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Why I joined the 100 Men March

When I was growing up in a very tiny village outside Queenstown, Eastern Cape, there was this bizarre belief among us young boys. It was passed to us by older men, of course. I must have been about 12 or 13 years old when I learnt about this weird and harsh belief. We were taught that if you want your girl’s undivided attention and love, you had to hit her once in a while.“Sweet boys” who did not hit their girlfriends were viewed as weak by girls and often got dumped.

As young boys we believed this because at the time, we noticed that girls seemed to stick around the boys who were hitting them. Until we were old enough to understand the dynamics of abusive relationships, some of us didn’t get why the girls stayed with those boys and why they “loved” them more.

We were made to believe that “sweet boys” often got dumped within days of a relationship.

I was about 12 years old when I first experienced the pain of being dumped by a girl. She must have been the same age as me or even a little younger. When I told my friends about the break-up, I got a real tongue-lashing. How could I have allowed her to dump me,

they asked. It was because I never hit her, that was why she was brave enough to dump me, others said. I grew up surrounded by this kind of talk throughout my teens. I would see my female cousins, and sometimes my sisters, coming home from school with bruised eyes and swollen lips. Adults in the house would probe this, but it would not go far. It happened across the village. Boys would beat up girls and in the end these boys would be cel- ebrated as strong men who were able to keep their girls.

There was this generalisation that girls were attracted to aggressive boys who carried knives and displayed fake tattoos. At the time, it did not make sense to me. All I knew was that something was just wrong about it. As a young boy, I would avoid physical fights at all costs. For that I was constantly emotionally bullied. I would be called “igwala” (coward). Hitting another person was just wrong as far as I was concerned and in the end I appeared weak among my friends and most girls. This was how some boys were introduced to patriarchy and male power in the village. I’m sure it was not confined to just my village.

The many problems of genderbased violence that we are expe- riencing in our country today were created by these bizarre beliefs, traditional beliefs of patriarchy and dominance of male power. Recent studies have shown that at least one in five South African women experience abuse in one way or the other. Many of the issues facing young women today stem from how men have always dominated in society. Certain beliefs need to be rooted out if we are to address the scourge of gender-based violence.

Boys need to be taught to respect girls from an early age. Patriarchy continues to define relations within the home, where women are not allowed to have a say in certain things.

For me, it is not acceptable that in some African families mothers still don’t have a say in whether their sons go to the mountain or hospital. As men, it’s time that we take a stand and speak out about all these issues. It was for this reason that I participated in the 100 Men March that was organised by government on 10 July.

As modern men, particularly those of us who live in cosmopolitan settings, we have a role to play in changing the mindsets of patriarchal attitudes that still persist in rural settings of our country.

The 100 Men March, which drew 100 men from each sector or spectrum in our society, gave us an op- portunity to take a stand as men and boys in combating violence in our homes, communities and the workplace.

It coincided with the centenary celebrations of former President Nelson Mandela and struggle ac- tivist Mama Albertina Sisulu. They both envisaged a society where women are protected and valued. The march provided us an opportunity to renew our commitment

to teach our young boys to always value and respect young girls and women.

Writer: Chris Bathembu, SAnews.gov.za

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