By: Lunga Memela (Communication Engagement Lead)
A new movement has been launched in KwaZulu-Natal's uMgungundlovu District, called Men 2 Men (or Isibaya Samadoda). This movement strongly aims to promote the well-being of men and alleviate the health issues they face daily – often contributing to detrimental social ills such as gender-based violence (GBV) and inequality, teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, high school dropout rates, suicide, social disintegration of the aged as well as persons with disability, and the preventable spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. It is a platform where men can speak up and discuss issues related to voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC), HIV testing services (HTS), Tuberculosis (TB) screening, prostate cancer and mental health issues.
Unique in its approach, Men 2 Men has started knitting itself into the social fabric of several communities in uMgungundlovu by inviting young and older men to openly discuss the often unspoken physical and mental health challenges they face on a daily basis. Not opening up about such matters is continuously driving behaviour that threatens not only men's own sense of sanity and overall well-being, but also the health and safety of the women and children with whom they coexist – a matter considered to be a national and global human rights priority.
The most recent Isibaya Samadoda event took place at Mooi River, where it was again championed by Nhlanhla Zuma, the Umngungundlovu District Co-ordinator for Men's Friendly Health Services, which falls under the Health Systems Trust's (HST's) SA SURE Plus project, an initiative that works tirelessly with the Department of Health to strengthen local capacity to provide sustainable HIV and TB care and treatment services in South Africa's public health system.
Zuma, a leading MINA Campaign Champion, amongst other worthy causes that he is involved with, said that he is passionate about this work because there is a limited number of custodians for men's health and overall well-being, and yet men have the potential to play such a key role in improving the local public health context. "We [are] piloting 17 facilities for now and it will be great to run this programme throughout the Umngungundlovu District," he said.
Local young men were being trained on how to prepare traditional ox head meat and dumpling by their seniors.
It was not a normal morning! Upon arrival, men were breaking all stereotypes about not knowing how to cook. The local young men were being trained how to prepare traditional ox head meat and dumpling by their seniors. The food was later served to attendees, and soon after that, a robust programme themed 'Speak Up Men, We Listen' (Khuluma Ndoda Sikuzwe) encouraged the men to converse and leave no stone unturned when it came to matters of physical, mental, financial, sexual and reproductive health. Topics also included VMMC and HTS, which were offered on the day.
Of critical importance is that, not only did most of the men attest to still relying heavily on traditional medicine as a form of healing, but there is also stigma attached to visiting local health facilities and being attended to by a host of female nurses on matters that men consider to be 'private.' Men are more comfortable speaking amongst each other in a forum such as Men 2 Men, and they expressed their concerns to the health representatives in attendance. "Our intention is to see the number of men increase in our local facilities and also to get help from male professional nurses," Zuma advised.
Also present were members and leadership of the local South African Police Service (SAPS) who agreed that all cases reported to police stations must be treated fairly and with sincerity. Men who were abused by their spouses, raped by women and other men, or who had experienced other forms of GBV felt humiliated and that they were not taken seriously when reporting such cases. "Some men are framed and arrested for rape cases they did not commit," Zuma explained, and this had an adverse effect on how they would reintegrate into society once released from unjust imprisonment. "Men should have a place or offices where they can report cases like GBV and those offices should be manned by other men who show understanding and compassion so that [it] will be easy to report any case," he added.
Men discussing pertinent health issues at the event.
Men's mental health was one of the heated topics of the day. It became evident that a lot of men are undergoing domestic abuse and GBV, but simply do not have an outlet. Frustration and anger caused by this can result in cases of hostile mental health where men either commit suicide or take the lives of their loved ones.
The big positive of this event was that it was endorsed by the presence of the local Chief, iNduna, Ward counsellors and Religious Leaders. They heard the voices and concerns of young and old men from various backgrounds, and also listened to the likes of Phumelele Mngomezulu, Director for the Office on the Status of Women and Children at the Office of the Premier in KwaZulu-Natal. She acknowledged that there was a provincial strategy in place to deal with GBV, and insisted that society must also come to terms with the fact that men too can be victims of GBV. Just like other speakers on the day, she said men must absolutely cry when they feel the need to. It's internalising the pain that leads to outcomes not desired by society.
The local chief and his entourage arrive at Isibaya Samadoda in Mooi River.
Emphasis was placed on older men being role-models and positive leaders in local communities. "Women and children should always feel loved, cared for and protected," attendees agreed. At no point should a woman, neighbour or a daughter be walking around with fear of being raped by their very own."
The event was supported by the Departments of Health, Social Development, PSI, and collaborators included the South African AIDS Foundation.
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