We can Win The Fight

The tree diagram is a well-known and commonly used analytic tool to identify problems and its root causes in the development field. When examining ‘causes and contributing factors to gender-based violence’ the entire tree is seen as representing the problem of gender-based violence against women (and sexual minorities): the main problem facing our society. The tree is long, thick, tough, strong and deep-rooted on the ground hence it is entrenched and appears to be an inescapable part of our lives. This tree bears (albeit bitter) fruits. The tree diagram analytic tool would suggest that the various acts of gender-based violence (GBV) represent the different branches of the tree.

Social norms around men and women’s gender-stereotyped roles as fixed and hierarchical are the soil, sun, water and fertilizer for the tree. Without these stereotyped gender-binary norms that are based on biological sex characteristics, violence against women would not survive; it would die. If we destroy the bitter fruits and leaves, the tree will produce these again. If we chop the tree, it might grow again when the necessary weather conditions: the fertile soil, water, sun and air are there. Therefore, for this tree to die, we need to destroy the roots, uproot them and make sure that we kill the tap root. Further to this, we need to deprive the tree of the conducive weather and fertiliser that nourishes it to growth: we should promote religion that fosters equality. We should support cultural values that promote social inclusion. We should vote for politicians that embrace diversity and reject gender-based violence in their personal lives and public office.

This tree has its seasons and thrives under conducive climates that we provide in our homes, schools, workplaces, churches, taxi ranks, board rooms, etc. Women, and sexual minorities (LGBTIQA+),  will only escape the poly-violence, multiple forms from different sources, that they are subjected to in these various spaces if you and I act to Win The Fight. We the people, as perpetrators and bystanders, are the leaves and flowers. Through acts of gender-based violence, or inactions when we witness violence against women and sexual minorities, we seek to maintain privileges, power, and control over others and over situations. We produce and reproduce the leaves, flowers and bitter fruits: these are scenarios where violence against women are witnessed and we provide aid by not speaking out against the perpetrators and by not letting the victims and survivors know that that we know that they have been wronged. You and I; we can take a stand, every day, to destroy the tree or do the least by not creating and supporting conditions for the tree to thrive. We can win the fight (WTF) if we starve the tree of the necessary conditions for its growth. Failure to speak out against perpetrators of gender-based violence is positive reinforcement for the perpetrators.

Men’s sense of entitlement to women’s bodies is one of the roots that we need to kill. The rate of sexual violence, defined as the use of force or manipulation to get someone to engage in unwanted sexual activity without their consent, in South Africa is among the highest in the world. Recent reports indicate that one in two South African children have experienced some form of sexual abuse before the age of 18.as young adults. Men and women continue to experience gender-based violations in different sectors of the society.

Whilst sex is enjoyed by many, no one should be made to feel obligated to give sex: married or partnered women are not obligated to give sex to their partners or husbands to show them that they love them. Girls should never feel obligated to give sex to their teachers and lecturers in order to obtain the academic marks that they deserve and for opportunities to partake in extra curricula activities at school. Young women should never be expected to give sex to men who bought them alcohol at a tavern/pub/shebeen without worrying that they might otherwise rape them for it. Women should never be made to feel obliged to give sex to men who sit and adjudicate on business tender committees without worrying about their business prospects as entrepreneurs. Women should never be made to feel obliged to give sexual favours to men who sit in staffing appointment and promotion committees, otherwise stand to lose support from their senior colleagues who are supposed to mentor them for career progression.

We can Win The Fight against gender-based violence against women IF,
men stopped to associate lobola with an expectation for submissiveness;
men stopped making learners and students feel that their success is dependent on sexual favours;
men, as managers, stopped trading positions and promotions to women for sexual favours;
businessmen stopped arranging business contracts for women that they aim to lay;
pub/shebeen patrons stopped buying alcohol for girls with an intention to make them too drunk to give consent to sex;
the media plays their part and represent women positively.

Sexual harassment, tit-for-tat, request for sexual favours, creating a hostile environment for women and marital violence are all examples of various forms of sexual violence that thrive when men associate material benefits for women with sexual benefits for themselves and when men view women as sexual objects and undermine their contribution to the society. We can Win The Fight if we stopped sexually objectifying women. We can win the fight, if we teach everyone to respect men and women equally.

By Mzikazi Nduna
Mzi Nduna is a gender trainer, researcher and facilitator. She writes academically and nonacademically. She is a scholar of note and consults widely in the field of gender and development.