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SA News | 30 August 2023

Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, says the rethinking of stereotypes and norms, and reshaping of the relationships between women and men, is a step in the right path towards a gender-equal society.

“Conventionally, issues about gender equality have often mainly been placed in the public arena by women. However, it is difficult to reform social structures towards equality without a broad social consensus and ownership between men and women,” Nzimande said on Tuesday.

Nzimande emphasised that men and boys must become active and positive advocates for gender equality, to rectify the discrepancy in power relations.

He said, with an increasing awareness of men and boys as a necessary part of the solution, there is an urgent need to chart a clear road ahead for their involvement as change agents for gender equality.

Nzimande made the remarks during Transforming MENtalities Summit, aimed at engaging men and boys to address the root causes of violence against women.

The Transforming MENtalities Summit is based on United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) Transforming MENtalities initiative, launched in 2015 in Latin America and the Caribbean, to promote positive redefinitions of norms of masculinity and meaningful engagement of men and boys, alongside women and girls, in the global pursuit for gender equality.

The initiative was later spread to a number of other countries.

The objectives of Transforming MENtalities in South Africa are informed by UNESCO’s global initiative, which includes gathering context-nuanced and feminist evidence and building knowledge to inform gender-transformative policymaking; countering and uprooting harmful gender norms to promote positive and healthy alternatives with the support of role models; and strengthening the structures to engage men and boys as accountable allies for gender equality alongside women and people of diverse gender identities.

As “Transforming 'MEN'talities” postulates, Nzimande said, a holistic approach is essential in facilitating women’s empowerment, and ultimately the realisation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the objective of leaving no one behind.

Nzimande said, through engagement at the summit, the delegates have another opportunity to come up with sustained methods to engage and empower men and boys on existing societal norms of masculinities and challenge negative gender stereotypes and behaviours.

The Minister emphasised that Transforming MENtalities is about transforming the way men and boys build relations with women and girls, the liberation of men and boys from anachronistic and dominant positionalities.

“It is about men and boys unlearning reactionary habits and embracing emancipatory values, norms, roles and practices in the multiplicity of relationships they enjoy with women and girls. This relational perspective is important as it requires men and boys to an active part in co-creating new ways of relating to women and girls in private and public, domestic and professional, economic, social and political life.

“It means constructive and respectful dialogue, willingness to be vulnerable and open to embracing a new pathway, an ability to listen, learn and unlearn in multiple relational settings with women and girls. MENtalities is therefore a campaign to establish the cocreational responsibilities of men and boys in the struggle for gender equality,” Nzimamde said.

He also argued that the term MENtalities should not be an idealistic perspective of gender transformation that is, the notion that a “mere appeal to changing the mentality of men and boys will, by itself, liberate women from gender inequality and oppression”.

“This would be naïve. It is for this reason that we cannot delink this campaign from the wider struggles aimed at transforming the structural relations of power that define and reproduce gender inequality in society and economy.

“My view is that one can only provide a proper explanation of the roots of the psychosocial oppression of women and girls in the unequal distribution of economic and political power in society, and specifically, the capitalist economy – women are structurally located at the bottom of the economy – if measured by pay, investment income, land, fixed property,” the Minister said.

"Unless we root out the structural inequalities of capitalist gender exploitation and oppression, we will not provide the material bases upon which gender power relations can be reset in society at large and provide a foundation for the psycho-social and cultural emancipation of women and by definition men and boys in society."

He said the campaign to transforming the MENtalities of men and boys must also be fought in conjunction with the struggles to radically alter the structural position of women especially Black working-class women in the economy.

‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’.


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