Gender-based violence and misogyny: Using social media to hold men accountable

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A social media initiative that addresses men directly to counter the harm of gender-based violence demonstrates the power of social media to heal.

This is the motive behind HeCareZA, a project by the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change (CABC), which uses social media analytics to drive conversations around ending gender-based violence and misogyny.

Between September 15 last year and January 15 this year, HeCareZA engaged with more than 10 000 men who have spoken out against gender-based violence on Twitter, encouraging them to become “agents of change” against South Africa’s “second pandemic”.

Project manager Jenna-Lee Strugnell said social media can be sued as a tool of healing by countering the large amount of hate speech, prejudice and divisive content on these platforms.

“The societal diminishing of women, and to some extent children, fosters a culture of misogyny that creates an opening for gender-based violence.

“There is a complex web of inter-generational trauma and shame that exists within an environment that is often defined by violent behaviour.

“When men have the opportunity and support to begin looking at why they act as they do, only then will they be able to gain some control over their behaviour,” she said.

Part of the project is designed around a Skillkit which can be used by men who are standing against violence to learn how to have fruitful conversations with each other and effect positive change in perception and behaviour.

“The intention is to use these learnings to upscale this phase in 2021 by asking the protagonists to engage with antagonists online on a mass scale.

CABC director Stef Snel said that the approach looked at the best side of men.

“We’re not there to tell men that they’re trash, we’re not trying to further shame them around gender-based violence. It’s widely understood by men. The real thing is how can they do something about it for themselves, loved ones and friends?”

While social media platforms have varying regulations around the kind of content users are allowed to post, Snel said that the existence of posts containing elements of misogyny and gender-based violence, allows them to start healing dialogues and change perceptions.

“Misogynists on social media disclose both their affliction and their virtual identity. We are grateful that this is possible, as it makes mass healing and change possible.

“We are not convinced that it benefits society in the long run to hide them away. Instead, we see these posts as an opportunity to identify men who are socially unwell and to enter into a long-term engagement with them, which facilitates behavioural change and healing.”

In an effort to intensify the fight against violence and misogyny, the CABC also produced a short film to highlight the continuation of violence across generations.  Reflections  recently won a Gold Award at CICLOPE Africa 2021 for its outstanding curation and grasp on violence as a social issue.

Crime statistics related to gender-based violence remain high in South Africa, with the total number of sexual offences peaking at an alarming 12 133 between January and March this year.

Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Ronald Lamola has announced that a total of 100 sexual offenses courts will be dedicated to improving the settlement of sexual offence matters, adding that the Durban Magistrates’ Court would be the first court in South Africa, where domestic violence survivors can apply online for a protection order.

As the fight against violence and misogyny intensifies, the message from HeCareZA remains unchanged: Men, We Need To Talk.

The HeCareZA website contains resources in three South African languages that can put the wheel of change into action.

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Molebogeng Mokoka

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