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Brothers For Life GBV Campaign Hits Home

It may well have been actor Patrick Shai's greatest role: the Brothers for Life public service announcement against gender-based violence (GBV).<--break->

The advertisement, the mass-media component of Brothers for Life's 2010 campaign against GBV, was memorable to members of the public because it featured a real person admitting to having beaten his wife for many years - and because he cried.

The Brothers for Life campaign aims to stimulate a men's movement that promotes more responsible health and lifestyle behaviours, and get men positively influence each other. Brothers for Life is a joint initiative by the South African National AIDS Council, the Department of Health, USAID/PEPFAR, Johns Hopkins Health and Education in South Africa, Sonke Gender Justice, UN System in South Africa, Danish Development Assistance and more than 100 civil society partners.

A study of its 2010 GBV campaign was presented to the 5th Entertainment Education Conference, held in India between 17 and 20 November 2011. The conference brought together communication experts from across the world to examine the use of entertainment education in support of health-related programmes.

The conference was given a snapshot of the South African GBV context, including that one-quarter of women will suffer violence at some point in their lives, a woman is killed by her intimate partner every six hours - the highest such rate in the world, that 28% of men admit to having raped a woman, and that nearly one in six men have assaulted a woman in the past year. South Africa, too, is a very violent society, where one in 10 people have been the victim of violent crime in the past year, and levels of child sexual abuse are very high.

"The Brothers for Life GBV campaign strategy aimed both to speak to the victims of abuse, and appeal also to the heart of the abusive partner - and show that it is possible for them to change, and that remaining abusive is not what they want," says Mandla Ndlovu, project manager for Brothers for Life.

To this end, the GBV campaign had several components, including:

*The mass-media campaign featuring the Patrick Shai advertisement, the use of true stories of reformed abusers on radio and television, and publicising the national GBV helpline number through radio and television

*Advocacy for interventions that help and rehabilitate people in abusive circumstances

*Partnerships to highlight available services including police and the Thuthuzela Care Centres

*Community participation, through community dialogues, a 26-part community radio talk show on GBV-related issues, the training of 100 community-based organisations and integrating Brothers for Life community workshops into their action plans

*Workplace and employee assistance programmes

Community dialogues raised several drivers of GBV, which in turn has informed further efforts to combat this problem. Among them were that it is a learnt behaviour; that economic aspects such as the financial dependence of women on men is a factor; that violence is a sign of poor self-esteem; the gender inequality fuels the problem; that cultural and religious factors perpetuate gender inequalities; that there is a lack of services in communities to combat GBV; and that alcohol abuse drives violence in homes and communities.

But it was the public service announcement featuring Shai that left the biggest impression on the public during the Brothers for Life GBV campaign, according to community dialogues conducted by the Centre for AIDS Development, Research and Evaluation (CADRE), the results of which were presented to the Entertainment Education Conference.

There were specific reasons for this: firstly, people paused to think about Shai's story and circumstances, and then relate it to their own lives and experiences - be they abusers themselves, or because they witnessed GBV in their own homes while growing up.

Viewers also saw Shai's message as positive, and encouraging change and redemption in abusive men. One community dialogue participant in Limpopo, who had been raised in an abusive home, remarked that "when I see these ads, it encourages me a lot, that men can transform, men can change and men are taking responsibility now".

But it was Shai's expression of emotion - the tears he sheds while explaining his abusive past - that particularly resonated with communities. It gripped people who did not expect such a public display of remorse, and they took his message to be genuine and heartfelt. Said one participant in a community dialogue in Cape Town: "I think for me when I saw it, I mean I know his stuff and whatever, but he was just way too sincere. You can't act something like that out."

Says Ndlovu: "Through our integrated approach to our GBV campaign in 2010, we were able to directly glean positive feedback such as this. It was clear that communities were both shocked at what they saw, but also heartened that things can change for the better.

"And by promoting the uptake of services such as the Stop Gender Violence Helpline and the Thuthuzela Care Centres in this context, we have given many people avenues to explore that they may not have realised are available to them."

For Shai, who also was raised in an abusive home, telling his story in such a public way was difficult - but it formed part of his own personal healing.

"What viewers saw in the public service announcement was not acting; that was me, playing the toughest role I've ever taken on. But if telling the world my own story encourages even one abusive man to relax his fists, and seek help before it is too late, then it was well worth doing, and I have done my duty as a Brother for Life," he says.