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Men - it's time

This article was written by Justin Foxton and first appeared in The Mercury on 18th March 2013.

I speak with some experience when I say that families are often the hardest environment in which to create peace. Jealousy, affairs, money issues and addictions are often catalysts to feuds that last a lifetime. This is not a class issue - it is a human issue; we often find ourselves in conflict with those we love most.

As stated previously in this column, around 8 out of 10 murders and 7 out of 10 rapes are perpetrated by people who know their victim personally; many of these are family members.

Yet as horrifying as this is, it should also give us hope and direction. For if most violent crimes are committed between citizens familiar with each other, it is surely in the hands of citizens to significantly reduce violent crime levels. After all the family home is not the jurisdiction of the police or government, but of husbands, wives, sisters and brothers working things out day-by-day.

Herein lies an enormous challenge. You see I assume that issues of conflict, violence, distorted masculinity, and patriarchy are somehow outside of me and my home and that, as a happily married, educated, middle class man I am somehow free from the responsibility of ensuring that manhood in general is appropriated and expressed in a responsible and respectful fashion.

I reason that I do not beat or rape my wife and am therefore generally a ‘good man’, exempt from taking responsibility for the abuse of women and children in our country.

This thinking is flawed and dangerous. It suggests that I am living in complete safety outside of the harsh realities of our society. I am plainly deluded.

Sadly, it too often takes the brutal rape or murder of a loved one to wake us up and galvanize us as individuals, families and communities into action. Why do we wait so long? Are we simply unsure what to do or where to begin? Perhaps we have uttered the fateful words: “It will never happen to us.” Given the statistics it very well could.

And what am I personally doing?

Am I asking myself the hard questions that all of us men should be asking as we try to make sense of our masculinity? Am I complicit in the crimes being committed against women and children; complicit by my silence and inactivity? Am I actively advocating for women? Am I refusing to participate in misogynistic, sexist or sexually suggestive conversations even when - to walk away - could jeopardize my career trajectory, my social standing or even my personal safety? Am I actively seeking teachable moments when I talk respect for women into the lives of the younger boys and men around me?

Am I moving beyond mere outrage at what I see around me and becoming part of a healing society in which peace and respect for all are the norm?

Am I lying awake at night turning over ideas of how I can contribute to the creation of a society in which women can be equal and safe?

Am I modeling a new South African family reality which - in 20 years time - will ensure that my little 2 year old daughter will not be harmed by her husband or her son? I have spoken with so many mothers being violently abused by their own sons; will my daughter become one of those mothers? Will I be partly to blame because I sat by complacently saying ‘all is well with me and mine’, whilst men - my country’s men; me - we – conveniently turned a blind eye and said: “It’s not my responsibility! It’s up to the government!”

Children’s legislation suggests that if I know about abuse and choose not to act, then I am complicit. I know and still I do nothing. I pontificate: “Castrate them! Bring back the death penalty,” yet I do nothing. I am a rapist. I am a paedophile. I am guilty. I am guilty because I knew and chose not to act.

It begins not in secluded fields in Umlazi, gated complexes in Pretoria or in small towns like Bredasdorp but in the heart of every man; dad’s, husbands, brothers and friends; men who are willing to have the hard and painful conversations; who are willing to scrutinize their own behavior and strive to become better men; men who cry; men who never raise a hand - or a weapon - in their home; men who live a life of respect for women regardless of colour, age, bank balance or social standing; men who delete from their computers images of women and children that promote disrespect and violence; men who are willing to speak out against abuse; men who refuse to do crime of any kind whether in or outside their home.

Men, it is time. Join me for a conversation about what we can do to play a role in bringing down abuse of women and children. For more information e-mail justin@peaceagency.org.za

This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered.

For more on how to get involved go to http://www.peaceagency.org.za/.