In my opinion: Decolonise Men and Masculinity Studies to end Gender-Based Violence

By Sakhumzi Mfecane

As gender scholars in South Africa specialising in Men and Masculinities research, we seem to have reached an impasse in theorising the high rates of gender-based violence and killings of women by men in our country. Existing theories are increasingly rendered obsolete by the complex – and I should add, brutal – nature of these crimes; yet we still defer to them when analysing these social problems in the media and academic platforms. This requires us to critically reflect on how we produce knowledge about men and masculinities and how we can make our scholarship more relevant and responsive to current needs of our communities.

In most global academic settings –including South Africa – there have been growing calls and efforts to decolonise knowledge by foregrounding knowledge systems and epistemologies from the Global South, as a way of fighting the current dominance of Global North scholarship in the academy (Mbembe 2016; Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2018). In some parts of Latin America, for example, some decolonial scholars have forged partnerships with grassroots organisations and ordinary people to co-create new forms of knowledge and teaching methods informed by philosophies and histories of the indigenous populations (e.g. Mignolo & Walsh, 2018). The impetus for these partnerships is that knowledge production is not restricted to academic contexts, but also exists in daily practices of the ordinary people. So, researchers must be familiar with the realities of ordinary people to ensure that they (co) produce knowledges and theories that are relevant and reflective of their belief systems and lived experiences.

In the sub-field of Men and Masculinities in South Africa, knowledge decolonisation is lacking and we are mostly dependent on theories and concepts developed by scholars living in Europe and North America to analyse problematic social conduct of men, like the use of violence against women (Ratele 2017; Mfecane 2018a). Many analysts for example, have been saying that gender-based violence and killings of women and children by men are caused by “toxic masculinities” and “hegemonic masculinities”. These concepts originated from the Global North and cannot be directly translated to most South African indigenous languages. Also, the concepts have been subjects of intense scholarly debates in the North as some scholars feel that they are vague and muddled and can be detrimental to the feminist fight against patriarchy if we apply them uncritically in research and policy interventions (e.g. Schwalbe 2014). Raenwyn Connell (2014; 2016) as a well-known gender theorist has also questioned the usefulness of the western gender concepts in non-western settings and urged Global South scholars to work toward developing theories and concepts informed by local conditions and histories.

Yet in South Africa most scholars and analysts seem to apply these concepts with vigour and also invoke them in media and public platforms to explain our social ills. During a recent televised funeral, for example, a prominent South African academic said the underlying cause of gender-based violence and femicide is “toxic masculinities”. She could not explain the meaning of this concept to a predominantly Xhosa-speaking group of mourners and non- English-speaking audience following the funeral proceeds on various media channels.

This speaks of the urgent need to decolonise our research by centering it on African ontologies and epistemologies, to make sure that it reflect the realities and lived experiences of the majority of African populations. Gender analysts must refrain from simply imposing ready-made concepts from the Global North when analysing our complex social problems and instead seek to develop grounded explanatory frameworks. I suggest that gender-based violence in South Africa is caused by deeper societal issues than the contested notion of “toxic masculinities” which has gained public popularity in recent times. We need to find local expressions for these social ills (e.g Mfecane 2018b). We can then develop policy interventions and gender transformation programmes that are aligned with local understandings of masculinities and gender-based violence, and also partner with indigenous populations to educate those working in black African communities – researchers, policy-makers, students, media, and activists – about African cultures and epistemologies to ensure that they have common understanding of the issues and dynamics at play. This will result in accurate reporting and analysis of our social issues and furthermore give ordinary people a voice in the academy, media, and policy development platforms.

To achieve these ideals we need to train young black researchers to become co-producers of African-centred knowledge on boys and men. Currently most black youth are employed by research organisations as research assistants, translators, data gatherers and data capturers. This limits their abilities to make significant contributions to knowledge creation and dissemination (e.g. data analysis and authoring research reports and journal articles). We need African-centred scholarship on men and masculinities, produced by local researchers, as way of contributing to the fight against gender-based violence and decolonisation of knowledge in South Africa.

This opinion piece was first published on the CSA&G’s Gender Justice website.

References

Connell, R. 2016. Masculinities in global perspective: Hegemony, contestation and changing structures of power. Theory and Society, 45(4), 303–318.

Connell, R.W. 2014. “Margin becoming centre: for a world-centred rethinking of masculinity.” Norma: International Journal for Masculinity Studies 9 (4): 217–231.

Ratele, K. 2017. Liberating Masculinities. Cape Town, HSRC Press.

Mbembe, A. J. 2016. Decolonizing the university: New directions. Arts & Humanities in Higher Education, 15(1): 29–45.

Mignolo, W.; & Walsh, C. 2018. On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis. Durham & London, Duke University Press.

Mfecane, S. 2018. Towards African-centred theories of masculinity. Social Dynamics: A Journal of African Studies, pp1-15. DOI: 10.1080/02533952.2018.1481683.

Mfecane, S. 2018b. Unknowing Men: Africanising gender justice programmes for men in South Africa. Pretoria: CSA & G Press, Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender, University of Pretoria.

Ndlovu-Gatsheni, S. (2018). Revisiting Trajectories of Epistemological Decolonisation in Africa. Codersria Bulletin, No 1: 11-17

Schwalbe, M. 2014. Manhood Acts: Gender and the Practices of Domination. London, Paradigm Publishers.

Sakhumzi Mfecane

Associate Professor, Anthropology Department, University of the Western Cape

Students represent UP at the Southern African Regional Students and Youth Conference on sexual and reproductive health and rights

Twelve students from six UP faculties (Humanities, Education, Economic and Management Sciences, Engineering the Built Environment and Information Technology, Law and Natural and Agricultural Sciences) were selected to represent the University of Pretoria at the third Southern African Regional Students and Youth Conference (SARSYC) on sexual and reproductive health and rights in Lusaka, Zambia from 10 to 13 July. These students are active members of the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender’s (CSA&G) Just Leaders Volunteer and Leadership Development Programme and devote their time outside of lectures to co-create safe and inclusive university spaces.

Under the theme Plan Prioritise and Prevent, the conference called on governments and stakeholders to effectively plan for the realisation of young people’s sexual reproductive health and ensure that there is a coordinated response in addressing students and young people’s sexual reproductive challenges and the prioritisation of key populations amongst the youth constituency. These are students in institutions of higher learning with a special focus on the female student, LGBTI youth, young people with disabilities and young people living with HIV and all stakeholders to join the efforts towards preventing early and unintended pregnancies which usually escalates to unsafe abortions and deaths, whilst ensuring that girls remain in schools until they complete their education.

The UP student delegation was accompanied by three CSA&G staff members and one staff member, Mr Duke Rasebopye, also facilitated a session at the conference on UP’s anti-sexual harassment training interventions and programme, under the #SpeakOutUP umbrella. The Just Leaders programme is supported by the Students’ and Academics’ International Help fund (SAIH) in Norway and their support funded the UP delegation’s attendance of SARSYC.

The Dean of the Faculty of Humanities hosted the delegation for a send-off function prior to the conference. From left to right, front row: Kimberly Munatsi, Sebabatso Mapheleba, Boitemelo Nokeri and Mohau Nei. Back row: Prince Mkhondo, Nthathi Mabena, Dimakatso Mocumi , Kgaugelo Sehoole, Deliwe Chakapu, Dineo Mautjana, Tebello Moreboli, Duke Rasebopye (CSA&G), Prof Vasu Reddy (Dean: Faculty of Humanities) and Johan Maritz (CSA&G) Absent: Karabo Hermann and Belinda Pakati (CSA&G)

 

A version of this article was first published on www.up.ac.za 

Black Queer Visibility: Finding Simon | 17 July to 9 August 2019

The Simon Nkoli Collective is a partnership with the Dean’s Office – Faculty of Humanities, the Centre of Sexualities, AIDS and Gender (CSA&G), the Centre for Human Rights (CHR), and the Sociology Department. The Collective aim is to use this exhibition to open debates on transformation, social justice and ideas of memory 25 years into democracy.  Moreover, the exhibition is also a celebration of the Faculty of Humanities Centenary through which Simon Nkoli’s memory is evoked as a site for reflecting on Black queer resilience. The desire to inhabit the past through Simon’s journey is to  map this existence within the contradictions of (in)equality.

Why Simon: The aim is to provide an interesting and engaging introduction to the history of LGBTIQ activism rooted in Black narratives. In the excavation of the earlier narratives of black queer visibility it is difficult to overlook the much-documented life of Simon. It is undeniable that he championed many efforts. When Simon Nkoli’s  memory is revisited, three images are often portrayed: his anti-apartheid, HIV/AIDS, and LGBTI activism. Some argue that he was an internationalist. Nonetheless,  Nkoli remains one of the prominent internationally celebrated South African black queers.

The photographic exhibition profiles a series of thirty images, eleven awards, one video installations and a kanga designed by Kenyan visual artist Kawira Mwirichia. The nature of the installation requires minimal narration with the material intended to solicit the participatory presence of a spectator. Visitors will absorb, critically analyse and construct for themselves the Simon they prefer.

 

Dates: 17 July to 9 August 2019

Viewing times: 9:00 to 16:00

Venue: New Student Gallery, Javett Art Centre, UP Hatfield Campus

Queries: simonnkolicollective@gmail.com

 

Nkoli poster

 

Why not me? Reflections on running sexual harassment workshops

Speaker: Pierre Brouard, CSA&G University of Pretoria
Date: 21 May 2019
Time: 14:30-16:00
Venue: Graduate Centre, Room 2-65, University of Pretoria, Hatfield Campus
RSVP: nombongo.shenxane@up.ac.za

This paper asks “Why not me”? When I am confronted with the daily indignities of (mostly) women, in the street, in the classroom, in the boardroom, and I have not examined my own behaviour as a man, should I ask “why not me”? When I see gender stereotypes and gender power plays in multiple contexts, and I don’t challenge them, should I ask “why not me”? When I think back on my experiences of harassment which I ignored, denied or felt too weary to challenge, because patriarchy is pervasive, should  I ask “why not me”? When I run a sexual harassment workshop as a man, and I am challenged about whether this is right, because men are complicit, can I ask “why not me”? Beyond “why not me”? the paper asks if sexual harassment work “works”, looks at the evidence and opens a debate on what an appropriate response to #MeToo could look like in 2019.

Pierre is the Deputy Director of the CSA&G and a registered Clinical Psychologist. He has worked in HIV since the mid 1980’s and at the CSA&G since 2001 as a manager, researcher, writer, facilitator and teacher. His interests include sexualities, gender, diversity, transformation and human rights.

IDAHOT panel discussion: Justice and Protection for All

Please join us for a panel discussion in celebration of the International Day Against Homophobia,Transphobia & Biphobia (IDAHOT). The theme for this year, Justice and Protection for All, reminds us that over the past decades, protection of LGBTQI+ people and all people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions or sex characteristics has greatly expanded and this progress is well worth celebrating, but we must guard against complacency. 72 countries still criminalise same-sex sexual relations and even in SA, LGBTQI+ people still face
regular stigma and discrimination.

Discussion: Laws vs. Hearts and Minds: how is justice and protection for queer people best served?

Panelists:

  • Geoffrey Ogwaro – Centre for Human Rights
  • Moude Maodi-Swartz – OUT LGBT Wellbeing
  • Rudo Chigudu – Centre for Human Rights, and
  • Clara van Niekerk – UP & Out

Moderators: Pierre Brouard and Christi Kruger (CSA&G)

Date: 16 May 2018
Time: 12:30 – 14:00
Venue: Graduate Centre Room 1.57, University of Pretoria, Hatfield Campus

 

IDAHOT UP 2019

 

CSA&G statement on IAAF discriminatory hyperandrogenism regulations

The Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender (CSA&G), University of Pretoria, stands in support of the campaign of the Department of Sports and Recreation South Africa in relation to the International Association of Athletics Federation’s regulations governing hyperandrogenism.

As they stand the 2018 regulations set a limit on the testosterone levels of female athletes if they wish to compete in certain track events. Track athletes with Difference of Sexual Development, like Caster Semenya, are particularly targeted by the regulations.

The question of whether and how female athletes are advantaged by higher testosterone levels is a controversial one, not least because any advantages conferred by testosterone in a female athlete have to be seen against the background of other factors: the kind and extent of training they do, their diet, the nature of the coaching they have, the rest of their genetic complement (potential for height and build for example) and the environmental factors they were exposed to when growing up. In sum, there are many variables; to thus focus on hormones alone seems arbitrary, and therefore unfair. What also seems unfair is to insist that for someone like Caster to compete she, an otherwise perfectly healthy person, would be forced to take medications which may have unpredictable side effects.

Apart from the science of sex differences, which is not perfect, what these regulations do is reflect an anxiety about separating male from female in definitive ways, and they reinforce notions of binaries. The truth is possibly more complex, and policing the borders of maleness and femaleness is as much a social concern as it is a scientific one. The idea of overlaps between men and women, of significant differences within the category “male” and the category “female”, can be alarming. People who identify as non-binary (neither male nor female or both) and trans people (who do not define their gender identity in line with the sex they were assigned at birth) also challenge our accepted ideas and certainties, often leading to moral panic and a desire to control and to create “order”.

The CSA&G argues that we should resist these impulses and accept people for who and what they are. Advantage and disadvantage in sport is a complex terrain, homing in on one factor seems wrong and unjust. We thus call on the IAAF to end this unnecessary and painful exercise and stand with the DSRSA and Caster Semenya.

Temporary relocation of the CSA&G offices

From February 2019 the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender (CSA&G) will be temporarily relocated to two new locations on the UP Hatfield Campus. The Akanyang Building (formerly Huis & Haard) is due for major refurbishment in 2019 to house the new Shared Learning Space for the CSA&G and the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences from 2020. From 2020 all CSA&G facilities will also offer disability access and all bathrooms in Akanyang will also be gender neutral.

The CSA&G projects, services and initiatives will be split between locations on Prospect Street and the Graduate Centre:

Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender: Prospect Street

  • HIV counselling and testing for students and staff
  • Just Leaders Volunteer and Leadership Development Programme
  • #SpeakOutUP – anti sexual harassment support service
  • General enquiries and support
prospect street entrance
Prospect Street location

Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender: Graduate Centre

  • Management and finance (2-76, 2-78 & 2-83)
  • Researchers and research support (2-77, 2-79 & 2-85)
  • Gender Justice Project (2-79)
  • Gender and Queer Studies Library (2-78)
  • CSA&G Press (2-83)
  • UP & Out – official LGBTI Society at the University of Pretoria (2-81)
  • United Nations Association of South Africa (UNASA), University of Pretoria Chapter (2-81)
Graduate Centre location

We apologise for the inconvenience and please do not hesitate to contact us on 012 420 4391 or nombongo.shenxane@up.ac.za for any queries.

We look forward to welcome you to the newly refurbished Akanyang Building in 2020.

CSA&G closed during Christmas recess

The CSA&G wishes you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season and a happy New Year!

Our offices close on 14 December 2018 and will reopen on 7 January 2019. HIV testing will not be available at the CSA&G during this time.

End of 2018

In Conversation with: Prof Deidre Byrne

The CSA&G’s Gender Justice Partnership has published the second episode of its ‘In Conversation with…’ series. In this episode they are in conversation with Prof Deidre Byrne from Unisa’s Institute for Gender Studies.

The Good, the Bad and the Deadly

DM 25 Sept

Mr Lubabalo Mdedetyana, Dr Glen Ncube & Prof Laurel Baldwin-Ragaven

Text by: Jennifer McKellar

As part of the Deadly Medicine exhibition that was on display at the Merensky Library in September, the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender (CSA&G) hosted a range of speakers whose topics have engaged staff, students and members of the broader community in debates on ethics and medicine. These thought provoking seminars included presentations from UP’s Dr Glen Ncube, lecturer in the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies, and Prof Laurel Baldwin-Ragaven, from the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits, on the history of medical ethics in South Africa.

Dr Ncube made the point that as well as its troubled history, South Africa has also been home to leaders in the fields of medical ethics and community-based health services. In the post war era, for example, Cape Town based researcher Dr Michael Gelford shone a light on unethical research practices involving African participants who had not given informed consent. Gelford’s interest in medical ethics stemmed from his Jewish background and the awareness of the ‘Deadly Medicine’ practiced by the Nazi’s during the second World War.

Community healthcare was also a feature of progressive South African mid twentieth century health systems. Examples include the Pholela Community Centre established by Emily and Sidney Kark in what is now KwaZulu Natal, and the mobilization of rural women to deliver health care in the Transvaal by Selina Maphorogo and Erika Sutter. These efforts were largely dismantled by the apartheid State, and attempts to re-establish community healthcare in more recent times have been grossly mismanaged, as evidenced by the Life Esidimeni debacle.

Prof Baldwin-Ragaven challenged her audience to consider what conditions are necessary to permit the sort of evil seen in Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa to occur. She outlined the social construction of medical ethics following the publication of the pivotal Flexner report in 1910[1], which was highly influential in determining who should be a physician (white, male, educated in scientific method), and how they should act. Medicine became standardised and grounded in “science and empiricism” – and ultimately a source of global hegemonic power.

Those that perpetrate medical evils are, as Prof Baldwin-Ragaven points out, generally banal, and it is this ordinariness – the “often subtle, not overly harmful” nature of their transgressions which permit their perpetration on vulnerable populations. The treatment of refugees by Australia, and more recently the United States, whereby those seeking asylum are imprisoned, separated from family, denied medical treatment and made to endure such extreme psychological stress they are routinely prescribed anti-depressants and anti-psychotics[2] represent more recent instances of State abuses which have been inflicted by democratically elected governments.

Physicians are expected to uphold the maxim primum non nocere – first do no harm – but their accountability to the patient becomes compromised when they are also expected to have loyalty to the State. This is exacerbated under conditions of fear and intimidation, and the “othering” of particular populations, and medical training which dehumanises the patient. Finally, engagement in “patriotic science” was a feature of both Nazi and Apartheid era medical human rights abuses. This makes the recent speech by Donald Trump at the UN General Assembly which made clear his adherence to “an ideology of patriotism”, rejecting an “ideology of globalism”[3] extremely troubling.

[1] For a more in-depth overview of the report and its impacts see Duffy TP. The Flexner Report ― 100 Years Later. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. 2011;84(3):269-276. Available  at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3178858/

[2] See report from Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/08/02/australia-appalling-abuse-neglect-refugees-nauru. No action has been taken to address these issues since this report.

[3] See overview of the speech in The Atlantic at https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/09/donald-trump-united-nations/571270/