A GBV Reflection

I saw a tweet on my feed, the other day, that said when men were asked what they feared most about going to prison, their response was that they feared being raped.

The tweeter deduced therefore, and only naturally, that what men feared about jail, women fear on a daily basis. Houston, we have a problem!

The recent rape and murder of a young woman in South Africa has caused many Batswana to reflect. It is nothing new. Simply, it was a reminder, similar to when earlier this year, following the airing of ‘Surviving R. Kelly’, when young women who had survived sexual violence shed light on the extent of sexual violence in Botswana. Violence, particularly when it is gender-based, is one of our greatest divides as a nation.

Women have never denied that men are violated. In fact, the 2018 National Relationship Study indicates that men and women experience both gendered violence as well as intimate partner violence. The extents of each differ, with women disproportionately affected, as related to men.

This and the physiological reality and history of men’s bodies as well as social power over women, is what terrifies women.

Women are butchered almost daily, by their intimate partners, to a greater extent than ever, in the history of the world. The cause of this is unclear, but I will suggest that it has a lot to do with socialisation. We seem to only deal with this problem, in reaction thereto, as well as in response.

I have been part of many debates, where the law has been accused of “not doing enough”! I note however, that the law, in this regard, cannot be said to be lacking to the extent that even in societies like South Africa, with progressive legislation on violence, in efforts to reduce the scourge and to prevent it, the numbers of violation cases are steadily growing.

So perhaps looking at and to the law is not a real solution. Perhaps we need to try something else.

A few weeks ago there was a publication that reported that, every year, 3,000 school going girls fall prey to older predatory men. There are no reports of the action that has been taken against the predators; and here perhaps, yes, we should fault law enforcement in dragging its feet in taking adequate action.

We should also fault the law as regards interactions between perpetrators and young girls.

I am careful even as I use the word ‘predators’ to note that often, we think perpetration of violence is by those who are in fact, sub-human. I think it is a way of avoiding the reality that perpetrators are those people we know and live with.

In fact, in many instances, I would argue that the incident of physical or sexual violence is a culmination of many things that have gone by unanswered for, because we live in a denialist society, that enables perpetrators to become who they are. Perpetrators of violences against other people are not monsters.

They are the men who are bred in our homes. That is a terrifying enough fact, that makes us hide behind the things we have no control over, and yet it is the truth.

In consultation with Lorato Modongo, a feminist and Psychologist who specifically focuses on masculinity in gendered violence, amongst other things, it became apparent that the work that needs to happen is beyond legal reform. The actual work that needs to be done is on our consciences as a society.

We need a society that has altered attitudes and behaviours. More specifically, we need a society that knows how to cope with, address and engage with our anger more healthily.

This has to start from a very young age, all the way to the eldest members of our society, many of who believe that a woman must be beaten into submission. We are incongruent in resolving violence in our country. I am baffled that as a nation with the status we have in violence incidents, how our political leaders are so silent on these issues?!

Modongo suggests that, at community level in education institutions, one of the things we can note is that when things are not right in the home, learners are able to communicate to their teachers, or other staff members of the learning institution.

There is need to maximise on this, and acknowledge the position that teachers yield. This creates a need to capacitate teachers in adequately engaging with learners on issues of gender violence, in its different manifestations as well as its different forms. At a young age, learners often revere their teachers, and refer to them in challenging situations, to illustrate that “teacher knows best”.

We would do best to benefit from this, as a society, to empower teachers to not only ensure that teachers respond to these matters, but that they instil in the learners, healthy coping mechanisms, for when they are frustrated, angered, enraged or concerned about issues.  Why? Because the relationship study of 2018 shows that over 90% of both men and women who have experienced violence in their childhood have either experienced it in adulthood or perpetrated it.

It is critically necessary to venture into how we relate to children as a society. Before then however, perhaps we need to attempt to raise humans who are healthier, as a duty.

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