It is difficult to deal with issues of male identity without involving women, a forum on male identity resolved on Saturday.

The forum, themed "Male Identity: Challenges and Change", was held in Goedgedacht, near Malmesbury, outside Cape Town.

Discussions involved academics, political commentators, religious leaders and media experts.

The event was organised by the Goedgedacht Forum for Social Reflection.

The three panelists, Professor Kopano Ratele of Unisa, Dean Peacock, co-founder of Sonke Gender Justice Network, and Diane Salters, a training specialist, led the discussions.

"The problem about male identity is that it is not just a social but a personal issue," Ratele said.

"Men's struggle in understanding themselves cannot just be attributed to societal expectation, but it is their inability to have self-reflection," Ratele said.

According to Ratele, three out of four men are not rapists. This means that most men are not violent against women and children, but the media has bombarded society with the negative doings of men.

"Such negative publicity has resulted in society believing that good and caring men don't exist, yet there are many," Ratele said.

Violence and role-defined identity was also a big part of the discussion.

"Research has proven that people use violence to get attention or as a way of claiming significance in relationships and in society," Peacock said.

Delegates agreed that violence and abuse by men was caused by men's failure to discover who they are, independent of their duty to provide, lead and protect.

It was also highlighted that men experienced abuse from women, but that this did not get as much attention as that of the opposite gender.

"Before we can talk of fixing anything, men must stay alive," Ratele said .

He said the male population in South Africa was shrinking because of violence, HIV and other health factors.

"Maybe the easiest way of finding male identity is to find what is a good human being," said Aubrey Matshiqi of the Centre for Policy Studies. "Everyone knows a good human being irrespective of background, colour, religion and tradition."

It was also agreed that churches and family should be brought into the dialogue.

"We can't deal with men without involving women or deal with women without involving men," Salters said.