosexuals don’t have sexuality) and racism is an issue for black people (as if white people don’t have a race). After I heard these examples I thought: “The problem is shouting out at us!” Mainly the perpetrators of violence, discrimination and bias are not in the stories of abuse, homophobia or racism, the focus is on victims. The victims were chosen by the perpetrators, they did not volunteer to be the punching bag, the sex object, the frightened and fearful.

It is despicable that we don’t focus on the perpetrator as much as we focus on the victim. Most often the attention the victim gets is not supportive and courageous, it is simple victim shaming. Why does she stay? What was she wearing? Who gets into a car with 3 men late at night? Why doesn’t she lay a charge against him? She has rights, why doesn’t she use them?

Those responsible are not held accountable. Victims - when they do report incidents - are not in a safe process. They have to go back to their homes because there is no safe place for them to escape to. Their lives are even more endangered when they take on the perpetrator through the justice system or the police. Divorce is not an easy process, even where no violence exists. 70% of women are murdered or stalked by their partners after they leave. Think about that and then think about how easy it is to sigh and suggest “she should just leave!” Often to always, leaving the problem with the victims.

For most of them, no solution is in sight. During these 16 days of activism my invitation is to men in our society to find a voice, speak out and up against gender-based violence. It is extremely uncomfortable in the boys’ club or at a braai to call a friend out for making inappropriate jokes or comments about women or girls. There is a good chance he will be jeered and shrugged off. In the face of unreasonableness I am positive there are many, many men who feel uncomfortable in those conversations, but do it anyway. They are part of the solution. The silent men dropping their eyes or laughing into their beer bottles are complicit with their silence. I am suggesting that your silence is agreement and makes that behaviour OK, every time you choose to overlook it. Every single time.

Caring about an issue, feeling bad that it happens, protecting the women in your life is NOT enough. We need men to take this on; most young boys who are violent have been impacted by a violent man or men in their lifetimes. Our culture does not encourage boys to become men who are compassionate; men who think and feel. There are many men who do, there are many more who don’t. Those who do, in this troubled time, need to enrol their brotherhoods into leading by example.

Quality leaders have high emotional intelligence quotients. They have been taught to use their voices, not their fists. They have been raised to be men, not big playful or stroppy angry boys. They see women as equal people, not pretty ‘lil things who have one silo of roles and tasks.

Men must take the lead in the prevention and end of gender violence, in every aspect of our lives and theirs. Imagine a world where everybody gets to experience the peace and the freedom of a safe home. Real men have courageous, bold opinions and actions against gender-based violence and it is unconditional. This separates leaders from bosses, in the boardroom and the living room.

Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn