Are you in a relationship where you feel trapped and are often either physically or emotionally abused by your partner? Often it’s a case of the cycle of abuse repeating itself; many men abuse their partners because this is what they saw and experienced in their homes when they were young.
It is also common for the abused in a relationship to”condone” their partner’s behaviour; believing that is the role of a woman. When you speak to members of your family, they may advise you to be tough, to stick it out and persevere.
Society, too, has taught you to keep our family problems at home or to ourselves, and we begin to learn to accept physical and psychological abuse.
An important lesson every woman needs to learn is that their silence is killing them and their families. Like the South Africans who marched and picketed after recent incidents of violence against women and children, it is up to every abused person to stand up and say: “No more.”
Given our history of a deeply entrenched patriarchal culture, it is not uncommon to find women in this predicament, as they are easy targets of abuse and violence.
It is not uncommon to hear about these cases only once they escalate to the level of murder or suicide. This is because most such cases of abuse are not reported, which may be due to a variety of reasons. The reality is that the problems of violence and abuse are deep-seated in our society.
Violence takes different forms, such as sexual harassment, abuse, assault, rape, domestic violence and other cultural practices that are cruel to women and children, such as child muti killings.
The common denominator among all forms of abuse is often not only the act of violence itself but the abuser’s desire to exercise total control over the abused.
Incidents of violence become more deadly when guns – legal or illegal – are present in the home, because they can be used to threaten, injure or kill.
A 2009 report by the Medical Research Council (MRC) indicated that 57 percent of murders of women are committed by intimate partners.
In a study released last year, the MRC said “homicide in South Africa is declining, but gender-based homicides are resistant to the change while rape and homicides have increased”. These findings are undoubtedly a wake-up call for all of us and underscore the seriousness of the issues at hand.
We are concerned about the increase of rapes and violence against women and children. This is a threat to our hard-earned freedom, for it condemns women and children to a life of fear and prevents them from becoming productive members of society.
While South Africa has one of the best gun-control laws in the world, stricter gun control is essential.
Statistics show that our gun control laws have significantly reduced the frequency of firearms-related homicides since coming into effect in 2004.
Our government has been at the forefront of fighting women abuse through various initiatives. Chief among these is a series of legislative and other initiatives specifically aimed at protecting women and children.
Just last week I welcomed the re-establishment of sexual offenses courts, which will help in the speedy prosecution of gender-based violence.
In addition, the Minister of Health’s announcement about the recruitment and training of more technicians to staff a fourth forensic laboratory bears testimony to our commitment to rooting out violence against women and children; and prosecuting the perpetrators.
Last year the government established the National Council on Gender-Based Violence, which comprises government, non-government organisations, research institutions, men’s and women’s groupings and other stakeholders.
The council will focus on these key pillars to end violence: prevention, response, support, co-ordination and communication, advocacy, awareness-raising and social campaigns.
However, the government alone cannot eradicate this violence that threatens to destroy our communities and the fabric of our culture and society.
We need to establish a culture in which women are valued and respected. We call on everyone to help create a safer and healthier space for our communities to thrive. Change must happen in our minds and hearts. We need to stand up against women abuse and violence and the unacceptable practice of blaming the victim.
Last month the government, through a partnership with the Department of Basic Education and LeadSA, launched the Stop Rape campaign, which opposes sexual violence against women and children.
Speaking at the launch, President Jacob Zuma stated: “No woman or child should be beaten, raped, stabbed, shot or attacked in any manner anywhere in our country, whether by known or unknown attackers”.
The president urged all of us to use institutions tasked with the protection of all citizens and to report cases of violence.
We all have a crucial role to play in eradicating violence against women and children and entrenching a culture of respect among all South Africans.
We should honour our women, considering the role they played in the establishment of a free and democratic South Africa.
* Lulu Xingwana is Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities