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Our View from the Ground: Rule by Rape

Listen to Supreme singing a song he wrote about HIV and safe sex.

Mogomotsi "Supreme" Mfalapitsa is Communications Associate for EngenderHealth’s South Africa program.

How do sexual violence, HIV, and gender all converge in South Africa?

South Africa went through the painful and oppressive apartheid period, which divided African communities along tribal lines, separating clans, families, and men and women. Men were emasculated and treated like boys, with no respect or dignity. As a result, men felt they needed to reclaim their masculinity, and this affected their relationships with women. This history definitely had an impact and continues to affect South Africa today.

Many times, women experience abuse from men who believe they are entitled to sex. A lot of rapes even take place within long-term intimate relationships and within marriage. Some men believe that if you’re a man, you can sleep with whomever you want, whenever you want, even if the woman does not consent. So women are highly vulnerable when it comes to acquiring HIV from their male partners—who often have multiple partners.

All of this means that in South Africa, we have a feminized HIV epidemic, and the burden of care lies mainly with women. Women are often blamed for HIV transmission, are more impacted by the disease than men, and yet have to do the caretaking when men get sick.

Poverty also has a role to play. Many women are still economically dependent on men. Many men who provide for women feel like they are entitled to treat women the way they want—that the women owe them.

How have gender inequity and/or norms in South Africa prompted you to work with EngenderHealth’s Men As Partners® (MAP) program?

In a society where men are supposed to be tough, I was lucky and learned early that as a man it’s okay to cry, ask for help, and find ways of expressing myself without the use of violence. I saw how negative stereotypes impacted boys and men, and seeing the abuse at various levels of society inspired me to work with MAP and showed me the need to challenge harmful gender norms.

Men need to know that the inequity that exists is wrong; it’s not God’s will, as some believe. I want to show them that you don’t have to follow that path. And the MAP program gave me a chance to use my passion to transform our society into a better one.

How do MAP and the work that you do address gender norms?

MAP helps men realize how they have been socialized by society to be what they are today. Traditional notions of what it means to be a man—being strong, not crying, and using violence as a way of keeping control—are deep-seated. But MAP demonstrates to men and boys that there are alternative ways of being masculine without violating the rights of others and endangering one’s own life. We help men to communicate in a more constructive way and find other ways of solving conflict.

Can you describe a man you know or worked with whose behavior and attitudes toward women have totally changed?

I know many men who have transformed into better human beings. Some of them used to believe that women had less value than them and that men have the right to rule, control, and use women for their own gratification. But now they’re changed men. I’ve learned that this change is a process and that each man has to keep himself in check, lest he slide back to being the abusive man he was. Some of them used to beat up, verbally abuse, and rape women, but now they have become strong spokesmen for equality in their communities. MAP has shown them a better way of living, and they are now passing on these ideas to their sons and daughters.