Everyone knows that South Africa is the country where there is more reported violence against women than in any other country of the world. The struggle to keep counting and to track this violence alone by socially concerned gender activists has been a disturbing social alert that something is wrong with us as a nation. It has signaled a social problem, particularly for a country which has committed in diverse ways in policy, law and in its Constitution to peace, rebuilding, transforming the rubric of a society with historically deep race, class and gender cleavages. Previous issues of Agenda have highlighted the importance of social research on gender–based violence (‘Gender and violence’ #36, ‘Rape’ #66, ‘Domestic violence’ #74, ‘Gender violence in education’ #80), and the inherent bias and flaws in the criminal justice system which contribute to the failure of the legal system to adequately address victims of violence’s equal rights to justice (‘Gender and the legal system’ #82). The need for government to address the health costs to society of violence and the health needs of survivors and victims of sexual violence was also pinpointed in the recent issue, ‘Politics of women’s health’ (#94). In shifting the focus to men in the discussion of violence in its wider sense, we note the important research (by the Medical Research Council, Gender Links and Sonke Gender Justice amongst others) on gender–based violence in the country. This issue acknowledges the value of social investigation in seeking to understand why men commit violence and to understand some of the social causes of gender-based violence, and the undeniable reality that a worrying proportion of men admit to having raped women or committed acts of gender violence. The numerous horrific crimes committed in 2013 alone of gender violence against young women, elderly women and children which we have witnessed makes this issue one which elicits deep consternation.

When Agenda published the ‘New men’ issue (#37) in 1998, the focus in gender studies by men who situated themselves as gender activists was beginning to extend the boundaries of social research to include theorisation, questioning and probing about men and masculinities as well as the gender inequalities between men, the way men experience their diverse gender identities, identity formation, including gender violence, opening up a flood of critical research and debate on men and gender. The binary in which men and women’s unequal power relations existed, was no long so simple. The work that has followed by Robert Morrell, Kopano Ratele, Rob Patman and many others in South Africa, has revealed a system of patriarchy which has as much at stake in ensuring men’s complicity and subordination as women’s to maintain the heteronormative gender hierarchy.

This issue in 2013, addressing the question of ‘men and violence’, flags as strongly, the need to foreground the complex issues that contribute to the frequent social sanctioning of men and masculinities as violent, as well as the problematising of men’s relationship to violence and how we relate this to feminist analysis and organisation. The guest editors of the issue Kopano Ratele and Lisa Vetten write in the introduction to this issue, “Men’s violence is shaped within a crucible of inequalities simultaneously, gendered, racialised and classed, intersecting with discrimination based on age and sexuality.”

While men are often situated as the most frequent perpetrators of violence, at the same time it is men’s work for gender change that has also begun to allow social spaces to emerge for men and boys to reconstitute the roles, attitudes and choices that they can make and thereby choose less damaging forms of social interaction and ways of living.

This issue includes a diverse collection of contributions which will hopefully open up further the debate on men and masculinities in relation to violence, and men’s capacity to work as agents for gender equality and also importantly, extend our understanding of men’s vulnerabilities as victims of sexual violence.

Shamim Meer in her Article in this issue focuses on the ideological positioning of feminist struggles by women and she offers a feminist response to men’s organisation around gender. She argues that neoliberalism has eroded and watered down women’s demands for substantive equality and often led to gender being delinked from women’s and men’s different relationship to power and patriarchy. Meer argues that men’s gender organisation does not share women’s interests in overcoming patriarchy, as this is a contradiction in terms.

The work of the pro-feminist organisation Sonke Gender Justice Network has broken ground in its work with changing men and the Profile by Dean Peacock in this issue describes the organisation, its gender philosophy, programmes and its challenges as a movement with continent-wide and global reach working to get governments to adopt policy on gender and men and boys in a range of areas, including HIV/AIDS, reproductive rights, gender violence and fathering. The Reality Byte on the Coexist Initiative’s work to educate boys and men to support women’s gender equality in Kenya, is another example on the continent of how men’s organisations have identified a need to work for gender equality with men and boys, in this case, the organisation works with traditional structures to stop the practice of harmful customs that deny women and girls their rights.

The role of national policies in preventing gender violence, on the one hand, and gender organisation and mobilisation in communities, on the other, is addressed in two contributions that examine the socially-driven processes of change in post-genocide Rwanda. Janet Cherry and Celestin Hategekimana’s research on women’s empowerment in rural cooperatives makes an important argument that it is the combined effects of national security policy changes and the agency of economically empowered women at grassroots level that have resulted in the reduction of gender violence in the country. Katie Carlson and Shirley Randell present two case studies that highlight firstly, the importance of men’s work alongside women in introducing legal reform and secondly, the community mobilisation work by Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (RWAMREC) in educating men to question and change the entrenched patriarchal values that contribute to women’s subordination and spousal abuse.

Several contributions address the question of how masculinities are constituted in processes of change and under stress, in situations in which violence intersects with identity formation and the dominant ideas and meanings attached to being a man (hegemonic masculinity). Malose Langa and Peace Kiguwa’s research on violent masculinities and service delivery protests in two communities in Mpumalanga highlights the contest of working-class men with the middle-class councillors in a violent struggle over material consumption and power. Marianne Brittijn’s research seeks to shed light on ‘the absence of men’ in the community of Lavender Hill in Cape Town and while the subjects of the research relate neglect, abandonment and delinquency in growing up, partly as a result of structural violence, they find identity with alternative masculinities which gives them some power over their lives. The Article by Anthony Collins explores a further dimension of masculinity and violence by analysing two opposing viewpoints of an incident of bullying in a private school and illustrates how socially sanctioned violence plays out in more serious forms in wider society and contributes to patriarchy being kept problematically intact. Barbara Boswell’s Focus offers a response to the seeming normalisation of violent masculinities by revisiting the literary construct of an idealised and revolutionary black masculinity in the Black Consciousness protagonists of Miriam Tlali’s fiction work Amandla, set in a 1976 Soweto. Maheshvari Naidu and Kholekile Ngqila focus on women’s vulnerability in non/negotiation of condom-use, and argue that married women and women in long-term relationships often confront traditional masculinities, which while not explicitly violent, hold a danger to the women who choose to agree to unprotected sex.

In their Briefing Navindhra Naidoo and Lubna Nadvi turn to the social problem of the rehabilitation of sexual offenders and make an argument for the adoption of the salutogenesis (health creation) approach which is based on prevention, rather than disease and punishment. The Article by Yandisa Sikweyiya, Rachel Jewkes and Elizabeth Dartnall reports on a study on the ethics of research with perpetrators of sexual violence. Such concerns have been important with women victims of gender violence in research, and their research highlights the need for clear ethical research boundaries within which such research should be conducted.

While men are often discussed as perpetrators of violence, there has been scant attention given to men’s vulnerability and exposure to sexual violence and rape. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has recently issued guidelines for treatment of male rape survivors in situations of conflict and internal displacement and noted that men must be included in programme care, support and protection services. The narratives of two male survivors of rape in the Perspective by Ron and Hugo speaks to the isolation and exclusion experienced and the difficulty of finding support and of healing.

Lindsay Clowes’ Perspective exposes men’s often damaging investment in a system that oppresses them (in different ways to women). She urges her male gender studies students to look more carefully at the way in which men’s lives are gendered in every facet of work and society. This issue also includes three book reviews which bring new research on men and masculinities and some of the contexts in which violence, in its broader sense, is gendered to the fore. The review by Theresa Edlmann of Stop the Call-up – Masculinities, Militarisation and the End Conscription Campaign: War Resistance in Apartheid South Africa by Daniel Conway, considers the significance of gender in militarisation. Betty Govinden’s insightful review of State of Peril – Race and Rape in South African Literature by Lucy Graham, points out how the dominance of sexual violence in the colonial and apartheid past extends into the present refracted through the prisms of race, class and gender. Carla Tsampiras hones in on the representation of men in the media in the coverage of HIV/AIDS in her review of [Un]covering Men – Rewriting Masculinity and Health in South Africa, which is edited by Melissa Meyer and Helen Struthers.

It is hoped that the issue contributes to focusing social concern more strongly on the relationship between gender and violence, and equally the social consequences of violent masculinities for men, as well as men’s diverse subject locations in relation to violence.

Agenda thanks Lisa Vetten and Kopano Ratele for their much valued contribution as the guest editors in the publication of this edition of Agenda.

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