Fikile Cele and Youandi Gilain have teamed up to empower men during this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence which began on Nov. 25. Traditionally, the campaign focuses on women and girls, but these two women have decided to call attention to abused men and boys who often suffer in silence.
“We have failed to stand up for our boys and men that also suffer abuse and mental health issues. We cannot support the one but not the other,” they said. “Violence against men is worthy of attention.”
It all started with a conversation between the two women who are both affiliated with Baby Savers South Africa. Fikile is an ambassador for the organization and Youandi is a crisis pregnancy counsellor. As the two conversed one day, they discovered they had a lot in common.
“We spoke about the 16 days of activism, which was coming around the corner at that time, and we asked ourselves what we were going to do because we always want to make a difference,” Fikile said.
The more they talked, the more they realized that men were missing from the conversation. What about all the boys and men who have been abused? They needed support too. This revelation birthed their campaign “Man You Rock.”
It is difficult to know just how many men are affected by GBV because many do not speak out about the abuse they have suffered.
Fikile gained international attention when she entered the Miss South Africa 2021 pageant earlier this year and shared her story of being abandoned in a box as a baby. Since then, she has set out to be an advocate for the unseen, unheard and unwanted.
Youandi is an unstoppable force in her own right. In addition to her work with Baby Savers South Africa, she is a director at Isaiah 54 Children’s Sanctuary, a home for abused and abandoned babies and children in Durban. She is also founder and counsellor of Open Arms SA which offers online support for pregnant girls and women, and birth mothers in crisis across South Africa.
“On a daily basis, we help about 15 to 20 mothers with making the right decisions on parenting, birth control, and other things to do with pregnancy and raising children,” Youandi said.
Together, Fikile and Youandi have purposed to create a space where men can receive the emotional support they need. Initially, the campaign was slow to take off but has now gained momentum.
“We’re very proud. It’s growing. I think it’s difficult for men to speak up because they’ve been silenced for such a long time, so it’s going to be hard for them to open up,” Fikile said. “But I believe as we continue to grow this amazing platform for men to speak up about the feelings, emotions and issues they face more will come onboard.”
“Man You Rock” is on Facebook and Instagram.
“Together we can grow,” Youandi said. “There are more movements to encourage women and empower them, but not for men; and I believe that this is needed for them to build stronger families, be better fathers and make better communities.”
Vimbai E. is a content marketer, ghostwriter, and the founder of The Weight She Carries. With hundreds of articles and stories publishing online, in print and for broadcast, her love of language and storytelling shines through every piece of writing that bears her name.