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Men of Honour initiative inspires activism

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South Africans are becoming increasingly distraught by the seemingly rampant scourge of gender-based violence. As the world marks 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children Campaign, Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa (CCBSA) MD, Velaphi Ratshefola discusses how a different approach, focusing on healing men’s deep wounds, rather than punitive measures, can make an even more lasting impact.

The International 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children Campaign, the work of protecting women and children from gender-based violence, is no longer the sole purview of Government and NGOs, but is also a deep seated societal problem.

To bring an end to what it calls ‘The Shadow Pandemic’ by 2030, the United Nations, through its Orange the World campaign, has called upon the world’s population to take practical steps in what is a growing global crisis.

This call to action by the UN and the South African government has been the spirit behind the CCBSA Men of Honour Movement. The movement is aimed at supporting men to not only be aware of the underlying drivers of abuse in their own lives, but to turn them into ‘advocates for change’ in their areas of influence. The Men of Honour Movement is a microcosm of the complex social circumstances affecting South African men. Indeed, the 16 Days of Activism is vital, as well as the work being done by bodies such as the United Nations around the world.

First launched in 2019 CCBSA Managing Director, Velaphi Ratshefola, Men of Honour by is a call-to-action for men to start looking within themselves in a meaningful way on the key issues related to gender-based violence that South Africa faces.

“We kicked off with monthly group sessions hosted nationally, where I personally travelled with a small team to our 12 sites around the country. We hosted groups of around 70 people in each session, discussing issues that range from work challenges, home pressures, parenting, and personal emotional health”, says Ratshefola

“In 2020, with the onset of the pandemic, we had to move these sessions online, using our internal teleconferencing network. The tension triggered by the pandemic and lockdowns was palpable, and these interactive online sessions proved more relevant than ever, with an average of 300 people per session from each of our regions and the largest attendance being over 500 people in one session” adds Ratshefola.

These platforms offered an opportunity to the men working at CCBSA, which has almost 8000 employees in South Africa, to reflect on themselves and each other in a deep, meaningful way that leaves a lasting impact.

The initiative has received overwhelmingly positive feedback throughout the organisation, from both women and men, with requests for its expansion, so that each region can continue running smaller sessions without depending on head office.

One key success of Men of honour is that it has become a haven for men to talk amongst each other, to ask questions and to allow themselves to be vulnerable and ask for help. “It is a safe space that has been created for men, to engage and while doing so, become more aware of their actions and attitudes towards women in and outside the organisation. Some men have admitted that their actions were a result of how they grew up and the society in which they adopted certain behaviours”, Ratshefola said.

Many also noted that, most of the time, they were not even aware that some of these learned behaviours were offensive. The introspection has helped them to be more aware of their behaviour and act in a befitting manner towards women in general.  “Some of the men report that through the work they are doing for themselves and the positive changes they are seeing, they have started offering guidance to other men struggling with the same issues in their communities. These anecdotes make me even more determined to continue with this programme”, Ratshefola noted.

There have been increasing calls to combine Men of Honour with Women@CCBSA, a similar network launched in 2018 where women in the company connect with each other and access resources and tools, case studies and practical guides to help advance their careers and attain a meaningful work-life balance.

While a special combined conference would undoubtedly be popular, and something we are strongly considering, we have clearly seen that providing a safe space for men to let their guards down and be sincere promises massive social benefits.

Common sense dictates that a genuinely happier organisation, where people feel they are offered a platform to be heard, leads to lowered tensions, healthier communication, and higher productivity.

However, each individual and organisation can make a bigger difference, not only by raising awareness during a certain part of the year, but by looking inwards every day. “We need to be the change we so desperately need to finally conquer the scourge of gender-based violence for the sake of future generations of women in our great nation,” he concludes.

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