“We seek a world in which every African man, woman and child can live in true freedom and equality with their rights respected, upheld and advanced.”
These are the words of President Cyril Ramaphosa who was delivering an address at the third African Union Men’s Conference.
Ramaphosa said such a world is within reach if people focus on the prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.
The conference, which started on Monday and ends today, is taking place in Pretoria under the theme: Accelerating Commitment towards the African Union Convention on ending violence against women and girls.
“We cannot realise a society free of gender-based violence [GBV] without critically interrogating the assumptions around patriarchy, male chauvinism and sexism,” said Ramaphosa.
Describing positive masculinity, Ramaphosa said it encourages men to embrace qualities such as empathy, vulnerability, emotional intelligence and respect for diversity.
He said the conference is exceptional because the focus is on the role of men and boys in bringing about a world free of GBV.
“We are here because we know there is an alternative to a society, a continent and a world where women are oppressed, discriminated against and their rights suppressed.”
The president highlighted that if society yearns for a continent free of GBV, men and boys must critically interrogate patriarchy, male chauvinism and sexism.
“It is these assumptions that lead young men and boys to believe that women are property, that they are worth less than a man, and that they are deserving of ill-treatment.”
Perpetrators of violence
According to the president, men are the main perpetrators of violence against women and girls.
“This conference is about promoting positive masculinity, challenging traditional stereotypes with being a man and involves redefining the norms and expectations placed on men. It is men who have the power to bring about the change we so sorely need.”
In August, Ramaphosa convened a Presidential Young Men and Boys’ Indaba in Soweto and addressed young men who see themselves as changemakers in the fight against GBV.
He said at the time that young men face pressures that affect their attitudes to women and girls.
“These include the lack of positive male role models, absent fathers, vulnerability to recruitment by criminals, pressure to drop out of school and earn a living, and pressure to become sexually active before they are ready to,” he added.
The two-day conference in Pretoria is an opportunity to “consolidate our political commitment to ending violence against women and girls”.
“We have to address structural inequality by broadening women’s access to resources, jobs and opportunities, all the while introducing laws, policies and programmes that advance women’s economic empowerment.”
Also in attendance at the conference is President of Ethiopia Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, former president of Mauritius Catherine Samba-Panza, former president of the Central African Republic Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and former president of Liberia Bineta Diop.
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