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Experiences of gender-based violence in a transnational context: a case study of Congolese male refugees living in Durban, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.

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Gender-based violence (GBV) is a global issue that can occur in any setting, and the transnational environment is no exception. GBV among male refugees in their communities is a large field that needs more focus since most research explores opinions about female victims instead of perpetrators. The unending armed conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) caused dreadful atrocities by entangling people’s lives, a condition that caused many to flee their country. Women and men suffered the violence differently; women endured violence because of the cyclic wars and abusive social norms. While living in their home country, these Congolese male refugees were informed of GBV; either they committed, heard or saw it. They migrated to the transnational setting of South Africa, in Durban in particular but never left behind their home perceptions of gendered violence. This research details fieldwork carried out in 2021 regarding the transnational experiences of GBV of Congolese male refugees living in the South African city of Durban. Specifically, the researcher used a qualitative method, with a sample of 30 Congolese male refugees living in Durban, in the province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). In an in-depth telephonic interview, the participants, whose ages varied between 25 and 50 years old, willingly shared their experiences with the researcher. The research findings confirm that Congolese male refugees' experiences of GBV, while living in DRC or Durban, built on their past cultural insights, values and practices, which they merged with their new context in their transnational setting. However, they also learned the local culture through their new connections, which they sometimes mixed with theirs. In this way, they created new techniques of abusing their women. This highlighted socialisation, the complexity of GBV, identities and masculinities as renegotiated in a transnational space. Indeed, the traditions and norms these refugees came with and those they learned during their socialising in the South African community of Durban played a great role in promoting the abuse of women. vii By using a thematic analysis paradigm that is a qualitative approach, the researcher wanted to underline the context in which the shared manner of beliefs and observations of the Congolese male refugees and his multidimensional positionality overlapped to create understanding. The researcher equally emphasised masculinities and socialisation as critical and dynamic issues in the data collection process. The collected information shows that DRC male refugees admit that masculinities, socialisation and transnationalism were the main factors that influenced their violence toward women. As these men fled their country for safety, they willingly chose South Africa and the City of Durban, in particular, as host communities because they offered life opportunities. They mingled with local GBV tactics because the surrounding environment condones the violence. This has considered the socio-ecological context and opportunity in place since they build on masculinities and societal norms that encourage men to take advantage of abusing women in a relatively different context to that they experienced in their home country. Moreover, the social conditions and the problems these male refugees face regarding social integration and gender-based norms in their transnational setting push them into perpetrating GBV. Lack of government assistance, discrimination over access to a job, and being separated from their home families and relatives cause them stress, making them fail to fulfil their role as respectable household managers and breadwinners. The situation has forced them to perpetrate violence against women to gain authority and respect. The onus of perpetrating gendered violence remains on the shoulders of society because masculinities and oppressive patriarchal norms keep these male refugees in their position as respectable men. This research also provides critical insights into the dynamics faced by these Congolese male refugees because of immersing themselves in Durban, a city located in the province of KZN. The province has a high level of violence, particularly GBV, and accommodates many refugees from Africa and other continents. Research outcomes confirm that interviewees’ constant socialisation and renegotiating identities opened a good opportunity to reinforce their perspectives of gendered violence. GBV overlaps with migration because local social norms, socialisation, masculinities and identities facilitate refugees in their transnational milieu, mostly those from societies with hegemonic masculinities, to learn much from the local community regarding women abuse. Indeed, living in the Zulu community in the transnational context required these refugees to socialise for cultural and social integration. Consequently, these Congolese men had to learn local attitudes and beliefs about gendered violence in addition to the perceptions they brought with them when they relocated to South Africa. Overall, social integration required them to learn new approaches regarding GBV, and to renegotiate their masculinities and identity in Durban. The themes raised in this research show that, in their transnational setting, Congolese male refugees perpetrate GBV to ensure that women remain submissive to them and that their power and social status remain valued. It was an interesting result as the interviewees were reinterpreting and redefining their masculinities and shared their experiences regarding GBV based on how they renegotiated their social identities and masculine influence to socialise and integrate into their new locale. Similarly, this research has explored how the interviewees’ social integration empowered them by creating several versions of masculinity and various strategies for perpetrating GBV within their transnational milieu. The exploration of these male refugees’ engagement in sharing their personal experiences about GBV in a transnational setting clearly confirms there is a dilemma based on the dialectic of their experiences. GBV in DRC and the transnational environment remains the result of gender attitudes, masculinities, socio-cultural upbringing, and social beliefs the interviewees came with and those they met in Durban. Such context demonstrates how masculinities and identity renegotiation are hybridised for condoning GBV in a transnational locale.