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From property to care

In an interview with the NGO Sonke Gender Justice we explore how men understand relationships to women in terms of property and protection.
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VUSI CEBEKHULU: The toxic masculinity, it’s the real issue that we try to address. Because men actually when we’re socialised in every way, whether it’s traditionally or religiously, that as a man you are the protector, as a man you are a provider. But these messages, they were not really unpacked. What’s the meaning of being a protector? What is the meaning of being a provider? And unfortunately, to some men who end up being controlling, they take this to its control– being a provider it means that I’m an ATM. You know, I have to provide money, I have to provide resources, and when I provide these resources obviously I have to own you. I have to control you.
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It was not actually clearly explained, what the meaning of being a provider. But again, being a protector obviously if I protect you Brenda, you have to pay me. And if you don’t pay me then you’re in trouble. So those messages, they need to be explained. What do you mean by be a protector? What do you mean by a provider? So that’s what we normally discuss with the traditional leaders, with their faith leaders. That let’s unpack these messages. They are good, I mean it’s good to be a protector. I protect my partner. How do I protect my partner?
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To make sure that she doesn’t get hurt, to make sure that I don’t infect her with any disease, that’s a protection, you know. And when you speak about provision, and sharing the information, that’s provision. Giving love, that’s provision. But unfortunately, there is no proper explanation. They just touch and go, and these messages are very confusing.

In the previous step you gained insight into how gender inequality between men and women in marriage is tied to religiously legitimized practices of bride price, lobola. Bride price emphasizes marriage as a transactional relationship, in which a husband provides and a wife gives. While some couples may be be able to navigate such meanings and develop a relationship of mutual care, respect as well as love alongside this, other couples may struggle to navigate this transactional dynamic.

In this video Vusi Cebekhulu gives further explanation of how men may come to understand their roles in the relationship as that of a protector and provider. Please note Vusi’s suggestions for how such cultural notions of protection can be transformed in a more gender equal understanding of the relationship.

What do you think about Vusi’s ideas for redefining what it means to provide to your partner? What examples does he give? Can you think of other things that people provide to their partners?

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