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Masculinities And Gender-Based Violence In South Africa

A Study Of A Masculinities-Focused Intervention Programme

South Africa as a country experiences extremely high rates of violence and gender-based violence (GBV). A wide range of interventions have been implemented as a means to respond to these, including legislative changes from government, and women-focused reactive interventions which act as support for survivors of incidents of violence. However, these have had not a significant impact on reducing levels of GBV in the country, and this suggests that alternative methods need to be investigated. This research therefore focuses on a specific alternative – masculinities-focused interventions – in the hope of understanding how to improve the effect of these as a GBV reduction strategy.

A review of the literature focusing on causes of GBV point to a number of different opinions, ranging from individual aspects (such as substance abuse, or witnessed or experienced abuse) to more societal-level aspects (such as culture, and strain theories). However, few of these focus on the fact that it is overwhelmingly men who perpetrate violence in all regions and cultures. I therefore argue that an important aspect to understand when looking at GBV is the impact of hegemonic masculinities on men. Certain versions of masculinity, such as hypermasculinities and those associated with the military, have a specific emphasis on violence as a means of achievement, and societies where these forms of masculinity are prevalent and praised are therefore likely to display high levels of GBV.

The majority of GBV interventions in South Africa are reactive and survivor-focused. However, the literature suggests that these are not effective at reducing levels of GBV, resulting in attempts to focus specifically on men and masculinities in order to do so. While masculinities-focused interventions have a number of positive effects, little attention has thus far been paid to the way in which these effects are achieved. This research therefore aims to help understand how such interventions influence participants, and also those factors which motivate them to join and remain involved in the intervention, in order to contribute to the knowledge on how to improve these interventions in the future.

These questions were investigated through participant observation of workshops, focus group discussions with workshop participants, and one-on-one interviews with workshop participants, facilitators and practitioners in the field of GBV. Four focus groups were conducted, and one-on-one interviews with seven workshop participants and nine workshop facilitators and practitioners.

This study showed that the primary reason for participants joining is through a desire to be involved in community improvement, rather than a specific interest in GBV prevention. Supporting the notion that socialisation is heavily influenced by a person’s peers, the Stellenbosch aspects which were noted as having the biggest effect both during and after the intervention were the presence of a supportive peer group, and facilitators who acted as positive role models. These aspects motivated participants to want to shift their behaviour and become role models themselves. This study therefore highlights issues to consider in the improvement of GBV interventions as well as the implications for addressing GBV more broadly.

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