Charles Maisel
Ashoka Fellow since 2001   |   South Africa

Charles Maisel

5 in 6 Men Project
Charles Maisel has provided South African men with a method for preventing violence against women, in a nation that has the highest rate of violence against women of any country not at war.
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This description of Charles Maisel's work was prepared when Charles Maisel was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2001.


Charles Maisel has provided South African men with a method for preventing violence against women, in a nation that has the highest rate of violence against women of any country not at war.

The New Idea

Only some men hurt women, and most do not. In this large, hitherto silent majority Charles sees a solution. He aims to change the attitudes and behavior of all men by building a strong movement against domestic violence among those "everyday heroes" who oppose it. Charles's method is unique because it focuses on prevention and puts men in major roles, while also engaging women. While other projects try to empower women or confront abusers, Charles engages nonviolent men as collaborators in homes and communities across the country. He identifies "positive" men at the grassroots level, then works with them to enhance their good qualities and values and to find ways to support women. At the same time, Charles encourages women to identify the positive men in their homes and communities and to participate in savings programs that help them become less financially dependent on men. His immediate goal is to reach one million men, and his ultimate objective is to end violence in South Africa, particularly against women and children.

The Problem

Human life has become expendable in South Africa, where violence is so common that people hardly raise their eyebrows when commuters are shot dead on their way to work. According to current data, a woman is raped every twenty-six seconds, and one in four men abuses his wife.

Traditionally, only women have worked against this violence, running campaigns to support victims and punish abusers. As domestic violence and rape reach unprecedented frequency, however, there is a growing feeling that men must somehow be seen as part of the solution, not just the cause of the problem. This has led many women's organizations to begin taking on men as part of their prevention campaigns. However, women still lead the campaigns, which have not had wide impact on the male-dominated society.

The Strategy

Charles works only with adult men, because he believes that younger men need positive role models. He challenges men but also supports them. The project is called "5 in 6," based on the belief that if one in six men is abusive, then the other five can do something about it. 5 in 6 offers workshops at corporations, on farms, and in government to help men understand their power relations with women, to build self-esteem, and to deal constructively with difficult domestic situations. 5 in 6 then revisits some of these men in their home communities and conducts a "rolling mass action," a program to measure the scale of the problem locally and to engage non-violent men in addressing it. The women along a particular street are asked to indicate the number of "positive" men in their homes. This activity brings the problem to light in numbers that can be measured later after intervention. The men identified as positive are invited to attend workshops. They bring in others, multiplying the effect of the program and linking men from different areas all over South Africa. This linking process is vital to keeping men involved.

Charles has also designed an "Everyday Hero" campaign that emphasizes and highlights positive male role models. The national campaign, which is publicized through posters and the mass media, encourages people to nominate men they know. 5 in 6 then contacts the men and encourages them to get involved. The Everyday Hero campaign received fifty thousand responses in 1999. This style of campaigning has been adopted in Nicaragua, Canada, and Nigeria. Although Charles's organization works primarily with men, it also provides a "daily saving" program, adopted from a successful initiative in India, that encourages women to break the economic dependence that perpetuates violence. Charles wrote a manual for his programs that was published in September 2000 as The Secrets of Working with Men.

The Person

Growing up white under apartheid, Charles Maisel was deeply affected by violence and injustice. He chose Gandhi and Martin Luther King as role models. He studied psychology but found it to be an elite discipline ill-equipped to deal with the realities of South African life. His short, rebellious stint as a psychologist in the army taught him the value of challenging structures from the inside. Because his own father was absent from his life, male mentors and positive role models have been a continuous and integral part of his life. After two years in the army, Charles spent a year traveling, with the intent of seeking out such mentors.

When Catholic Welfare and Development was looking for creative approaches to addressing violence in South Africa, Charles leaped at the opportunity. He started by running a perpetrator program but realized that it was not going to change the face of domestic violence because it was too costly and required skills he did not have. This forced him to think about community-based remedies to violence. He devised an innovative philosophy and worked out the elements of what would become his program: workshops, rolling mass action, and the Everyday Hero Campaign. Chosen to go to India, he encountered the daily savings idea and true community-based approaches to social problems. It was there he realized that violence is an international phenomenon, and he has since envisioned developing a violence-prevention model in South Africa that can be exported worldwide.

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