The SA government recently acknowledged the importance of addressing issues of equality for women and the need to stop the violence against them by following its annual 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign with the establishment of a national council to plan for 365 days of action.

And just as the campaign may now be set throughout each year, so, increasingly, all members of society — men and women — are being invited to contribute to it.

Men becoming agents of change — even feminists — in the movement. This is a shift that will also benefit men.

Gender equality and feminist activism have often been seen as the domain of women alone: a struggle for women by women. The movement has also been viewed as alienating men. Men are often afraid of, resistant to, amused, or bored by gender equality efforts.

Many in the movement have said that such reactions are predictable: those with privilege rarely notice that they have it, let alone challenge themselves to go of it; while those without are continually reminded of its absence.

But awareness is growing that the struggle won't be won without the engagement of men. And, slowly, men are getting involved: initiatives that engage men have multiplied over 15 years.

At a sexual violence research initiative global forum, held in Cape Town in October, presentations were made on the need to deconstruct "manhood" if sexual violence is to stop. The manifesto of one of the groups that attended the forum, Brothers for Life, states: "There is a new man in South Africa... A man whose self-worth is not determined by the number of women he can have... A man who respects his woman and never lifts a hand to her."

The flagship campaign of another leading NGO, SA's Sonke Gender Justice, is entitled One Man Can. It urges men to take action to end domestic and sexual violence and to promote equitable relationships that both men and women can enjoy. Other such work involves the Men's Project at Community Action for a Safe Environment (Case) in Hanover Park, Cape Town, where men from the community mentor younger men in alternative masculine roles.

Men say that the project provides a rare space for them to express vulnerability and emotional pain. Many report that, as a result, their relationships with partners and children have been transformed, and they have experienced a huge increase in well-being.

Other work in this area includes that of a US organisation, the Satyana Institute, which — with SA partners Phaphama Initiatives and GenderWorks — promotes a "gender reconciliation" approach. The partners hold workshops for all sectors of society — from Parliament to prisons — that bring together men and women to raise awareness of how patriarchy damages both sexes.

Several men have noted that these workshops have changed their lives and their behaviour towards women. Rigid gender stereotypes are deeply harmful for men as well as women.

Masculinity is socially defined and not fixed by biology, and the consequences of staying in the "man box" — a term coined by male African-American gender activist Tony Porter for the collective socialisation of men — are extremely negative for men. The "man box" obliges men to show no pain, no fear, no weakness, and to dominate and objectify women. Almost all cultures of masculinity globally compel men to suppress their emotions, which means that many men experience profound loneliness. Conventional masculinity expects men to be economically successful, which is particularly difficult for men in developing countries or nations racked by conflict. Such "man-hood" pressures exert enormous work-stress over men (which contributes to a higher incidence of sexual violence).

Other ways in which men's lives are damaged by gender inequality include premature deaths from accidents, homicides and suicides; greater exposure to health risks; less nurturing relations with children; fewer educational opportunities; and damage to interpersonal relationships with women.

At the recent sexual violence research initiative forum, Gary Barker; co-chairman of MenEngage, a global alliance of NGOs and UN agencies that seeks to engage men for gender equality, presented findings on men's use of violence against intimate partners.

In Barker's research in Brazil's favelas, men reported that the most meaningful experiences of their lives were experiences of taking care of someone, often a child.

Conventional masculinity, which promotes physical and emotional toughness in men — not caregiving — can make it extremely difficult for men to live fulfilled, happy lives. It can also cause men to experience severe internal and external conflicts.

The aim of such perspectives is not to foster pity for men, but to demonstrate that they, too, are disadvantaged by patriarchy. Nurturing, strong, non-violent masculinities — which see women's humanity before their sexuality — must be built. One way of encouraging this goal is through supporting men's roles as fathers.

Men Care — A Global Fatherhood Campaign — launched in November, co-ordinated by Brazilian and SA NGOs, Instituto Promundo and Sonke Gender Justice, along with MenEngage, seeks to do this.

Benefiting men is hardly feminism's main concern. Many women activists fear that men's involvement in the movement could see them "taking over" and they also express concern that such involvement could divert gender funding from activities for women. So, efforts to engage men should ensure protection of women-focused programmes.

Furthermore, men must join the struggle not only because of its benefits, but because those with privilege have a responsibility to address inequality — as with other societal struggles, such as those against racism.

As Mbuyiselo Botha of the South African Men's Forum stated: "Our own liberation as men, as black South Africans, cannot be removed from the total liberation of women... It would be very hypocritical to talk of liberation when you know that a large section of the society is still in bondage."

Gender inequality should be conceptualised as a struggle of men, women, and children against oppression, for this struggle benefits all.

Antonia Porter is a project officer at the Centre for Conflict Resolution, Cape Town


Americans celebrated loudly after al-Qaeda's Saudi leader, Osama bin Laden, was killed by US special forces in a raid on his hideout in Pakistan on May 1.

New Yorkers gathered at Ground Zero — the site of al-Qaeda's attacks on the World Trade Center's Twin Towers in 2001 — to show their joy.

However, Western politicians have made it clear they are aware that Bin Laden's death will not signal the end of terrorism in the name of Islam. So, the US already anticipates "following it up with a few more", in the words of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Could this translate into continued missile strikes from US military drones to root out al-Qaeda's "support network", which lurks in Yemen and Pakistan, according to President Barack Obama, or into more torture victims behind locked doors at the US's offshore prison camp, Guantanamo Bay?

Perhaps the US imagines that the demon of Islamic terrorism will be vanquished through such measures. But such hope has already been revealed as fond illusion following the killing of more than 90 people in a suicide bombing of a frontier constabulary fort at Shabqadar, Pakistan, near the Afghanistan border. A Pakistani Taliban spokesman said the attack was the "first revenge for Osama's martyrdom".

The language of vengeance follows the manner of Bin Laden's death and its reporting. An unarmed man was assassinated. The media seemed to revel in the bloody killing, almost gleefully appropriating the allegedly military term "double tap" used to describe the use of two shots (one to the chest and one to the head) that guarantees the death of the human target.

Obama was reported to have watched the assassination live on a televised satellite feed. The dead body was later dumped at sea, demeaning and humiliating his family, according to some imams and his son.

Research into the views of terrorists has found that one of the main drivers of political violence is humiliation.

Harvard University lecturer Jessica Stern spent 10 years interviewing perpetrators of religious terrorism all over the world. She talked to the foot-soldiers and the decisionmakers of extremist Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups.

The results, published in her 2003 book, Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill, revealed humiliation is the most commonly cited reason — although not the only one — for becoming a religious terrorist.

Humiliation has been described as the experience of being placed against one's will in a situation where one is made to feel inferior; where, according to German scholar Evelin Lindner, "the victim is forced into passivity, acted upon, made helpless".

Many Arabs and Muslims can recount examples of such experience at the hands of Western militaries and their proxies. The taunting of Afghan women in front of their families by US soldiers in Afghanistan has been widely reported, as have the strip-downs of Palestinian men to their underpants at Israeli checkpoints.

During and after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, US soldiers commonly put bags over the heads of Iraqi men when they arrested them in front of their families. More broadly, racial and religious discrimination is experienced by Arab and Muslim diaspora communities in Western societies, which can create groups of unassimilated, disenfranchised young Muslim men, and from which the home-grown bombers who killed 52 people in London in July 2005 emerged.

The discrimination and abusive behaviour directed at these Arab and Muslim communities at home and in the diaspora is experienced as deep humiliation, acute loss of dignity and, possibly, trauma, according to peace-building activists Scilla Elworthy and Gabrielle Rifkind.

These feelings in turn can lead to a drive for vengeance at any cost. Stern believes that after experiences of humiliation, for which specific other individuals and groups can be blamed (justifiably or otherwise), religious terrorists seek to simplify and sanctify their lives through participating in what they perceive as heroic acts to purify the world.

In this context, what could be described as "evil" can arise when the pain of trauma grows so great that its victim can no longer sustain the feeling and becomes susceptible to perpetrating terrible acts.

Of course, neither experiences of being shamed, nor terrorist activity, are confined to the Arab world; just as such humiliation is not caused solely by the West.

But shame clearly provides great motivation.

Until Western counterterrorism policies and practices avoid producing gratuitous humiliation in the Arab and Muslim world, Islamic terrorism will likely persist.

When reflecting on the value and effects of their military ventures in the Arab world, as well as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Western and Israeli armed forces must train their military personnel better about the customs and religious sensitivities of the communities encountered during intervention. Their warfare strategies must seek to avoid producing unnecessary humiliation.

In addition, Western countries need to thoroughly integrate Muslim communities that they host.

Finally, Western leaders must listen to political Islam, which entails recognising and addressing the present unequal balance of power between the West, and the Muslim and Arab world.

Antonia Porter is a project officer at the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town.

PDF of article from The Star »


Libyan crisis raises questions over UN Security Council, writes Antonia Porter

The principles underlying South Africa's foreign policy have been debated widely recently after the country's early and strong support for UN Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on, and authorising military action against, Muammar Gaddafi's regime in Libya, after heightened attacks by government forces on rebels there.

Pretoria joined two votes at the world body's executive: the first, UN Resolution 1970, slapped Tripoli with an arms embargo, referred its government to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, and froze its leaders' assets; the second, UN Resolution 1973, permitted "all necessary measures" to enforce a no-fly zone and protect Libyan civilians under attack.

Many diplomats have praised the position South Africa adopted.

Thomas Wheeler, research associate at the SA Institute of International Affairs, and former chief director for global security and disarmament in the then Department for Foreign Affairs, told a meeting on the issue held by the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town last week that Pretoria's decision had contributed to an unprecedented unanimity at the recent Security Council meeting.

He said that the move could allay future criticisms of South Africa's role on the executive body that may emerge later in its present two-year term (2011/12) on the council.

However, other policy analysts have highlighted the limits that constrain South Africa's role on the council and the importance of adopting a nuanced approach that seeks to tackle conflict effectively — rather than merely grandstand under the banner of protecting human rights.

While acknowledging the importance of the recent Security Council decision on Libya, Dumisani Kumalo, CEO of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation and former South African permanent representative to the UN, cautioned the Cape Town meeting that, regardless of the resolution, "Gaddafi is still killing people".

Kumalo emphasised that the Security Council will face a challenging term — highlighting what he described as the prospect of civil war in Ivory Coast — and defended decisions made by South Africa during its previous two-year term (2007/08), when it controversially opposed proposed sanctions on the military junta in Burma/Myanmar and President Robert Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe.

The past and present decisions made by Pretoria at the UN Security Council have raised key questions about South Africa's foreign policy: when to support intervention in another country and when to oppose it; when to focus on human rights issues; and when to promote solidarity between developing countries in the face of fundamentally unequal global power relations.

Kumalo maintained that the South African vetoes in 2007 and 2008 simply reflected the positions of the South African people and government.

Acknowledging the importance of human rights, but not its precedence over other constitutional values, Kumalo argued that the cases of Myanmar and Zimbabwe should simply have been dealt with in different forums such as the UN Human Rights Council.

In relation to South Africa's northern neighbour, he added that "the solution lies among the people of Zimbabwe".

Wheeler, by contrast, dryly mocked the alliance that South Africa had forged with Russia and China — "those great paragons of human rights" — on the Myanmar issue. He described the decision to oppose sanctions on Myanmar as "a public relations disaster" for Pretoria. South Africa's vetoes had been cast as part of a greater African project that "downplays human rights in favour of a unified Africa", he told the meeting, which was chaired by Zohra Dawood, executive director at the Open Society Foundation, Cape Town.

Another area of tension in foreign policy that has been explored after the recent sanctions against Libya is the precise nature of Pretoria's position on the ICC.

At Cape Town's public dialogue, Nicole Fritz, executive director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, contrasted South Africa's decision to back referral of Libya to the court with its support for requests made to the Security Council to defer ICC indictments against Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir and six Kenyan politicians.

Kumalo sought to defend the apparent contradiction by arguing that short-term justice may not be sufficient to achieve longer-term peace. A balance must always be struck between peace and justice. He argued that suspending ICC judgments was not the same as supporting impunity.

Notwithstanding the differences of opinion on the significance of what Wheeler derisively referred to as the "African consensus" in international affairs, the importance of reforming the 15-member UN Security Council to allow improved representation from the global south has become generally accepted. Africa and Latin America are the only regions without permanent membership on the council.

However, both Wheeler and Kumalo saw few prospects of such reform.

Kumalo expressed doubt that the veto-wielding permanent five (P-5) members of the Security Council — the UK, France, Russia, China and the US — would ever voluntarily relinquish their grip on permanent representation there.

He also cautioned that the UN was unlikely to accede to the demand for two permanent seats for Africa and two additional rotating seats to add to its existing three, which was made by the African Union's Ezulwini Consensus, a 2005 declaration on UN reform.

The most realistic outcome would be a seat for only one African country, Kumalo told the meeting.

Kumalo stressed the importance of restructuring the Security Council to restrict the influence of the P-5, "who abuse their power, all of them".

He recalled a 72-hour meeting he had chaired to produce the outcome document of the 2005 UN reform summit. Important language on disarmament, supported by Japan and Germany, among others, had been agreed after a long debate.

However, a few hours later, when the document was presented to the 192-member General Assembly convened to adopt it, the language had disappeared — deleted, without consultation, at the behest of Washington.

The Sisyphean nature of the task of creating a truly representative and effective Security Council has continued to worry many diplomats.

Wheeler noted that the best role that the Security Council may hope to play is "to create values", as the UN is often unable to implement its own decisions.

Kumalo emphasised the continued defiance of the Libyan authorities in the face of sanctions.

The question arises: does the UN Security Council genuinely protect international peace and security in the real world?

Antonia Porter is a project officer at the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town.

PDF of article from The Star »

Related content:
Antonia Porter speaks to Channel Islam International on South Africa's Role on the United Nations Security Council »

CCR public dialogue on South Africa's Role on the UN Security Council »


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