Cultural norms that fuel prevalence of domestic violence need to be addressed, says anti-GBV NGO

This placard emphasised how no womxn is safe from being a victim of gender-based violence

South Africa urgently needs to deal with the patriarchal cultural norms that fuel and normalise the scourge of domestic violence.  This is according to Nandipha Ganya, Programmes Manager at MOSAIC Training, Service & Healing Centre, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) dedicated to fighting GBV.

“We need to challenge the harmful beliefs that make it okay for men and boys to continue to use violence against women and girls in the name of culture.”

The NGO says it’s crucial to confront the following toxic cultural beliefs and practices embedded in our society to reduce the disturbingly high incidents of domestic violence.

Dealing with domestic violence as a family matter

Hiding domestic violence as a matter to be dealt with privately between intimate partners or resolved within the family before it goes ‘outside’ is wrong. “Domestic violence is a public issue and a crime that the police and justice system should handle. Yet sometimes when victims, especially women, file domestic violence cases, police and magistrates, even family members, dismiss complaints because they also believe that culturally these are private family matters and not crimes. Treating domestic violence in this manner has the effect of silencing the victim,” says Ganya.

Normalising staying in violent intimate partner relationships

We need to remove the beliefs that make it difficult for women to leave abusive relationships. Divorce, leaving, or moving back home should not be seen as failures or regarded with shame. “Teachings such as umshado uyabekezelwa (one must persevere in marriage), mosadi o tshwara thipa ka bohaleng (a woman holds the sharp end of the knife) or ‘stand by your man, ’unfairly require women to continue to persevere and be resilient in marriages, even when their lived reality in these marriages is abuse and potentially fatal violence.

Equating domestic violence with love

Harmful gender stereotypes steeped in social and cultural norms condone a man who beats his wife or intimate partner as something he does because he loves her. “In some instances, young girls and boys are still taught that boyfriends and husbands beat their girlfriends and wives when they love them which is very problematic,” says Ganya.

Legitimising violence as a means to assert male authority in the family

Men still use violence in the home to demonstrate that they are the heads of the house and, therefore, in control. “Through this practice, men coerce respect and submissiveness from their homes. In addition, many still believe that men are entitled to dole out discipline through corporal punishment and other forms of violence. As a result, children who grow up in such environments also then view corporal punishment as a way to resolve conflict, ” says Ganya.

Socialising boys into toxic ideas of masculinity

Our patriarchal society still teaches boys a version of masculinity that includes shows of physical strength, dominance and sexual conquest. There’s still an emphasis on ‘proper’ masculinity, which is believed to include a man’s ability to dominate and control a woman or female partner. Ganya says this toxic version of masculinity manifests in boys and men using violence to assert control over women through rape, harassment, physical, emotional and financial abuse. “It also manifests as violence against other men because toxic masculinity is ultimately harmful to everyone including men themselves.”

MOSAIC says part of addressing these harmful cultural norms includes engaging with men and boys. The NGO does this through gender sensitisation workshops that focus on unpacking the harmful gender norms and stereotypes that drive and sustain high levels of gender inequality, domestic violence and GBV. 

“Our programme creates a platform where men and boys learn, unlearn and relearn how to be positive human beings who co-exist with others in a non-violent way. The workshops introduce the participants to gender and toxic masculinity concepts in an easy-to-understand way and alternative, positive gender norms and masculinities that promote gender equality,” says Ganya.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policies of The Daily Vox.