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Brothers For Life Gender-Based Violence Campaign: Men Can Change

One could have heard a pin drop, as actor Patrick Shai took the podium and described in brutally honest detail how he has transformed himself from a wife-beater to an activist against gender-based violence.

Shai was speaking at the launch on 20 October of the latest Brothers for Life campaign, Brothers Against Violence, which aims to address the issue of violence against women and children. He is also the public face of the campaign, by way of a hard-hitting television public service announcement (PSA) that will be screened from next week.

“It’s not an easy subject to talk about,” Shai told the audience, describing his “Damascus experience” as he shot a domestic violence scene for the TV drama Soul City – and suddenly he was no longer on the set, but in his own home and abusing his own family.

“For the first time, I saw the pain I was dishing out to my wife,” he said. “For the first time, I heard the pleas of my son, and I saw the pain on the face of my wife … I knew then that I needed to change.”

Three years later, he was amazed at how his own rehabilitation had not only changed his life, but transformed his family – barring one of his two sons, who is struggling with drug addiction, and for which Shai blames himself.

“He did not have a father at home, and he went looking for a father elsewhere,” said Shai, who says his family are waging a struggle “to save my son, their brother”.

The Brothers Against Violence launch was attended by Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi and Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities Minister Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya, and Brothers for Life Ambassadors such as soccer star Matthew Booth, Lions rugby player Bandise Maku and musician Theo Kgosinkwe.

Johns Hopkins Health and Education in South Africa (JHHESA) Country Programme Manager Richard Delate – under whose aegis the Brothers for Life movement is managed – told the gathering that the Brothers Against Violence campaign captured the essence of Brothers for Life.

“What’s we’re really here about today … is that people can change,” Delate said, adding that the challenge was getting men to come forward to say that they have changed, as Shai has courageously done.

Brothers for Life Programme Manager Mandla Ndlovu, of JHHESA, told the launch that studies had shown that one in four South African women experience violence at some point in their lives, that a woman is murdered by her intimate partner every six hours, and 28% of South African men have admitted to sexually assaulting a woman – and 75% of such men had done so by the age of 20.

He said Brothers Against Violence would have four legs: mass media, including the Shai TV PSA, radio PSAs in six languages, and a talk show linked to the new TV drama Intersexions on all SABC public broadcast service stations; media advocacy, including using personalities to address various lifestyle issues; community participation, in which approximately 100 community organisations will be involved; and partnerships with partners in the gender transformation field, government, LifeLine and SANCA.

Motsoaledi, noting that former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan had once stated that violence against women is “the most shameful human rights violation”, noted that gender-based violence increased the spread of HIV because violent males insist on risky sexual behaviour and are more likely to be HIV-positive, and because women’s sexual rights are less likely to be respected.

As with the fight against HIV and AIDS, men have a critical role to play in combating gender-based violence, said the minister: “Without the involvement of men, there is no way we are going to win this fight.”

Mayende-Sibiya called for a united response to gender-based violence, saying: “Now it is time for all of us to work together in the fight against gender-based violence. I am making an impassioned plea,” she said, lauding Shai for his courageous decision to tell his own story.

“I wish to thank Mr Patrick Shai for the courage and leadership he has shown here today … You have given us another side of the story, which will help us better understand the phenomenon of gender-based violence,” she said.

Mayende-Sibiya also committed her ministry’s support, and that of the government as a whole, to the Brothers Against Violence campaign.

The launch function was also addressed by Bearnard O’Riain, the founder of Men Understanding Respect and Love (Mural) and himself a reformed violent abuser. Mural, which provides support to men wishing to stop their violent behaviour, is to partner with the Brothers Against Violence campaign.

O’Riain told the audience that an abuser has to fulfil three things: he has to recognise that he has a problem, he has to recognise that it is his problem, and he has to take action to stop abusing.

“Can men stop?” he asked the audience. “Yes, they can, and they do.”

His associate, identified only as Mauritz, added: “Men can change, and let it be known that men can change.”

Picking up on Motsoaledi’s reference to Annan, Mauritz concluded by saying: “Abuse is very shameful; but doing nothing about it is more shameful.”