Defend Truth


A call to all men — we must own our role in failing women and children, and our democracy


Dr Chris Jones is Chief researcher in the Department of Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology, and also head of the Unit for Moral Leadership at Stellenbosch University

On 21 March, when we reflect on human rights in South Africa, we are grateful for the progress we have made over the last three decades, but we should also reflect on the long way we still must go, especially regarding the realisation of the rights of women (and children).

In March every year we celebrate not only International Women’s Day (8 March), but also Human Rights Day (21 March) in South Africa.

Considering this, as well as in the light of an initiative #A Call To All Men started by myself and colleague Bernard Lategan in November 2022 — and which will continue until November this year — the focus of this article will be on women, especially their right to safety, security and human dignity, which is violated regularly.

It is important that we concentrate on this. The Bill of Rights of our Constitution states: “Everyone has the right to freedom and security of the person, which includes the right to be free from all forms of violence from either public or private sources.” A similar notion is espoused by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As we all know, women (as well as children and other vulnerable groups) cannot be protected 24 hours a day by the police and government; however, we must acknowledge their efforts in this regard.

Although not perfect, the police constantly sharpen their responses to gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) from an operational and legislative point of view. Many perpetrators of such crimes are brought to book.

When our minister of police, Bheki Cele, recently released the latest crime statistics, he pointed out that from October to December 2022, 4,992 suspects were arrested for GBVF-related crimes.

During the same period of reporting, 71 accused were given 89 life sentences; 219 accused were sentenced to between one to nine years of imprisonment, adding up to a total of 1,079 years behind bars; 143 accused were sentenced to between 10 to 19 years of imprisonment, which is a combined sentence of 2,063 years of imprisonment; while 67 other accused were collectively sentenced to 20 years and more for GBVF-related crimes. 

With regards to rape, it is alarming that a total of 5,935 rape incidents during the abovementioned third quarter took place at the residence of the perpetrator/victim, including residences known by the victim/perpetrator, such as family, friends and neighbours.

The recent sentencing of 8-year-old Tazné van Wyk’s killer, who received nine life sentences for the gruesome murder and rape of the young girl, is deeply welcomed.

The South African Police Service furthermore has cleared its historic DNA backlog. This was initially more than 241,000 and now stands at 1,600. This is a 99.3% reduction in the country’s DNA backlog figures.

These are laudable efforts, but much more needs to be done to do justice to the rights of women, such as mass education, improved awareness, better interministerial cooperation and further strengthening of laws. But let’s briefly focus on the role of communities, the media and, very importantly, men, in this respect.

Community and media

Communities and the media must be(come) allies of the police against crime, especially when it comes to the prevention and combatting of GBVF.

Cele emphasised this when he said, “It remains a betrayal of humanity to look away and ignore abuse and violence of anyone, let alone women, children, and other vulnerable groups in society … Information from communities [and reporting by the media] is crucial and can assist in police investigations.”

António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, also calls us to action: “Action to stand with women who are demanding their fundamental rights at great personal cost. Action to strengthen protection against sexual abuse. And action to accelerate women’s full participation and leadership.” 

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A call to men

In South Africa, we annually celebrate Women’s Month in August, and after that, we prepare for the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence from 25 November (also the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) to 10 December (International Human Rights Day).

At this time of the year, we focus on the high levels of violence against women that characterise our society. Sometimes it seems as if all these efforts do not make any difference, but we must persist in our efforts to realise women’s rights.

The stark reality remains that in most cases, men are the perpetrators of violence against women. As men, we can neither deny this truth nor remain silent any longer. We need to own up to our own role in creating such a situation. In many instances, we have not only failed women but also failed ourselves and our democratic hopes.

As men, we have failed to:

  • Do our part to create an environment in which women are safe, independent, and free;
  • Honour the human dignity of women;
  • Respect women as our equals in all respects;
  • Acknowledge women’s contributions and indispensable role in society; and
  • Work with women as equal partners to build an inclusive, non-racial, and democratic country.

This failure has contributed to a society marked by the most heinous crimes, where the rape and murder of women at the hands of men, often men they know, occur daily.

While men are also victims of crime, violence, and rape, this does not constitute an excuse. Rather, facing our own vulnerabilities should enable men better to understand the plight of women. Therefore, as men we should commit ourselves to:

  • Accepting responsibility for our individual behaviour;
  • Critically examining and rethinking our attitudes towards and prejudices against women, especially the dominance of men inherent in the legacy of paternalism;
  • Acknowledging the pervasive inequality of our society and the abuse of power as root causes of violence;
  • Fully honouring and cherishing the human dignity and autonomy of all women; and
  • Always behaving with respect, appreciation, and compassion towards women.

Since violent behaviour thrives where bystanders do nothing, we should commit ourselves to calling out and clearly opposing all forms of male behaviour that attack women’s rights to safety, security and human dignity, whether in our homes, the workplace, or social spaces.

We should commit ourselves to listening attentively to women, to learning how they experience the world, the institutions, and the spaces that we share, and to determining which actions they require from us as their male allies.

On 21 March, when we reflect on human rights in South Africa, we are grateful for the progress we have made in this regard over the last three decades, but we should also reflect on the long way we still must go, especially regarding the realisation of the rights of women (and children).

Therefore, I would like to challenge men to read our declaration #A Call To All Men and support it by adding your name as well as encouraging other men to do so. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    Dear Chris. I am a white male of 67 years age. I have lived my life by the code my father taught me – and that is “do as you will, but hurt no-one”. I am sick and tired of being blamed for everything as a white male. I am not responsible for unemployment and poverty in this country, I have done my part in creating jobs for hundreds of people. I am not responsible for the corruption in this country. I never paid a bribe to anyone, and never will. I am not responsible for any crime against any woman or child.

    So please stop chiding and blaming me and millions of other guys like me for the madness and uncouthness of the malingering and corrupt rapists, women beaters, and other unsavoury thugs running rife in this society.

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