[OPINION] Men, raise your sons and your voices

I have heard this joke many times over the years: “I have thought about murder, but never divorce!” It is usually met with roaring laughter at a wedding anniversary celebration or some wise advice from an experienced spouse at a wedding reception party.

Is it not ironic that this is now an inappropriate joke to be used to illustrate love, loyalty and commitment to a good marriage? A woman is murdered every eight hours in South Africa by a significant other, husband or partner. That is an average of three women daily, Monday to Sunday, 365 days at a time.

The most recent murders in the media are the girlfriend of a policeman who wanted to break up with him after finding out he was still married. He shot her, her sickly mom and then fatally wounded himself. Leaving behind a wife and two children, and two other women with three children between them. There is no logic and this doesn’t sound like love. He may have loved each of these women, but if he was self-aware and secure about who he was, he wouldn’t need to cheat and lie and disrupt so many lives with self-centeredness and searching.

The other shocking story this week was about a school administrator who had been married for 30 years and was the mother of two young adult daughters. Her husband has been arrested and charged with her murder. Not only was she murdered, her car and body were then set alight late the night that she disappeared. This case will run for months and many lives have been changed as a result of poor choices made.

Two years ago this week, two young women Sinoxolo Mafevuka and Fransizka Blochliger, were brutally raped and murdered. Their bodies abandoned - one in a communal toilet in Khayelitsha, the other, among the bushes in Tokai forest. These young women were living - one on her way to a communal loo in a township early on a Tuesday night, the other having a quick jog in broad daylight at a popular forest.

I am empathetic and holding the families afflicted with grief and loss in my thoughts. My thinking, however, keeps returning to the perpetrators of these acts, which to us seem senseless. What is it that drives someone to murder, injure, and overpower another? Why is it becoming more and more common to hear these stories and not be shocked into some form of civic duty?

There must be space for some innovative solutions around raising boys to be men who care for themselves and other people and raising young girls to be women who choose partners carefully and are clear about how they are treated as equals, women and partners. I think a successful girl-to-woman progression is when as a young woman, getting married or being in a relationship are among your life choices and not the main and only objective. Many young independent women in this day are getting themselves educated, travelling, exploring their passions and pastimes and are not in a particular hurry to nest or settle for a partner who is not independent and sure of himself.

I am a tad traditional - read very. Violence is not a third or fourth option, it should be a last resort and in self-defence. I think getting married and sharing a family name and having the children after being married are some of the traditions that can be passed along with great success. However, where there is abuse or a consistent threat of violence or isolation, then the woman should probably leave. A great thought is that children will rather come from a broken home than live in one.

I recently heard an interesting fact at a trauma workshop. Many women in abusive relationships are safer in that dangerous environment where they are regularly assaulted and abused than if they plan and choose to leave. There are many situations where the partner is so caught up in their behaviour and their idea of how things should be that they will stalk, harass or kill their partner rather than give them their freedom. So many heartbreaking cases where parents use their children to punish the other adult.

This scourge is daily. Many organisations work tirelessly to raise awareness, guide and support the abused. Simultaneously, I feel strongly that violence against women is a ‘man problem’. More men need to speak out and act to support a change in society, not only to restore the image of a role model man, but to deter other men from leading with examples of violence, aggression and self-centeredness.

Speaking up and out against violence, exploitation, abuse and derogatory humour about women in locker rooms, at the office, at the water fountain, at the braai and all social gatherings will make a difference in society. Silence is compliance. Fathers, lead your sons. Raise them and teach them how to use their words and not their fists.

Awareness, acknowledgement and action are three steps to repairing the damage caused and working towards a more equal, safe and just society.

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