/ 26 August 2022

An open letter to the men of South Africa

Gender-based violence is not a women’s-only issue nor is it an only-male problem. It is a human issue, a societal issue, a national issue. Photo: Marco Longari/AFP

There are just a few days left of Women’s Month but, for many of us, Women’s Day was just another public holiday, another excuse for a long weekend and a day where some of us were even wished “Happy Women’s Day”. Some men sent texts, and some men went further and gave gifts or organised a girls’ day for the women in their lives. 

But how many men you know asked the women in their lives, “What is it like to be a woman today, every day?” 

How many men called attention to the fact that women in our country are five times more likely to die at the hands of a man than the average woman globally? How many men donated to organisations supporting gender-based violence and rape survivors or signed a petition against femicide? 

If you were a man who did any of those things, you can consider yourself exempted from the rest of this article. If you weren’t, settle in. But I would discourage women and female-identifying people from reading. 

These issues continue to be “women’s issues” and the alleviation and unlearning of the factors that contribute to them continue to be women’s responsibilities. But:

We are not the ones raping each other, beating and killing each other in the thousands every year and hundreds every month; 

We are not the ones stuffing our dead bodies into rubbish bins, leaving our corpses in public bathrooms, or abandoning our remains in storm drains;

We are not the ones murdering each other in our student residencies, post offices, on our daily commutes and errands;

We are not the ones raping each other on the sets of music videos, at parties or in our own beds;

We are not our own friends and relatives who perpetuate violence against us (more than 50% of gender-based violence incidents are committed by someone close to us); and

We are not the stranger on the street who spots us walking home alone and decides to change our lives forever or end it forever. 


We are the ones texting each other, “Did you get home safely?”

We are the ones buying rape whistles and pepper spray;

We are the ones who believe in each other;

We are the ones who call your friends out when they say sexist things;

We are the ones donating on Women’s Day to women’s charities and signing petitions; and

We are the ones getting together to find out how to end this scourge of anger and entitlement that men continue to project as violence onto our bodies. 

Gender-based violence (including rape and femicide) costs our country an estimated R28.4-billion to R42.4-billion a year,  because women make up for the majority of the population in South Africa (50.76%), and women-headed households are the norm (42,1%). Gender-based violence is not a women’s-only issue nor is it an only-male problem. It is a human issue, a societal issue, a national issue. 

Although it’s not all men it’s also not unlikely that you, the man reading this, has perpetrated an act of gender-based violence on a woman (76% of men in one Gauteng sample admit to doing so). No, not all men abuse women … just, most men. But, here are some things all men can do to change the situation: 

Donate to women’s charities/support organisations: POWA , TEARS, Rape Crisis;

Sign petitions that target legislation and specific court cases when you come across one;

Volunteer your skills to anti-gender-based violence and rape counselling organisations;

Go to events that support women’s organisations and anti-gender-based violence protests;

Call out the men in your life, and yourself, when you say or do something that perpetuates rape culture and violence;

Check on the women in your life, make sure they get home safe ;

Speak to women. Listen; and

Follow accounts on social media that speak about these issues. My favourite educational ones are I Hear You and Langa For Men 

The tide doesn’t begin and end with men but it starts with you, your friends, your father, your brother, yourself. If you do something besides read this article this month, make it to do something whenever you get the opportunity to do so. Sharing this article with the top men in your life is a great place to start.

Zoya Pon edits ThreeMagZA and hosts the Hot Noodz podcast. Her creative pseudonym, That Asian Girl, serves as a tongue-in-cheek callout against racism, which she is vocal on as a biracial South African-Asian person.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.