One On One

Q & A – Thabo Monyatsi

The empowerment of women both in the home and in the workplace has been met with mixed reactions by men. Experts say some men feel intimidated at the prospect of having women on an equal footing with them or holding decision making positions at work, while others find the whole idea impractical either on cultural or religious grounds. This has resulted in some men turning physical against women as they try to correct what they believe is a social mishap, a situation that has seen an increase in cases of gender based violence in most communities. The Weekly’s Martin Makoni discusses the matter at length with Bloemfontein based Counselling Psychologist Thabo Monyatsi. Excerpts:

What do you think is frustrating men resulting in them turning violent against women?

I think it’s important to note that gender-based violence (GBV) is not the same as the general violence that you see in different communities and societies. GBV generally refers to men being violent towards women, or women being violent towards men. But when you talk about general societal violence, it’s where you find people generally – whether at home or in the society – just being generally violent towards each other. The causes for the two are quite different from each other. If you look at GBV specifically, it can be as a result of economic, political, constitutional or social issues.

If you can please elaborate on those aspects you have just mentioned, how do they affect the way men and women relate?

If you look at the economic issues for example, women are now getting better positions at work as well as higher salaries. As a result, women are starting to be financially stable. This, in a way, poses a threat to some men. From a family point of view, men will start feeling, ‘my wife is no longer respecting me because she is earning more than I am earning’. One may want to describe this as an anxiety issue or insecurity. It doesn’t necessarily follow that, when a woman starts earning more, she starts treating you like a child. It’s an issue of insecurity. From a political point of view, men also have issues because they feel when women start having control, they disrespect them. It can also be from a religious point of view. Some men may believe that, biblically speaking, they have been given a position of authority over women. They believe they must be providers, they must be the safekeepers of their families. On the other hand, women are expected to be submissive to their husbands. Now, this paradigm shift, the sudden change in which women are starting to be in a position of power… that poses a threat to most men.

So, what can men do about this, what would you want them to know?

Men should understand that there are changes taking place in the way we live. We are in the 21st century. There are changes that they must adapt to. Women are starting to be in power. They now have control as well and can do a whole lot of things that only men were doing in the past. Men should not be threatened by that. They simply need to adapt to that change. Gender equality doesn’t take away the position of a man in the family. Preaching gender equality doesn’t mean women have to on top of men. It can be gender equality in terms of opportunities at work or accessing services or admission to higher institutions of learning. There is no reason for men to feel threatened in any manner.

How much do think social issues contribute to GBV?

There are many social related problems that contribute to both GBV and violence in general. For example, South Africa is faced with a very high rate of unemployment and you find that most of the age groups that are supposed to be employed, are sitting at home and doing nothing. These are the people that will perpetuate violence through criminal activities in order to address their basic needs. Usually, when criminal activities take place, violence erupts because the perpetrator wants to achieve their goal and the victim might want to protect their property. People get stabbed or shot in the process of being robbed. Unemployment causes men, in particular, to feel insecure. Their self-esteem and confidence are affected because most will be failing to provide for their families and even themselves.

This builds up anger in them as they won’t be able to provide. In that way, people easily get angered by very small things. Envy or jealousy contributes to that. Poverty is another factor. There is a high rate of poverty in the country. Even people that are employed are also committing crimes claiming that they are being underpaid and therefore, cannot make ends meet.

Most communities today are struggling with gang violence and some of the people involved are young children who are not yet expected to be working, and yet they are also causing GBV, what could be the reason for that?

Young people are looking for positions of authority over others. They want to control the streets of their townships. They want to control their drug dealing territories as well as places they go to drink. So, they formed these gangs to be in position of power. The rival gangs will also look at ways of penetrating those territories. If it’s a drug dealing territory, everyone wants to have a piece of it and make money. As a result, violence usually erupts in such situations. When I used to work in prisons, most of the offenders doing time would them say that they committed the most violent crimes in the ‘white suburbs’ because of the feeling of economic inequality. These were black offenders. It was the feeling that these people have more than us, so we have to go and take from them. In the process, anything is possible. A person gets shot and killed or seriously injured. So, it was not just about crime, there was also an element of anger, coming from the way they were raised, the hardships they experienced and so for. It an anger that has been building up over the years. Some of them actually said when they went to rob in the black communities, they don’t kill because ‘there is no need to kill a black man… let me just eat the money and go.’

The black majority of this country is coming from an era where they were disadvantaged because of the system that prevailed back then, how much has this contributed to the way in which men and women relate today?

From some social dialogues that I have attended, most men would tell you that, politically speaking, they have been disadvantaged. They say, because of being men, they were enslaved, they were underpaid, they were given odd jobs to do and they were given lower positions even if they were better qualified. Now, with the issue of women empowerment coming into place, men are starting to say they are now feeling like they are being victimised for the second time. They say they were once victims of their political background, now they are victims of the economic situation. They argue that their status as men, their economic status as men, their social status as well as their familiar status as men were taken away by their disadvantaged background. Now, when they feel like it’s their time to shine and be in a position of authority, they have to share with women. That frustrates them.

So, what do think is the best way forward, and as you answer that, what do you think South Africa is doing wrong and how best can this be addressed?

I think this goes back to our government. I want to address my point to the people in power. As a result of the increase in cases of gender based violence, you find MECs, mayors and councillors marching saying ‘we are tired, we have had enough, stop the violence’. But these are the people that have got power. What are they marching for? Who are they marching to? When you are an MEC of Safety, you have power. Use that power to stop the violence. It’s the people who should be marching to you. So, government should go back to its legislatures and see where the loopholes are and address them. There should be a more aggressive approach towards criminals. We should also develop gender strategies and methods. But these gender methods and strategies should be backed by I prefer to call formal decision at high level. Those people making decisions should bear in mind that they also need to support men. Men should be shown that they cannot just be perpetrators of GBV but they can form alliances with gender and human rights activists.