Empowering Men: Reshaping Masculinity to Fight Gender Violence in SA

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South Africa faces a critical challenge with its high rates of gender-based violence and crime, prompting the Primestars ‘What About the Boys?’ initiative. This program seeks to address problematic masculinities from a young age by fostering a shift in how boys perceive and enact masculinity. With the goal of reducing gender-based violence and reshaping societal norms, ‘What About the Boys?’ is not only an educational campaign but also a movement for cultural change, aiming to redefine masculinity and promote the development of conscientious men in society.

By Nkosinathi Moshoana

With South Africa’s shocking statistics on gender-based violence, more needs to be done starting at grass roots level with the boy child. The PrimeStars initiative ‘ What About the Boys? ‘ aims to address the issues that boys and men experience, which are at the core of some of SA’s high crime rates. In the last decade, the global agenda on gender issues has been dominated by girls and women. This justifiable focus follows a lengthy history of oppression in many civilisations. While progress has been made, girl and woman vulnerabilities persist, pointing to deep-seated difficulties in masculinity. South Africa is one country with such problematic masculinities. The effects of traditionally defined masculinity and societal expectations sees boys’ equating emotion with weakness and teaches them to dominate.

A new call to action has emerged in recent times, regarding the perceived neglect of the boy child. Without dismissing the need to address and resolve girls’ and women’s concerns, the critical argument is that a comprehensive approach to dealing with the root of the problem is required.

‘What About The Boys?’ proposes a paradigm shift by showing boys how to inhabit their masculinity responsibly. It facilitates and advocates a safe space for boys to connect and engage enhanced by a mentorship process to promote healthy ways to share emotion and break free from stereotype.

The programme runs in schools across the nation, in all nine provinces and underserved areas. Since inception last year it has reached over 40-000 boys creating a movement for change.

It offers an educational and supportive environment where boys can learn to manage their triggers while recognising the value of respect, empathy, and dignity in all relationships. The 2023 edition of the programme witnessed feasible behaviour change in continuous engagement and increased participation.

Fighting the war against gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) and other associated social problems will necessitate empowering boys and men alongside girls and women. Most significantly, it will require that we be purposeful in redefining masculinity and raising future great men in our culture.

Equally, we must recognise the importance of focusing more on the sex most prone to be perpetrators of GBVF.

Boys in our communities are the future males we hope to have in our society, to ensure the safety of girls and women.

As American author bell hooks posits, we need to understand this, “The crisis facing men is not the crisis of masculinity, it is the crisis of patriarchal masculinity. Until we make this distinction clear, men will continue to fear that any critique of patriarchy represents a threat.”

The mission of What About The Boys?‘ as a preventative gender-based violence initiative, seeks to empower boys and eradicate patriarchal masculinity in our society to make South Africa a better country.

Primestars stands with the country during the 16 Days Campaign for No Violence Against Women and Children. Let us build a nation of good men!

Nkosinathi Moshoana
Nkosinathi Moshoana is the COO of Primestars, an organisation that runs a variety of youth development programmes, including the What About the Boys? programme.