Sunday, 14 July 2013

Working at Sonke Gender Justice Network

  Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the 6 weeks that we are in Cape Town, Anita, Maggie, and I have made the trek to the UCT Upper Campus, climbed aboard the bright blue Jammie Shuttle, and walked from UCT’s Hiddingh campus to our placement site in the heart of downtown Cape Town. Our office is located in a beautiful building surrounded by restaurants, shops, and craft vendors right by St. George’s Mall and Greenmarket Square. My community based organization is Sonke Gender Justice Network. Sonke is a non-profit organization based in South Africa that aims to reduce the spread of HIV, promote gender equality and the changing of traditional gender roles, and reduce domestic and gender-based violence. It does so by encouraging the government, the community, and individual citizens to support men and boys in taking action. Sonke aims to effect change in South Africa and internationally by addressing government policies, traditional cultures, societal organizations, the media, and the family, which influence both community norms and practices and individual attitudes.
Anita and I in the intern office
   I am an intern in the Monitoring & Evaluation department, which monitors the implementation of Sonke’s many programs and initiatives, conducts operational research, and evaluates the impact of the programs. My work has largely been centered on the creation of a visual behavior change model to be displayed in the offices of the organization, as well as an accompanying report. The presence of a visual model will hopefully strengthen Sonke’s process of developing, implementing, and evaluating behavior change communication programs by providing information about the current theories of how behavior change occurs. With the visual model, people will thus hopefully better understand the psychological factors that go into individual and collective behavior change decisions, as well as the roles that skills & knowledge and environmental context play.
Anita, Maggie, and I at the Sonke Prison Youth Day Event

   One of Sonke’s organizational goals is the transformation of unequal power between men and women to create an environment with gender equality and diminished vulnerability of men and women to problems like gender-based violence and HIV. Approaches that are traditionally health-based are inadequate and need to include the social, cultural, economic, and human rights aspects. Effective responses address everyone affected by the issue in a human rights framework that directly attacks inequality. With gender equality in both sexual relationships and social relationships, the occurrence of gender-based violence and HIV can be reduced. Gender equality can be achieved by challenging traditional notions of masculinity found in South Africa and all over the world to create a culture where men and boys see females as equals in all contexts. The social construction of masculinity often condones male dominance over women and leads to violence against women and girls. Sonke recognizes that simply empowering women is not enough to create an equal power relationship between men and women, but rather men and boys need to change their behavior as well.
Sonke's One Man Can campaign
  In addition, addressing notions of masculinity as a behavior change can encourage males to reduce other health-destructive behaviors like risky sexual behavior, alcohol abuse, and failure to seek medical care. Thus while gender equality is part of Sonke’s vision and a goal of its work, direct application of the goal to behavior change theory can be achieved through changing men and boys’ notions of masculinity. Interventions based on this behavior change theory can be effective if organizations like Sonke and the individual and community challenge and change negative constructions of masculinity. This behavior change is what leads to improved health, directly observed in a reduction of the number of men and women suffering from gender-based violence and HIV.
  So far, I have completed the model and report, which my supervisor says she wants me to present at the next internal staff training. This is very exciting but a bit nerve-wracking! My next project will be assisting with operational research on Sonke’s MenEngage Africa program by interviewing their regional partners about the successes and challenges of the MenEngage program so far. That information will be used to make changes before the next phase of the program begins.
  It has been a great experience working at Sonke with my fellow interns Anita and Maggie, and the incredible Sonke staff. I will miss stopping at Motherland Coffee Company in the morning when we arrive at work before the doors are unlocked, occasionally dashing down to Crush or the Food Lover’s Market for lunch, and climbing up and down the many flights of stairs to meet with our supervisors or attend staff meetings. We only have one week left at our placement sites and in Cape Town, and it will definitely be sad to leave.

Written by Jill Anderson

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