Can’t Just Fold Your Arms: Sonke Gender Justice Network’s Documentary Film

The movie Can’t just Fold Your Arms documents a year in the life of Sonke Gender Justice Network’s quest to transform men in post-Apartheid South Africa.

Across the world, men are joining with women to prevent domestic and sexual violence, reduce the spread of HIV and the impact of AIDS and promote less restrictive, more flexible gender roles. This new and growing movement is an untold story of HIV and AIDS and gender activism in the 21st century, and part of a broader human rights and social change agenda for the coming decades. 

Founded in 2006 by veterans of the anti-apartheid movement and AIDS activism, Sonke Gender Justice Network has pioneered a powerful mix of trainings and workshops, policy work at the highest levels of government and advocacy work to address HIV and AIDS, and gender-based violence.

Can’t Just Fold Your Arms follows three high-profile senior Sonke staff members and a small team of Sonke’s younger men as they train, discuss, debate, listen, lecture, laugh, march, sing, inspire, explain, worry, plan, pray, toyi-toyi, criticize, distribute men’s and women’s condoms, coax, question, organize, and wrestle with South Africa’s post-Apartheid realities. A hate speech lawsuit that Sonke brings against a prominent ANC leader provides the main narrative.

With the world’s highest levels of HIV, of intimate partner violence, and of rape, South Africa is a gender war zone. Despite decades of liberation struggle and a legacy that includes the world’s most progressive constitution and women’s prominence at every level of government, women largely remain a battered and HIV-infected underclass in post-Apartheid South Africa. 

Using the language of the anti-apartheid struggle, the country’s constitution and the health and human rights discourse popularized by the global AIDS advocacy movement, Sonke carefully navigates its way forward: working with government while also confronting it; mobilizing men to publicly support women’s rights while challenging them to change their behaviour in their daily lives.

Can’t Just Fold Your Arms is an inspiring story of moral commitment, a striking portrait of South Africa, and a necessary warts-and-all how-to look at the reality of ‘ engaging’ men against HIV and for women’s rights and gender transformation. There are also lots of laughs and great music.

Can’t Just Fold Your Arms is a nuanced, candid and impassioned story of the effort to engage men against HIV and for gender justice in a South Africa struggling with high levels of violence and HIV and AIDS.