Sonke-UNFPA Policy Dialogue, November 2011


In November 2011, UNFPA and Sonke co-hosted a dialogue with civil society, UN members, government and policymakers, to discuss the state of inclusion of men and boys in national policy, with a specific focus on South Africa.

There is growing recognition that men and boys are not ‘invisible’ just because they occupy a privileged place in our social and economic hierarchy. Their needs, especially their health needs, are often different from the needs of women and girls. The government department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities can also be thought of as the department of non-able bodied adult males, who have no department dedicated to addressing their particular situation or needs. This is not to say there should be a specific department for them, or that able bodied adult males need a lobbyist for their every gripe, but able bodied adult males are a part of our society, and, especially when it comes to public health, need to be included in health policy for their own good and the good of society as a whole. By ignoring or overlooking specific needs that men may have, we assume that every policy, strategy or programme automatically addresses them, and we instead rush to ensure that the marginalised groups of women and children are catered for.

It is well-known that men display poorer health-seeking behaviours than women – in general, they visit health centres less frequently, tending to go only when their illness is significantly advanced. One factor contributing to this problem is that masculinities in South Africa often dictate that men should show no weakness and be physically and emotionally ‘strong’. It is with this kind of situation in mind that policies addressing men’s needs must be implemented.

The Policy Dialogue


Sonke’s Mbuyiselo Botha chaired the first session of the summit and introduced the main themes of the event in an informal manner. After the lively introduction by Mbuyiselo, the delegates heard from Mark Schreiner, UNFPA Deputy Representative in South Africa, who outlined the goals of UNFPA and its commitment to working with men for gender equality and reducing the spread of HIV. Bob Phato, the chairman of the men’s sector within SANAC gave an encouraging message and alerted the group to the need to work with potentially harmful cultural stereotypes. From the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Mr David Dlali, the special advisor to the minister, stressed the economic impact of gender inequality. After these introductions and words of welcome to the conference, participants were presented with information about a variety of topics in the field from a variety of presenters.

Panel presentations

  • Clare Ballard from the Community Law Centre, who shared her research on young men in prisons;
  • Owen “Blakka” Ellis, who represented the CariMAN network, a group of organisations working to change gender inequality and harmful norms of masculinity in the Caribbean (one training method CariMAN uses is to get boys to critically analyse gender-inequitable pop songs);
  • Fikile Nkambule, from Soul City’s PHUZA WIZE campaign that combats destructive uses of alcohol and its social side effects, and lobbies for stronger policy to provide a framework to do so;
  • Nwabisa Jama, Medical Research Council, who presented on men and gender-based violence in South Africa;
  • Mandla Ndlovu, Brothers For Life (BFL), who presented on how BFL responds to men and their (lack of) health-seeking behaviour;
  • Tim Shand, Sonke Gender Justice, who presented on the joint Sonke and World Health Organisation’s training module for health care workers, as a best practice model;
  • Mbuyiselo Botha, Sonke Gender Justice, who presented on activism and holding government accountable;
  • Hayley Thompson, Sonke Gender Justice, who presented on the process of Sonke’s submitting drafts to the National Strategic Plan (NSP) on HIV and AIDS;
  • Dumisani Rebombo, Sonke Gender Justice, who presented on Sonke’s community mobilisation project, the One Man Can campaign, in place in Bushbuckridge, Limpopo; and
  • Sakumzi Ntayiya, UNFPA, who presented on the MenEngage alliance Uganda summit results, and the proposed youth focus of MenEngage South Africa.

The need for unity and collaboration as a network

Throughout the proceedings of both day one and day two, a strong consensus emerged that there is a great need to consolidate the voices and efforts of the network since there are shared goals between civil society and government.

Hayley Thompson, presenting on behalf of Sonke Gender Justice, showcased one very pertinent example of this. Hayley outlined Sonke’s experience of making submissions for the 2012-2016 NSP on HIV and AIDS. Government gave civil society a maximum of only three days to make comments on the drafts in each of the three rounds of submissions. This time limitation led to almost no organisations making submissions on the final drafts – in fact, Sonke and the SANAC Men’s Sector submission was the only one. With greater communication and cooperation across civil society organisations, a submission from a collective could have been organized, which spoke to the concerns of a range of organisations.

The value of amicable and respectful collaboration between civil society and the government emerges from this example as well, and it was encouraging to see so many government representatives attending the policy dialogue. However, some starkly differing opinions between civil society and government representatives highlighted the importance of frequently engaging with policymakers, and perhaps displaying a need to offer trainings on recent research with them. It was clear how necessary it is that civil society shares with policymakers the research that informs reasoning for positions taken.

One discussion in particular exemplified this. Clare Ballard’s presentation on her research with male youth in prisons stressed the need for condoms and lubricant to be more available in correctional centres around the country. HIV prevalence in prisons is high, and there is sexual intercourse happening between male prisoners on a daily basis, both forced and voluntary. David Dlali, special adviser to Lulu Xingwana, Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, reacted strongly to the presentation, and provoked debate by saying that “we” have gone too far with human rights, and that South African prisons are like hotels, in which one gets three meals a day, and those who have been released want to get back in. He finished, “And now you want to give them condoms and lube?” This comment led to vigorous debate. It demonstrated how collaboration would be easier to reach if civil society and policymakers aligned their agendas by using the same information to inform opinions, or alternatively by engaging in debate that would advance the potential for collaboration.

One argument raised for providing condoms and lubricants in prisons, in addition to caring for the health of South Africa’s inmates, was that HIV incidence in prisons is not an isolated problem, but a wider public health concern, affecting those outside the prisons as well as those inside – most prisoners re-join the public at some stage.

MenEngage South Africa

The policy dialogue also offered an opportunity to discuss the future of the South African MenEngage chapter. While Sonke is the co-chair of the global MenEngage alliance, South Africa has yet to formally establish its own network, and this policy dialogue was a starting point for conversation about the direction it could take. A recommendation emerging from a meeting held in Uganda earlier this year between UNFPA, Sonke and other MenEngage players, suggested that MenEngage South Africa adopt a strong youth focus, as many efforts to combat gender-based violence and alter destructive masculinities target older men to the exclusion of youth and children. At this summit, there was widespread support for the notion that a network working with youth on engaging men and boys in gender equality has great potential to yield powerful results in the next generation of husbands, fathers, male leaders and male workers.

Although the policy dialogue provided the space for just a preliminary conversation about the network, many delegates felt that their organisations would be interested in participating in it. Sonke and others took pains to stress that MenEngage is a network and not a Sonke project, and its activities, priorities and goals should not reflect only Sonke’s work, but the work done by all partners. It was expressed that there was not enough time allocated at the policy dialogue, and that the forum available was not the best to launch the conversation about MenEngage SA. An important result however was that delegates did agree that such a network would be valuable, and most expressed enthusiasm to be part of the network. The annual work plan for 2012 submitted by Sonke to UNFPA SA reflects a contribution towards this consolidation of MenEngage SA. One key step suggested was to hold a similar event, but to focus on MenEngage SA only. It was also felt that a smaller group, that had done necessary preparation and had the necessary authority from their respective organisations, could complete this task adequately.

Policy and Strategy Recommendations

On the first day, the delegation broke up into small groups to identify policy gaps in engaging men in a variety of issues. These groups discussed policy issues on:

  • Men and the criminal justice system;
  • Men and sexual and reproductive health;
  • Male involvement in social justice sectors, especially the women’s sector;
  • Men, alcohol and violence; and
  • Men and parenting.

On the second day, the groups reconvened to come up with possible strategies to address the policy gaps identified the previous day. At the end of the policy dialogue, the outcomes from these groups were compiled into a document that lists policy priorities for each category, in some cases with suggestions for strategies to follow. Various role-players in the network will use this document as a starting point, and it could guide research, or policy responses. It will be presented at the next event in the series, and be offered for input to the network. This is not an exhaustive list, nor an evidence based assessment, but serves as a summary of concerns from the attendees at the policy dialogue. All groups identified policy priorities, and some suggested strategies to engage with the policy priorities.

The Way Forward

UNFPA SA confirmed that this policy dialogue is to be the first in a series that brings together civil society and government to work on issues of policy. Sonke will collaborate with UNFPA to organize the next meeting, and will circulate the recommendations and outcomes of this dialogue to all who attended. A necessary future meeting will be held to work on the specifics of the MenEngage South Africa network. Sonke will ensure that the attendees of this future meeting have a mandate to make certain decisions on behalf of their organisations regarding participation in the MenEngage South Africa alliance, and have prepared inputs before the meeting.


The policy dialogue achieved two important outcomes. The delegates represented a group of informed decision makers and activists, and in that capacity, agreed that MenEngage South Africa would be a necessary and useful network, especially with a youth focus. Secondly, the event produced a list of policy priorities that can be used in future by the network as starting points for policy change.

Outcomes: Policy Priorities and Strategies

1. Men and the criminal justice system

  • Re-establishment of Family Violence Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) Units in all police stations.
  • Training of police members on Sexual Offences Act.
  • Removal of the misconception of courts as places for women only.
  • Education of people (men) about their rights to access court services.
  • Improvement of monitoring of the sex offenders register.
  • Improvement of protection for male prisoners who are more likely to be targeted for sexual assault.
  • Improvement of access to condoms and lubricants in correctional centres.
  • Ending torture in prisons.

2. Men and sexual and reproductive health

  • Train health workers on men’s sexual and reproductive health.
  • Emphasize that SRH is a responsibility shared by men and women.

HIV Counselling and Testing:

  • Messaging about testing must be strengthened and be made more user-friendly. Direct and easy-to-read documents must be developed to support this messaging.
  • More mobile clinics should be deployed.
  • Men who are role models should be engaged to test publicly or support testing campaigns.


  • Greater innovation in condom packaging is needed, especially the free government-provided condoms.

Medical Male Circumcision (MMC):

  • Government should work to strengthen and support campaigns like Brothers for Life, which encourages MMC.
  • Lack of effective service provision of MMC is an important obstacle to address.

Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT):

  • Educate men and women about PMTCT.
  • Develop consistent language, and standard terms to describe and discuss PMTCT.

3. Male involvement in social justice sectors, especially women’s sector

  • Individual and group reflection on the Women’s sector, and introspection on 17 years of the gender agenda is needed, to establish what has worked and not worked, and to plan a way for groups working with women and groups working with men to collaborate more smoothly and effectively.
  • Ways to consolidate the gender network should be explored.
  • The Department for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, (DWCPD) MenEngage, and the Commission for Gender Equality should be forerunners in this matter and coordinate events for this kind of activity to happen.
  • How can we monitor whether this strengthens relationships or not? Many meetings and dialogues are already being held and it can seem that relationships between organisations do not grow.
  • Networks such as MenEngage SA must be supported to train trainers.

4. Men, alcohol and violence

  • Rehabilitation centers require better monitoring of results.
  • Include positive messages about drinking in alcohol messaging, acknowledging both the negative and the positive aspects of drinking. Overly demonizing drinking may exacerbate irresponsible alcohol use by not providing examples of people using alcohol responsibly.
  • The National Drug Master Plan 2012-2016 (NDMP) offers a potential platform for encouraging responsible drinking. The NDMP proposes banning alcohol sponsorships of sports, the arts, and more. It also recommends implementing a higher age limit for the legal consumption of alcohol.

5. Men and parenting

  • Fathers are not sufficiently recognized as parents by policies and legislation, and are thus dissuaded from taking an active role in their children’s lives. For example, it is not compulsory for a father’s name to be on a birth certificate. A point for debate is whether it must be compulsory for mothers to record the name of the child’s father on the birth certificate.
  • Traditional, unlawful restrictions on children access to fathers: government must consult traditional leaders to explore how to ensure that cultural issues like lobola or damages do not hinder men from taking an active role in their children’s lives.
  • Clinics must enhance privacy for childbirth. Some clinics house several women giving birth in the same room, making it difficult for the new-borns’ fathers to be present at the birth of their children. Fathers should be encouraged to be present during the birth of their children.
  • Divorced parents must have better access to information about custody rights and responsibilities.
  • These policy priorities provide an initial overview of the state of policies that related to engaging men. A few more suggestions were offered during the dialogue for the use of the above list:
  • To inform NSP sector implementation plans.
  • As a rough set of ideas for a MenEngage SA advocacy agenda.
  • Identifying some gaps in the policy related research field.