Chris Bath­embu ex­plains why he joined the 100 Men March

Public Sector Manager - - CONTENTS - Writer: Chris Bath­embu

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 swol-

len 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 cel­e­brated 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 ex­pe­ri­enc­ing 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 op­por­tu­nity 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 ac­tivist 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.

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