Sunday, 22 July 2012

New Perspectives: The Sonke Gender Justice Network

I have had the pleasure of interning with the Sonke Gender Justice Network for the past six weeks.  Sonke is a Non Governmental Organization (NGO) that deals with gender equality, HIV/AIDS, and human rights in the greater region of Sub-Saharan Africa.  The name ‘Sonke’, an Nguni word meaning “all of us” or ‘together’, symbolizes the organization’s commitment to working in partnership with all those committed to our vision of gender equality, human rights and social justice” (Sonke Annual Report 2006/2007).  Bafana Khumalo, Shamillah Wilson, and Dean Peacock founded Sonke in March 2006 in an effort to unify and take action against the scourge of HIV/AIDS and gender inequality.  From these recent beginning they have come to have an office in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and, in the near future, an office in Geneva, Switzerland.  However, their mission and vision tirelessly remains the same:

Vision- “Sonke’s vision is a world in which men, women and children can enjoy equitable, healthy and happy relationships that contribute to the development of just and democratic societies.”

Mission- “Sonke Gender Justice Network works across Africa to strengthen government, civil society and citizen capacity to support men and boys in taking action to promote gender equality, prevent domestic and sexual violence, and reduce the spread and impact of HIV and AIDS.”

Sonke's Cape Town Offices on Longmarket Street.  Sonke shares some
floors with the renowned Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).

Within the Sonke Gender Justice Network there are a variety of units that work conjointly to develop and coordinate programs with other relevant partners.  These units include the Communications and Strategic Information (CSI) unit; the International Programs and Networks (IPN) unit; the Operations and Organizational Development (OD) unit; Policy Advocacy and Research (PAR) unit; and finally the Training, Capacity Building, and Community Mobilization (TCBCM) unit.  I worked within the IPN unit, which is responsible primarily for consolidating and maintaining networks between Sonke and fellow partner organizations and programs.  In addition to coordinating with Sonke’s various UN partners the IPN unit is the co-chair of the MenEngage networks.  MenEngage is a global alliance of NGOs and UN agencies that works towards involving men and boys with gender equality issues.  This being said, Sonke’s mission is very intimate with feminist ideals and notions as it pertains to changing gender norms and roles in order to promote a more gender-mainstreamed society.  This makes Sonke’s perspective unique because it addresses the gender gap that directly correlates with humanitarian issues in sub-Saharan Africa such as poverty, sickness, disease, and violence.  This perspective consequently prioritizes gender equality as a preemptive measure against these issues.

As an IPN intern I had the fortune of working on several projects for Sonke, many of which are funded by UN agencies such as the UN Development Program (UNDP).  I was first involved with a MenEngage Africa Training Initiative (MATI) course that Sonke is offering at the University of Cape Town in August.  The course is a ten-day intensive workshop on building capacity to engage men and boys in their involvement and response to Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR); fatherhood; HIV/AIDS; sexual and gender based violence (GBV); child exploitation and abuse; and Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Intersex (LGBTI) issues.  My job was to find and research any courses in sub-Saharan Africa that were similar to MATI and compile them into a comprehensive list that could be used to recommend alternative programs to applicants who did not get accepted into the MATI course.

My second project involved finding and researching original government documents concerning SRHR, GBV, HIV/AIDS, and Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) for various countries in sub-Saharan Africa.  Any original documents containing relevant laws, policies, charters, acts, and strategic plans/frameworks would be analyzed on a country-by-country basis and determined whether or not they address current and contemporary needs.  These “policy scans” would help me later in the internship when I started my third and final project, which was an analysis of Zimbabwe’s HIV and AIDS National Strategic Plan II (ZNASP II) 2011-2015.  Since the ZNASP I expired in 2010 it was now necessary to write a new analysis.

The analysis was meant to identify the existence or lack of direct male involvement in the ZNASP II’s relevant HIV/AIDS strategies.  In turn, my analysis looked for strategies that directly engaged men's and/or boys' involvement in areas such as Medical Male Circumcision (MMC), Condom promotion and distribution, Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission (PMTCT), and prevention of GBV.  Unlike the ZNASP I, the new ZNASP II greatly lacks any direct strategies for gender mainstreaming and involving men and boys, and furthermore no longer makes any acknowledgement of gender inequality as a key driver in the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

In the Interns' office- where the magic happens.

Looking back on my time at Sonke I have realized how truly unique my experience was and the new perspective it has given me on humanitarian issues.  It is such a profound, yet simple, idea that in order to tackle socio-economic and health issues on a communal level it is first necessary mainstream gender roles and norms in these communities.  Old patriarchal values that are detrimental to women’s health and well being can only be addressed by engaging the male population and encouraging them to take on a role that empowers their fellow women.  It has taught me that men have the power to give power, and so they should.

My walk to work everyday in the Company Gardens.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at Sonke for opening their arms to me during my short time in Cape Town, especially Maja Herstad and Tim Shand.  I would also like to thank Lisa Folda, Angela Mias, Anna Grimsrud and my fellow classmates for all of their courteous and thought provoking reflection that helped me realize the inspiring and wonderful things NGOs do here in Cape Town.

Tyler Woods

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