Gender-based violence (GBV) is a symptom of profound dysfunction in South African society, which will only be eradicated when men and boys become part of the solution. A groundbreaking new preventative programme, ‘What About the Boys?’, is taking on this challenge by teaching boys how to inhabit masculinity in a healthy way and break free from rigid stereotypes. Martin Sweet, the founder and managing director of Primestars, discusses this preventative national GBV programme.
Just how severe is GBV in South Africa?
The GBV numbers remain tragically high and do not seem to be getting any better: according to the Sonke Gender Justice Crime Statistics 2021/2022 one in three women in South Africa has been a victim of domestic violence; a woman is killed by an intimate partner every eight hours and our femicide rate is five times higher than the global average.
Why are men and boys key to eradicating GBV, and what societal assumptions and biases must be addressed before this can happen?
While GBV also affects men and boys, the violence is most often perpetrated by them against women and girls. Eradicating GBV will only be possible when men and boys become part of the solution.
At the same time, it is also critical to combat not only the individual instances of violence, but also the systemic forms of violence – violence does not occur in a vacuum, but rather in a society that condones and encourages it. The effects of traditionally defined masculinity and the societal expectations it places on boys present themselves in how we raise boys differently from girls.
It starts when we equate emotion with weakness and direct boys to display strength, no matter what. They have
to be tough, strong, courageous and dominating – show no pain, no emotions, with the exception of anger and aggression, and definitely show no fear. Men are in charge, which means women are not; men are superior,
women are inferior; men are strong, women are weak; women are of less value; women are property of men and
objects, particularly sexual objects. Growing up, boys are taught idioms such as ‘don’t be sissies’, ‘man up’, and ‘that’s so gay’. This has led to a culture in which men, needing to constantly prove their masculinity, have learnt to hide their feelings and anxieties. What happens to boys in childhood influences the men they become.
What are some of the solutions you advocate for eradicating GBV, particularly when it comes to men and boys?
If we do not help young men and boys heal, we do not empower them to be the allies that we need them to be.
Education in schools plays a vital role in providing our youth with basic tools and knowledge about issues like gender stereotypes, healthy relationships, sexual consent and respect. We fail them if we do not give them an opportunity to have open, robust discussions about these issues in a safe and supportive space where they can express their opinions, fears and anxieties.
Our programme, ‘What About the Boys?’ offers a liberating paradigm shift by teaching boys how to inhabit masculinity responsibly. It is designed to engage boys to share emotions in healthy ways, accept and connect with others, stand up and speak out against bullying and inequality, and break free from rigid stereotypes. The programme is designed to guide boys to break free from the rigid and often damaging stereotypes of traditional masculinity that contribute to GBV. It provides a practical, on-the ground, research-based model to address the underlying causes of GBV in this target group.
In the first phase, boys are taken to cinemas nationally to watch an educational film that starts their behavioural change journey. This is then followed by the distribution of a blueprint booklet made in conjunction with the film, which guides boys on their behavioural change journey; the implementation of a national ‘MENtorship’
programme; an accountability loop for change through a #DoBetter pledge personally signed by each boy; and a
digital platform to provide ongoing engagement and support for the boys. Impact is appraised via pre-and
post-participation assessments. The programme has already reached over 15 000 boys since kicking off on
13 August 2022.
How can companies and nonprofit organisations support the campaign to eradicate GBV?
While Primestars and the YouthStart Foundation are catalysts for this much needed programme, we cannot do it
alone. Organisations looking to maximise their social impact footprint are invited to invest their CSI and Section18A spend in ‘What About the Boys?’, which is scalable, impactful and evaluated. We require additional funding to enable us to extend the programme to more communities in need. Join us in raising a nation of good men.
Managing director of Primestars