Mapping Gender Norms in South Africa Social Media

by | May 22, 2022 | Blog

Preliminary findings of social media discourse analysis conducted by the heCareZa Project has linked  discriminatory gender norms in South African society to an overemphasis on the male “financial provider” role. These findings are as result of in-depth analysis of gendered conversations conducted by South Africans on social media channels during 2020-21. 

The heCareZa project, which is supported by Innovation Edge, is aiming to obtain a thorough understanding of gendered discrimination, Gender Based Violence (GBV), and fatherhood in South Africa. The end-goal is to inform targeted GBV interventions and contribute to a wider body of knowledge around this pervasive problem.  

“Cycles of GBV violence are perpetuated through unequal gender norms and reinforced through the attitudes and behaviours an individual learns in childhood,” said Jenna-Lee Strugnell, Project Manager for heCareZa.  

“Our ultimate goal is to challenge attitudes and behaviours by engaging citizens as change agents. We will support change agents to contribute gendered dialogues online and offline with positive messaging around preferable attitudes and behaviours, as well as possible solutions to violence.”  

“These preliminary findings, along with further online research we will conduct over the remainder of the year, will inform the positive messaging,” added Strugnell.  

The social media discourse analysis conducted by heCareZa employed keyword analysis, and identified three predominant themes in gender-focused conversations. All three themes placed men in contemporary South Africa in a financial provider position, which is challenging for many given the high-rates of unemployment and the Covid-19 economic fallout.  

Theme 1: Lobola in Contemporary South Africa 

Narratives around Lobola discussed the value of lobola in uniting extended families and affirming intent for a long-term matrimonial union, the emancipation of women from patriarchal societal norms when they choose to assist their husband-to-be with lobola payment, as well as links between intimate partner violence and lobola.  

Theme 2: Girlfriend allowance 

The findings revealed multiple narratives around financial exchanges between a man and his intimate partner without marriage. This is variously referred to as girlfriend allowance, blessing, and sugar daddies/babies. These discussions revealed both the control that men can have over the women they support, as well as the frustration and failure felt by men who cannot “afford” to pay girlfriend allowance.  

Theme 3: ATM (Automated Teller Machine) Dad 

An ATM dad is one who contributes to his child’s life financially but may be physically and emotionally absent. Meanwhile, men who do not have the means to contribute financially may be denied access to their child – which can breed feelings of anger, failure, and frustration in the man.  

“GBV thrives in silence, and social media can play a major role in exposing the gravity of GBV,” said Strugnell.  

“As we continue to analyse social media discourse, we will identify men who stand against GBV, recruit them as allies, train them in dialogue facilitation and support them to create safe spaces where men can come together to share their experiences and to develop solutions to the critical issue of GBV in South Africa.”  

The preliminary findings and analysis of the heCareZA study were published by the University for Peace in their Mapping Online Gender-based Violence book. Click here to download the chapter.