The Role of Boys Schools Against Gender-Based Violence- Daanyaal Ballim and Samuel Abdula

The marginalization of women in society is nothing new. For decades women have been limited, objectified and belittled by institutions made by men and the men themselves. The opportunities and ceiling of success that women could aspire to has always been determined by that of the judgement of male figures in their lives whether it be their coworkers, husbands, fathers and even bosses. However one would say that the quality of life led by women has improved due to the gaining of greater rights, more female business leaders and legislation protecting women. This improvement is not substantial as women not only face challenges such as the gender pay gap, societal pressures and toxic work environments but also physical abuse which actually has increased in recent years. Women and more specifically those who live in South Africa have exposed the inhumane normality of gender-based violence in our country. The months of September and August in 2019 was one of the hardest times that our country has faced. Femicide and Gender-Based Violence plagued our nation and left it mourning and in turmoil. Many stood up and lifted their voices against these crimes and the nation, as well as the rest of the world, united to stop the ongoing acts of violence against women. Campaigns such as #IAmNext, #KeepThatEnergy and #IAmTrash rose to assist in the fight and proved to make an impact through the use of various social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter as well as organizing protests. That time period led to introspection by all males in the countries of themselves and what they stand for. Although that was a good start it is not enough. If we hope to rid the disease of femicide from our country we have to target the youth and invite participation from people of all backgrounds. Women are gifts to be nurtured and not conquered.

What is the issue?

On the 5th of September 2019 President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the country about gender-based violence, he said, “Violence against women has become more than a national crisis. It is a crime against our common humanity.” It has become a global pandemic. According to the United Nations, gender-based violence described as the intentional killing of women or girls because they are female. Gender-based violence includes verbal, emotional, psychological and physical abuse. This issue essentially comes from gender inequality. It is the most ubiquitous issue in our modern society. The term Gender-based violence highlights the deep-seated fissure between the male and female experience in the modern world. 

Gender-based violence is not limited to acts of aggression which causes harm to women. It does not just extend to the 42 000 rape and 4000 sexual assault cases which occurred in 2019. Due to gender-based violence correlating with gender inequality, we have seen the growth of culture amongst men in South Africa who treat women as their subordinates. Whether it be within private schools, at home or in the townships women regardless of their background are vulnerable to the imposition of the men in their environment. Unfortunately, the number of cases and normality of mistreating women is on the rise. 

Personal Account:

In today's world as a man, through endless scrutiny, I see the issue every day, I see it in all women especially in my age group, seeing the measures women have to go through just to go on a night out, the precautions they have to take to ensure they will arrive home safely. I have 2 sisters, one slightly younger than me, and due to the ongoing gender-based violence issue; my parents have given her rules for which she must abide by if she goes out; She is not allowed to go out alone and wherever she goes she must have her live location on at all times. She’s not allowed to use ride sharing apps alone even if it is at 6am in the morning to get to school. 

Why it is a problem:

The issue of gender-based violence oppresses women and stifles them from continuing with their female experience. Gender-based violence transcends all social boundaries, it sees no race nor class. It is the result of institutions and all the men who empower themselves at the cost of women. This issue is specifically worse in South Africa, as we are ranked as 4th highest in the world for interpersonal violence death rate amongst women.

The average-standardised interpersonal violence death rate for the female population in South Africa is 12.5 per 100 000 people. This is 4.8 times higher than the global average. 1 in 3 girls in Sub Saharan Africa is married before their 18th birthday, more often than not due to social practices which promote women to be objects and status symbols. 200 million girls in Africa and Asia undergo some form of bodily mutilation due to societal norms which unjustly dictate the way in which women must lead their lives.

Women suffer long after their abuse with 1.75 million women annually seeking health care treatment due to unwanted pregnancies, HIV contraction, physical and emotional injuries. It also has been proven that the loss of a mother or female figure in the life of children catastrophically impacts their future. Many of them are unable to surpass the psychological damage, with boys imitating the abusive nature of their father or male figure in their later years. Therefore continuing this damaging cycle of abuse where women are constantly the victims. 

Factors perpetuating the issue:

In the 21st century, it has been both the men and the structures that have been put in place that perpetuate the issue at hand. It is things such as the educational system and policies that have continued to keep the divide between the 2 genders alive. The violence we have seen in our country is merely just a behavioural outburst of the power dynamic these systems have caused between the 2 genders. This is because we live in a world where men are made to thrive and women are not. In all aspects of the workspace, women are forced to work twice as hard to achieve success whether it be in the media, politics or the corporate world.

Women are set up to fail.

Factors perpetuating the issue:

Due to South Africa being complex and diverse the issue of what perpetuates Gender-Based violence are a range of factors each needing their own solution.

  • On an overarching scale, a lack of resources to governmental institutions such as the police force and courts contributes to gender-based violence as a significant amount of men are able to get away with abuse or acts of violence with a nothing more than a slap on the wrist

  • Silence amongst both victims and witnesses allow for abuse to continue as many of them do not feel as though what they say will be heard and accepted. They rather feel that if they share their own story no productive action will take place and instead they feel will be ostracised and even outcasted

  • Unfortunately, a “boys culture” and toxic masculinity at home and school promotes boys to view women as objects and conquests which determine their social status and manhood. This results in a lack of accountability amongst young men who later on become fathers and leaders. 

  • A lack of education amongst schools and boys with regards to what is “consent” or acceptable behaviour to women further perpetuates Gender-Based Violence in South Africa, as young men grow up assuming it is acceptable to impose themselves on women

Who is running the program:

The programme I have chosen is Boys For Action. This programme is actively run by the heads and deputy heads of boys schools around Gauteng. This programme has transcended our competitive nature and united us through the initiative. The top 9 Boys schools :

St John’s College

St Stithians Boys' College

King Edward VII School

St David's Marist Inanda

Parktown Boys' High School

Jeppe High School for Boys

St Benedict's College

Pretoria Boys High School

St Alban's College

What actions are being taken:

The programme is still small as it was only started this year but it has taken the boys schools by storm as in this time of crisis it is uniting schools, creating needed awareness, educating many and organizing various protests and creating thought-provoking conversations about the system in each school. Over the course of the year, the programme has arranged 2 protests which received great reception not only from the turnout but through social media platforms with the #boysforaction appears on almost every platform. The platform has assisted schools such as Kingsmead and Roedean, both girls schools, in sharing their female experience with the boy schools, having already spoken at both St John's College and St Stithians College. On the issue of gender-based violence Boys for action have decided to approach it by creating awareness through fundraising by selling ribbons at rugby fixtures, it is unfortunate that due to the unforeseen circumstances of corona-virus that this fundraiser could not take place. Having boys create this much attention over the issue of Gender-based violence has shocked many people, as boy’s schools have always been associated as a breeding ground for toxic masculinity. It shows that change is happening around us now. 

The fundraising side of the program aims to raise money for Oxfam. Oxfam is a non-profit organization which provides rape kits and clothing to under-resourced South African police stations who would otherwise make female victims sit in their underwear for hours while they wait for proper medical examination.

Furthermore, BoysForAction at each Boy school also planned to sustain a month-long sanitary pad drive in partnership with a girl school of their choice. The aim of the program was to raise awareness of the 25% of female learners who miss school every day due to their menstruation cycles. It also aimed to limit the number of girls missing school by donating both single-use and reusable pads to under-resourced communities. St John’s college had decided to partner with Parktown Girls to raise and distribute these pads.

Why the programme is effective:                                                                           

Boys for action is the first of its kind, it is causing pragmatic change between boys schools from Johannesburg to Pretoria. It is the first initiative where boys have been given the chance to tackle issues in our society. It has received widespread support from many people, the programme has gained so much support as it is relatable to people around my age as it is an initiative made by our peers. With it growing to around 1400 followers on Instagram it has surely made a huge impact on the conversations taking place around school campuses across Gauteng. 

How to integrate the program into my community and my society:

What is needed to integrate the programme into society is the buy-in of people, we need the cooperation and patience of everyone. The programme will be effective as it is run by boys which gives a huge shock factor as it is not usually expected. Having the boys buy-in will aid in getting more women to speak out as it creates a safer environment and takes away that fear of men and their criticism.

Why the program will be successful:

  • The programme will work because it relies on its ability to attract young people to act out. Using the fact that it is run by young students, it encourages more young people to join the initiative to learn and create more awareness of the issue.

  • Due to the audience of the program being young people, BoyForAction has the opportunity to shape new male leaders, fathers and coworkers who better respect women and are willing to hold other men accountable

  • By having boys personally take charge and accountability with the topic of Gender-Based Violence and how women will be treated. We will systematically cut out “locker room” and boys culture within boy school which perpetuates the objectification of women. Furthermore, by having boys and their head prefects open up and hold themselves accountable first, we will break the silence which holds the victims and witnesses of abuse to women hostage due to both their fear and a lack of a support structure.

  • By partnering with girl schools constantly, boys will have their perceptions of women changed as they will no longer see them as people to be saved or dependent on men. Rather boys will see them as independent and just as courageous equals who are just as capable at success as any man, despite the stereotypes within our society.

My personal role in combating gender-based violence:

Gender-based violence is a systematic problem. We all know that to alleviate the problem itself, we need everyone to become more conscious of the issue at hand. I being part of the Transformation and diversity portfolio at school will actively partake in teaching boys through the organizing as a portfolio more and more conversation assemblies about gender-based violence to encourage more thought-provoking conversations around the school space. Yet at the end of all that, the best thing to do as a male is to become an ally to the woman around you, challenge the status quo in everything you can possibly do. I and like all men around me should aim to shape the spaces around them to allow for the growth of both men and women. 

Furthermore, my personal roll inside of school as a head prefect will be to educate each grade dynamically on how to view women which will, in turn, change their attitude on how they should be treated. With the younger grades who look up to seniors, it is imperative for me to break down their bad habits and instil in them the correct values by being an example and showing them the correct way forward. By being an example to the younger grades I will not only teach them what is right or wrong but also embed a sense of courage and duty which will in future give the boys the confidence to hold strangers and their friends accountable if they are found to be abusing or marginalising women. By a perfect being a voice for the respect of women the boys will compare us and our new culture to that of other schools. If those other schools do not support our values, these younger grades will start to question their peers at these other schools who don’t abide by the same code therefore internally grappling with the issue.

With the senior grades, however, I have to be more confrontational and make them truly question not only their character but the character of their friends as well. By doing this we are able to remove “Boys Culture” and the collective silence which ordinarily would allow boys to get away with and not be held accountable for their actions. I will have to ensure that boys are exposed and no longer shielded from the realities of not only women but our country as well, by educating these young men we can cause a ripple effect of respect not only in our communities due to the greater accountability but also in future generations who will have more male leaders who respect women

Due to myself being in charge of BoysForAction I will use my role effectively and productively. My role outside of school will be to find new ways in which to use the platform to help others and create a foundation in which the following year’s leadership group can build upon our successes. I will be as pragmatic as possible and also be open to both criticism and opinions towards our initiative as there is no other program like ours in the country tackling the issue of gender-based inequality and violence within schools. I have to ensure that above all the voices of women are heard and that they are able to have input with our future plans. This will ensure that we are not only effective in tackling gender-based violence by dealing with pressing issues facing women rather than neglecting them.

Aims of the action plan:

To live in a world, where women have their own autonomy from man, where more people will be conscious of the issue at hand and have their own individual approach in challenging the system that empowers men and gender inequality. To make a small change that will cause a ripple effect and lead to many changes around the country. Starts by making a change in schools and teaching people from a young age to aid in elevating the problem.

I furthermore hope to create a snowball effect of respect towards women amongst boy schools. I aim to use my unique position of not being a figure of authority but rather an approachable servant leader to inspire and challenge my peers.