Ending gender violence together: a view from Cape Town at the Delhi Symposium on Engaging Men and Boys for Gender Justice

Sonke Gender Justice, the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation and the Institute of Development Studies conducted case study research in South Africa between June and November 2014 to explore how collective action contributes to addressing sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), and the role of men and boys in enabling transformative change.

Early findings of this research were shared by IDS and Sonke Gender Justice in a Poster Presentation (see poster image) at the MenEngage Global Symposium: Engaging with Men and Masculinities for Development, Gender Equality and Social Justice in a Globalizing World in New Delhi, November 2014.

Sexual and gender-based violence – spanning physical, psychological, sexual, economic, socio-cultural violence – is a conspicuous and widespread violation of human rights in South Africa. This violence pervades the political, economic and social structures of society and is driven by strongly patriarchal social norms and complex and intersectional power inequalities, including gender, race, class and sexuality. Given the complexity of this violence, the possibility for intervening in this relationship, presents a significant challenge – one that this case study sought to understand.

Collective action to end gender violence

The case study places a particular emphasis on collectivity and alliance-based approaches in working towards social and gender justice. A digital storytelling process with 11 community gender activists, complemented by 26 stakeholder interviews, participant observation and engagement with a network of stakeholders through a dialogic learning event enabled a research process that made connections between personal stories and shared narratives of social action. 

Ndoda’s story is one of the digital stories developed in Cape Town. It was shared in Delhi to highlight the lived reality of people living with violence, and the relationship between their personal agency and collective action (see poster image).

Ndoda's story

Ndoda is a young man from Cape Town, South Africa. As a child, the loss of his grandmother and her support, resources and guidance impacted him greatly. His mother was an alcoholic. Without family support, he was forced to leave school, and to find strategies to survive; these included joining a gang, substance abuse and violent crime. Eventually, Ndoda was imprisoned for 2.5 years. Here, he made a choice to change his future, to respect himself and others. He found opportunities to build positive relationships and learn from role models. Always remembering his grandmother’s love, he has now joined community programmes to stop gender violence, to build strength for change in himself and others. 

Preliminary analysis for the study shows that building inclusive and fair social relationships through collective organising nurtures people’s sense of belonging enabling them to take action against SGBV. Furthermore, that collective action that engages both men and women can work powerfully to transform unequal gendered power relations and that individual, and community-level actions which interact with deep rooted economic, social and political drivers of violence must be addressed. In the final report, due to be published in 2015, specific strategies of collective action will be highlighted.

Collective action provides an opportunity for different actors and organisations to work together across social issues, building strong alliances and working between individual, communal, and societal levels. Researchers are finding that a multi-dimensional approach makes collective action more successful, and sustainable.  

The South Africa case study research and stakeholder mapping has now been published. You can download it here, and the related case study report here. This work is part of a wider research programme exploring collective action as a strategy in ending SGBV, and the role of men and boys in this process. Research is being conducted in Egypt, Uganda, Kenya, Sierra Leone, South Africa and India.