It’s been three decades since the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign — running from Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, to Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day — was launched in 1991.
And yet, there is still an obvious need for the campaign’s existence, with one in three women and girls globally experiencing gender-based violence (GBV) in their lifetimes.
In South Africa, meanwhile, over half of women (51%) report experiencing GBV. According to the Africa Health Organisation, a woman is killed in South Africa as a result of violence or abuse every three hours — making the femicide rate in the country almost five times higher than the global average.
South African women, and women everywhere, have the right to bodily autonomy and to own their own bodies, to be safe in their homes and communities, to be safe from online harassment and abuse, and for their rights to be protected.
Yet the issue of GBV in South Africa has been getting worse, not better. When a high-level lockdown was mandated in the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, it escalated domestic violence. In the first three weeks of lockdown, more than 120,000 cases were reported by the government’s GBV command centre. This is not taking into account cases that went unreported.
Meanwhile, 76% of men in South Africa have admitted to being a perpetrator of GBV at least once in their lifetime. Yet the narratives we so often hear around GBV put the focus on women and girls to protect themselves against it. While it's important for women and girls to understand the risks of GBV, there must be an overall effort to combat the issue from all sides. Having men and boys as allies in the movement is essential to bringing GBV to an end.
What would the world look like if we were to shift the focus of efforts to end GBV to have more male voices included? As South African President Cyril Ramaphosa put forth in one of his weekly newsletters, published on Nov. 22: “Violence perpetrated by men against women is the second pandemic that our country must confront.”
This is where activists and advocates such as Onalerona Seane come in. Also known by his alias "Onamatterpeer", Seane is a South African writer, poet, and anti-GBV activist from the country’s capital, Pretoria. He uses his versatile writing to encourage and challenge South Africans to face the harsh realities of GBV and child abuse.
In June 2020, the 28-year-old initiated an independent 21-day campaign titled #LoveLockedDown, which supported the fight against GBV. Seane also participated in the Post Office to Parliament campaign held by the Uyinene Foundation in August 2021, which saw the organisation hand 20,000 letters to South Africa’s parliament urging the government to immediately address GBV in the country.
Seane’s second edition to the series of poems titled #LastSeen was recited at the Clareinch Post Office, where University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana was last seen before she was abused and murdered in 2019.
Global Citizen spoke with Seane to find out more about his advocacy and activism to combat gender-based violence, and why he feels that male voices are so important in efforts to bring GBV to an end, both in South Africa and globally.
Why did you, as a man, decide to become an activist against gender-based violence and child abuse?
The reason why I decided to become part of the voice is that I wanted to take social awareness and add depth and personal experience to it. I just wanted to have one relatable voice that everyone, particularly men, can resound around.
What do you believe is the significance of having more male voices in the anti-GBV movement?
I believe it would add positive peer pressure towards other men. It would help other men be able to call out GBV, because many others are being isolated for calling it out or speaking on these matters by other men.
I don't think there are enough male voices. What I do see is there's probably a few, a handful, that stay consistent in the movement. I feel like it doesn’t have to be an influencer or a celebrity, it can be everyday men. That is my aim, that every regular man can be able to speak about GBV.
Why is poetry and words your go-to medium for raising awareness?
I’m using poetry and words because if you look at the majority of advertisements and marketing they use poetry and words; whether it’s a product or service. So I feel like adding that towards the GBV movement just echoes out the relatable voice.
Do you think enough is being done by South Africans and our government to combat GBV and if not, what more can we do?
To a degree, with South Africans, the social awareness is there but the structural changes are not. That is what I will throw onto our government. I feel like if the structures were in place things would end up getting better. An example would be adding a department to work against GBV, where trained people, rape kits, everything is provided. Because I think we do not have the tools to fight it.
As a writer, you know the power of words. How do you think our everyday jargon as a society contributes to this 'second pandemic'?
I think the narrative behind the jargon is key. There’s certain words that we use that can incite emotions and feelings. There's a positive and negative impact in the words we use everyday in the case of the second pandemic.
For example, there was a trend [on social media] talking about “red flags” and I take them seriously. So when I was reading it initially, I thought that people are going through the most or experiencing the worst, and then I dug deeper and I saw people were “trolling”, in other words, posting memes and jokes. Which took away from the seriousness of “red flags.”
On the other hand and on a positive note, terms like “trigger warning” have had a positive effect because you are conscious and aware about what you are saying, how you are saying it, and how it affects the next person — creating an open and safe space.
What do you think needs to change about society's perception of what it means to be a man?
I think men need to get a bit more familiar with their feminine side and be in touch with their emotions. I feel like the fighting and the constant pressures of being a man that doesn’t speak and being a “strong man” is what is contributing to their silence towards GBV.
For the 30th annual 16 Days of Activism campaign, what last message would you like to leave with men?
Speak out. Don’t be afraid to speak out because you don’t know the difference it makes when you do and how many lives you could touch.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Women’s rights are human rights — and they must be promoted and protected. This 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, from Nov. 25 to Dec. 10, we’re asking Global Citizens to join us for our #16Days Challenge, to take a simple action each day that will help you learn more about women’s rights, bodily autonomy, and gender violence online.
You’ll start important conversations with your loved ones, advocate on social media for women’s and girls’ right to their own bodies, support women-owned businesses in your community, sign petitions to support bodily autonomy, and more. Find out more about the #16Days Challenge and start taking action here.