“Women should know that they are never alone”

Philani Sangweni (23) decided he wanted to make a difference in his community and work to end gender violence, so he joined  Brothers for Life.

I grew up in an environment where violence and drug use was prevalent. I used to see people taking drugs in front of me and I couldn’t imagine myself living that life. I wanted to take a different path, I wanted to be different and the only way to save myself from becoming part of that culture was to find something better to do with my life.

I joined Brothers for Life in 2009 and became an “ambassador” – someone who speaks to other men to raise awareness about social issues like HIV/AIDS, women and child abuse, tribalism and xenophobia, and offers support and advice to those who need it.

philani 2 (1)Over the years, I’ve come to learn a lot about how men think and how the experiences we have growing up influence our behaviour as adults. Listening to the stories that people share with me every day has made me more aware of the personal problems have and the conflicts they face alone, in silence.

Women and children are being abused every day, and not only in South Africa. It’s a complex issue that the whole world is struggling with. Many factors drive violence against women and children but, from what I’ve seen, alcohol abuse is one of the biggest influences contributing to this epidemic. Instead of facing their problems or talking about their issues, many people resort to alcohol abuse, and this contributes to domestic violence.

The truth is that violence against women and children affects us all and we’re not doing anything about it. We shouldn’t wait for a woman or a child to suffer or die before we talk about violence and how it affects us. We need to learn how to resolve our conflicts without resorting to violence.

I don’t understand the notion of 16 days of activism; it sounds as if we are celebrating a holiday. The best way we can overcome women and children abuse is by promoting 365 days of activism, and for people to understand that violence against women and children is unacceptable.

Young men need to step up and act against women and children abuse. It is our responsibility to protect our partners, sisters, mothers and children. We should love and protect, not to harm and humiliate.

Women should also come together to educate themselves about their rights and how to protect themselves. Nobody deserves to suffer in silence. There are free programmes like  Zazi (Know Yourself) to help women who need support. Women should know that they are never alone; help is there for those who need it. We all have a role to play.

– As told to Lizeka Maduna