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Sonke Gender Justice: South African Men and Women Explore the Complex Relationships Among Gender, Violence, and HIV and AIDS

Case Studies

Sonke Gender Justice: South African Men and Women Explore the Complex Relationships Among Gender, Violence, and HIV and AIDS

Emily Paulos

In the early 2000s, as South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was concluding its work to document the atrocities of the apartheid era, crime rates exploded in many parts of the country, HIV began to spread rapidly, and violence against women reached near-epidemic proportions. The Sonke Gender Justice Network was established in 2006 to support men, women, youth, and children across the South African Development Countries (SADC) region in achieving gender equality, preventing gender-based violence, and reducing the spread of HIV and the impact of AIDS. Sonke employs social change- and human rights-based strategies to promote healthy, equitable societies.

From 2006 - 2010, Silence Speaks partnered with Sonke on a large-scale digital storytelling program in South Africa. While stereotyped representations of masculinity and sensationalized portrayals of gender-based violence abound in popular media, the Sonke digital stories present an alternative vision -- one that emphasizes the importance of reflection, survival, and hope for change. We led a series of eight workshops with urban and rural youth and adults, enabling participants to explore how their life experiences have supported their personal commitments to taking a stand against violence and exposing its connection to HIV and AIDS. Some of the workshops were fully participatory, with facilitators assisting participants in writing and editing their own stories using a mobile laptop lab; others involved a modified process, with facilitators completing final edits. Workshops incorporated photovoice methods, participant artwork, and drawings by students in fine arts education programs.

The stories are crucial tools in Sonke’s work – Sonke and its many partners are screening them with careful facilitation across Southern Africa, as a way of educating local communities, training service providers, influencing policymakers, and promoting sustained community action for change. We produced four unique DVD story collections for Sonke, featuring work in English, Xhosa, Venda, and other South African languages (with English subtitles) as well as accompanying Discussion Guides. We also produced a training curriculum that frames digital stories as case studies for educating men about South Africa’s Sexual Offenses Act, and authored a series of community radio programs centered on Sonke digital stories, which featured Q&A opportunities for listeners and guest hosting by key Sonke staff. 

Read our case study about the Sonke collaboration, and a journal article about our youth-focused work with Sonke, in rural South Africa.