Current Projects

 Research Themes

The work of MaHRU is grouped under three main research themes: (i) men and masculinity research theme; (ii) violence research theme; (iii) injuries research theme.

Men and Masculinity Research Theme

The theme of masculinity, men and boys underpins all of the work of MaHRU. We aim to engage men and boys toward positive health outcomes for themselves and other genders. Cognisant of the disproportionate burden on and role of men and boys in specific health issues like violence and traffic related injuries, as well as the implication of masculinity in health more broadly, MaHRU undertakes, hosts and supports research, community-embedded and public communication of work on men, boys and masculinity. As an overarching thematic area, staff and students of MaHRU in the research group pursue studies, socio-political work and creative projects that have an upstream, long-term positive outcomes for the overall biological, psychological and social health of men and boys, as well as girls, women and other genders. Our goals are to conduct and support research and build capacity for empirical, conceptual and imaginative projects that transform the lives of men and boys as well as women, girls, and other genders in the direction of health, equality, nonviolence, and happiness and social justice.

Doing Masculinities and Femininities at Home: Gender (In)Equitable Parenting in Patriarchal and Feminists Families

Doing masculinities and femininities at home: Gender (in)equitable parenting in patriarchal and feminist families was a research project aimed at expanding our understanding of the ways in which gender (in)equality is constructed and conveyed within South African families. Children and parents in 18 families from a range of different material and cultural backgrounds were interviewed about the meanings and practices of gender within their homes.

The data reveal how problematic constructions of masculinity and femininity are (re)produced but also challenged within a range of different families. Gender and gender (in)equality are therefore routinely accomplished in complex ways.

Based on the data from this project we have published two articles. The first, Everyday (in)equality at home: complex constructions of gender in South African families, published in 2016 in the journal Global Health Action, explores the complex and contradictory ways in which gender inequality is both resisted and reproduced.

A policy brief, Gender (in)equality in South African families: A call for policies and programmes to promote egalitarian gender relations in the home, was produced from the study.

We also published a newspaper article and had a radio interview on the topic ‘what makes families equal’ on the  Koketso Sachane Show on Cape Talk radio.

A second article was published in 2018 under the title, What is there to learn about violence and masculinity from a genderqueer man? This case study of a genderqueer man examines the challenges inherent in negotiating and resisting a violent version of masculinity. The article was published in Global Health Action.

End Violence: Talk to your Children about Gender Equality

End Violence: Talk to your Children about Gender Equality is a public awareness and parenting skills project which focuses on the relationship between gender, violence and equality. The project is an extension of the Doing masculinities and femininities at home: Gender (in)equitable parenting in patriarchal and feminist families project which investigated the ways in which gender is constructed in South African families.

The project is targeted at parents and aims to encourage them to engage with their children on issues related to gender inequality, through providing them with resources and training. This project is informed by research which indicates that gender inequality is a key cause of violence. 

The End Violence project team have conducted community-based training workshops for parents, kindergarten teachers, community groups; designed, used and distributed pamphlets; designed a comic booklet (visual also below) for children; as well as produced animated videos (visual also below).

Equal Families

Equal Families was a National Research Foundation funded research and engagement project conducted during 2016-2018. The main aim was to examine how gender equality becomes possible and gets developed in families. The four objectives were to:

Describe the prevalence of gender egalitarian and inegalitarian attitudes and practices within families.

Closely examine the ways in which gender equality is talked about and practiced within the context of self-identified egalitarian families, as well as how gender equality talk and gender equality practice are related to each other.

Engage with families in ways that encourage them to reflect on their everyday gender and gender equality practices.

Develop a better view of the ways in which particular understandings and enactments of gender equality are influenced by broader social and structural factors, specifically income, race, sexuality, age of participants.

The question which guided the study are:

  1. How do families talk about gender and gender (in)equality?
  2. How do families practice gender and gender (in)equality?
  3. How are understandings and enactments of gender and gender equality in families shaped by social categories of income, race, sexuality, and age?

The project was made up of three components:

  • A national mobile survey which explored attitudes and practices of gender (in)equality within families: This component of the project is intended to develop understandings of the prevalence of gender (in)eqaulity within families, as well as how gender (in)equality relates to practices of violence within the home.
  • Interviews and observations of families that identify themselves as “feminist” or “equal”: This component is intended to expand on understadings of how gender equality (and other forms of equality) become possible in families. This is particularly important within the South African context were rates of gender inequality are high. 
  • A documentary film: This is intended as an activation and engagement tool around issues of gender equality within families. The film focuses on the daily practices and narratives of two self-identified egalitarian families. The documentary aims to engage a wide audience and raise awareness as to the benefits of gender equality within families. The film will be screened at various public and community events, as well as via a range of online platforms in 2020.

You can learn more about this project, here.

You can watch a short video, made as part of the Equal Families project, here

Suicidal Behaviour

Suicidal behaviour is a significant public health, social and psychological issue. The consequences reach beyond victims or survivors to families, partners, colleagues, communities and broader society. The Masculinity and Health Research Unit undertakes research and advocacy about suicidal behaviour with the aim of deepening the understanding of suicidal behaviour and advocating for support. A particular focus of our work is on the interface of suicidal behaviour and masculinity. We have a great research collaboration with Dr Anisur Rahman Khan, Department of Sociology, East West University, Bangladesh, who was a postdoctoral fellow during 2018-2019. The transnational collaboration with Dr Khan offers the Unit and other research programmes at the Institute for Social and Health Sciences a good opportunity to learn about suicidal behaviour across countries, specifically in South Africa and Bangladesh.  

The following articles have been published:

  • Khan, A. R., Ratele, K., & Arendse, N. (2020). Men, suicide, and Covid-19: Critical masculinity analyses and interventions. Postdigital Science and Education2(3), 651-656.
  • Khan, R. A., Ratele, K., Dery, I. (2020). (Re)Animating Sociology of Suicide in Bangladesh. Italian Sociological Review, 10 (1), 55-75 DOI: 10.13136/isr.v10i1.317
  • Khan, A. R., Ratele, K., Arendse, N., Islam, M. Z., & Dery, I. (2020). Suicide and attempted suicide in Jhenaidah District, Bangladesh, 2010–2018. Crisis, 41, 304-312.
  • Khan, A. R., Ratele, K., & Helman, R. (2020). Suicidal behaviour in South Africa and Bangladesh: A review of the empirical work. African Safety Promotion: A Journal of Injury and Violence Prevention, 18(1), 1-30
  • Khan, A.R., Ratele, K., & Arendse, N. Men’s Reflections on Postsuicide Attempt Episode in Bangladesh. OMEGA - Journal of Death and Dying. February 2020. doi:10.1177/0030222820904878
  • Khan, A.R., Ratele, K., Helman, R., Dlamini, S., & Makama, R. Masculinity and Suicide in Bangladesh. OMEGA - Journal of Death and Dying. October 2020. doi:10.1177/0030222820966239
  • Khan, A. R., Arendse, A., & Ratele, K. Suicide prevention in Bangladesh: The current state and the way forward. Asian Social Work and Policy Review. November 2020 DOI: 10.1111/aswp.12214

Violence Research Theme

Research on the individual-structural nexus of violence represents a critical area of investment within violence research, extending the conventional focus on individual or proximate determinants of violence to incorporate the influence of larger structural systems in shaping formations of violence. Nationally, patterns of violence are deeply imbricated in the inequalities of gender, race, class, age, sexuality, ability status, citizenship status, and history. From this perspective, causes of violence are understood to be multidimensional, interconnected, layered, and both visible and invisible. Accordingly, MaHRU’s violence research agenda is directed toward the analyses of violence and its prevention within an approach that accounts for the individual and social coordinates of the multiple and interconnected forms of violence manifest in context-specific ways in the lives of vulnerable individuals and communities. The research platform is anchored by questions that simultaneously accord primacy to particularity (the particular experiences of violence) and generality (e.g., power; the larger struggle of blacks and women) in order to examine to how various forms of violence shape the quotidian lives of individuals, families and communities and how these forms of violence are best to be addressed at different ecological levels. In this way, MaHRU contributes to the methodological, theoretical and epistemological understanding that links different types of violence to unequal structures and practices; the science of violence prevention; and policy relevant responses to violence and violence prevention.

Everyday Violence Project

There is scant empirical work examining the place of everyday violence as a situational determinant that reflects violent social structures. This dearth of research is in part due to the fundamental paradox of everyday violence scholarship, that is, the need to simultaneously study its discursive and material composition alongside its individual and systemic character. Indeed, the variability, contextual boundedness, structural basis and materiality of everyday violence appears, at different moments, to resist both universality and localisation. It is at this point of conceptual ambiguity and tension that the Everyday Violence Project (EVP) is located.

The EVP seeks to examine how violence is lived and felt in day-to-day life; how it relates to broader power systems, social patterns and structures of violence; and how we might facilitate the affective and material conditions that are able to reduce violence of this kind.

The project is organised around multiple objectives and activities, implemented over a 5-year period across two communities in Gauteng and the Western Cape Province. Project findings will inform the development of a typology of everyday violence. Informed by the typology of everyday violence, a participatory community-based intervention will be developed that will primarily involve the building and strengthening of community coalitions for community-led everyday violence prevention and intervention.

It is anticipated that the EVP will contribute to building an empirically robust theoretical grounding for evaluating how violence studies can incorporate issues concerning the everyday. The project will be anchored in participatory, decolonising, African-centred, feminist antiracist theory. Such a theoretical grounding is able to accommodate for the unfolding of the ‘personal-political’ dialectic in the study’s data collection, analysis, monitoring and evaluation processes, and uncover the fundamentally gendered dimensions of everyday violence.

Injuries Research Theme

MaHRU has a dynamic unintentional injury research portfolio around specific injury prevention niche areas, maintains the multi-sectoral groupings required for formulating policy and priority prevention, and accelerates the development of the pipeline for the next generation of researchers required for specific niche fields. The injuries research theme focuses on developing the prevention science required to strengthen to the promotion of injury prevention and safety, taking into cognisance the disproportionate involvement of boys and men.

Burn Prevention and Energy Justice Studies

Burn injuries are a serious health threat in South Africa, annually claiming 2 000 deaths and more than 80 000 injuries. The communities most frequently exposed to such injuries are those that use open flame cooking, especially with paraffin, live in overcrowded circumstances, and reside in informal dwelling structures, with variable safety practices or awareness. Energy poverty, i.e. the lack of access to modern energy, is a key and amenable driver of this exposure, affecting 2 million households. These households depend energy-wise on raw solid fuels (e.g., firewood and coal) or flammable hydrocarbons such as paraffin, which are burnt in inefficient stoves. Consequently, these households face risks of health impairment from household air pollution, conflagrations and burn injuries. Replacing hazardous appliances and fuels with safer cost-effective energy technologies is a strategic intervention to be considered alongside other measures to control the persistence and impact of burns.  

The EMU hosts Burn Prevention and Safe Energy Justice Studies which encompass investigations on: (i) burn injury and safety, with a special interest in adult males who have burn mortality in some South African cities three times that for adult females; and (ii) the conceptualization, development, and evaluation of prevention interventions including campaigns for safe and sustainable energy technologies. The EMU is thus leading multi-method studies to deepen situated understandings of male vulnerability to burns, with a specific focus on the human and social factors that predispose adult males and boys to serious burn injury. The EMU is also developing a national, multi-strategy campaign that will be directed at expediting the phase-out of paraffin as a domestic fuel while simultaneously supporting national developments for safer low-cost replacements.

For further reading, see:

  1. Van Niekerk, A., & Mathews, S. (2019). Child Violence, injury and safety: A challenge for child health. In M. Shung-King, L. Lake, D. Sanders & M. Hendricks (Eds.) South African Child Gauge 2019 (pp. 114-130). Cape Town: University of Cape Town
  2. Kimemia, D., Van Niekerk, A., Govender, R. & Seedat, M. (2018). Burns and fires in South Africa’s informal settlements: Have approved kerosene stoves improved safety. Burns, 44(4), 969-979
  3. Kimemia, D.K., Van Niekerk, A. (2017). Cookstove options for safety and health: comparative analysis of technological and usability attributes. Energy Policy, 105: 451-457