Mark Mentoor – South Africa

Mark Mentoor – South Africa

Date: May 29, 2012
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I am a community leader based in Ceres-Witzenberg, and I’m also an employee of the Witzenberg Municipality. My first encounter with Gender Links took place under very funny circumstances; I received an invitation to attend a gender mainstreaming workshop that was being hosted by GL and Witzenberg Municipality. My colleague Mirinda Muller told me about the workshop I was not sure what role I was expected to play at this workshop but I thought to myself, ‘let me go and investigate what this whole gender mainstreaming “stuff” is about.’

I did not really want to attend this gender mainstreaming workshop, but I guess my curiosity got the better of me and I found myself at the venue. I kept thinking to myself, ‘goodness what will I be subjecting myself to for the next three days?’ I admit men are the perpetrators of violence and rape against women but I did feel “smaak” to hear another male bashing session.

I am a community leader, and I often have to play the role of the policeman, social worker, father to some of the children in my community and also play the role of the mediator and peacekeeper. The issue of gender based violence is very high within my community, especially over the weekends when people have had too much booze to drink, and then I know that all hell will break loose in some households for plenty of women.

My role as an official within the council has also assisted me to deal with issues of gender based violence in my community, but the workshop with Gender Links really helped me to understand the role that I can play as a man to end GBV in my community. The Gender Mainstreaming workshop that I attended with GL really opened my eyes to a lot of things. The facilitators made it very easy for me to engage with the content of what we were being taught. At the same time, though, I realised that as much as we know that men are the perpetrators of violence, I also saw how important it actually was to also see things from another point of view.

What I realised is that I had a stereotype of who an abused person was, and during the workshop it “hit” me, that men too can be victims of GBV. But this took a while to sink in, because we do not see men as victims of GBV, men are tough and strong and men do not cry and ask for help. This made me realise that there could be plenty of men within my community who may actually be victims of GBV, but perhaps they are also very scared to come out in the open. If I had not attended this workshop with GL I do not think I would have actually made that connection at all.

So many things have changed for me since I attended the Gender Mainstreaming workshop hosted by GL. The most empowering thing was also learning about the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development. I had heard about this Protocol before but I never really bothered to know much about it for myself.

The workshop helped me to broaden my thinking. I have never been someone who sees the abuse of women as a soft issue; I take issues of abuse very seriously, but a part of me also felt that sometimes these gender issues put down men. The workshop taught me differently. I learned that men also need to work with women very closely to end issues of abuse in my community. Men are also abused but I think as a leader I did not really pick this up in my community, and the workshop with GL made me realise that I also need to make men feel safe to talk about the abuse they go through in their homes.

The way I look at gender issues now has changed completely. Even as a father at home, I have started to encourage my boys to help out their Mom in the kitchen, and I have also realised that I need to also teach my girls to be proud independent women who believe in themselves. I was raised in a home that made it clear that men and women have different roles, and the message that I want to give to my children is that they can do whatever they set their minds to do regardless of them being a girl or a boy. I feel good knowing that I am making a difference to the lives of women as a man and community leader – it is my responsibility after all.

The change that I have encountered through the workshop with GL has also helped me to share the same issues with my fellow community members, especially the men who are a part of the neighbourhood watch. I have told them to be very sensitive to gender issues and to also try to think differently about what we have been taught growing up. But the major influence that I am very proud of is my household. I am raising women and men who will also go out there one day and make a difference in the world.

I am very grateful for the fact that I was curious enough to attend the Gender Links workshop. Had I not been curious I would have not learned more about the SADC Protocol, Stereotypes and also about GBV and the important role that I can also play as a man. I think I would still be thinking that these issues are for women only, and yet now I realise that men are the key to the solutions as well.

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