South Africa | Research by the South African Medical Research Council has demonstrated the ways in which particular notions of masculinity and femininity, as taught in the home, are intertwined with practices of violence and sexual risk.
The Council’s Violence, Injury and Peace Research Unit (VIPRU) found that in a number of families, both parents and children constructed men and women as essentially different from one another and as occupying different positions within the family. Whilst women were constructed as primary care givers, men were constructed as providers, disciplinarians and authority figures within the household.
The study indicates that men and boys’ adherence to versions of masculinity that privilege dominance, physical strength and high sexual activity coupled with girl’s and women’s enactment of submissive and soft versions of femininity have been linked to the social epidemics of violence and HIV.
“The family has been identified as an important site in which normative notions of gender are enacted; and therefore, through which children learn about gender,” said VIPRU’s Rebecca Helman. “We conducted this study in order to examine the ways in which problematic notions of gender are being reproduced within families.”
Eighteen families, from a range of different socio-economic backgrounds were interviewed in Cape Town. Parents (and in some instances grandparents and other family members) and children were interviewed about the practices and meanings of gender within the context of their families.
"While a number of parenting programmes have been rolled out by the Department of Social Development in recent years, these programmes do not address gender equality as a central component," says Helman. "The conscious programming and policy-making for the promotion of gender equality within families is essential in order to disrupt harmful gender relations."
NOTE TO THE EDITOR:
- Framing document - Equality begins at home: Disrupting violence within the South African context
- A full policy brief on the study can be found on the SAMRC website.
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