Big business must support the fight against gender-based violence
By Kirshni Totaram
CAPE TOWN – In the more than sixty years since the Women’s March to the Union Buildings, women have been at the forefront of the struggle for transformation in South Africa.
Many of our grandmothers and mothers have made great sacrifices to achieve democratic freedom and equality, despite being denied the opportunity to achieve their own ambitions. Many of us are lucky. We have benefited from their continuous struggle and, over the decades, women have gained ground in many facets of our society, including greater representation in the workplace.
I have been fortunate to have been raised by a strong mother and was encouraged by my family to dream big and to work hard to create opportunities to further myself. At work, I have found a home in an organisation that fundamentally is premised on gender- and race-neutral output. And this has been invaluable to me -both in my career and personally.
But, despite all the advancements of the generation before, so many women are still left behind, carrying the burden of social prejudice that limits or destroys the contribution that women can make to this world. At Coronation, we have traditionally celebrated National Women’s Day by coming together (clients, colleagues and hundreds of learners from schools around the country) to share our collective experiences, offer support and learn from the inspiring stories of women who are experts in their fields.
But this year, the Covid-19 pandemic has altered the way we live and work in ways none of us could have imagined. The days seem a blur and now, five months into lockdown, there are days when the toll weighs heavier than before. Anxieties, fuelled by concerns for the safety of our loved ones, the human tragedy and the need to make good decisions in uncertain times, test our resilience and fortitude.
Again, it is women who bear the brunt
It is no secret that when times get tough for humanity, they get tougher for women and, as President Ramaphosa reported in his June National Address this year, the Covid-19 pandemic has been no exception.
Many of you would have experienced an increase in stress and tension as we strive to ‘work like we have no kids and parent like we have no work’. The stresses of adapting to this new world of homeschooling, working from home and the loss of our direct community infrastructure has understandably taken its toll.
Trends globally show that women have had to cut working hours to cope with the increased family demands, reducing their economic freedoms and financial security, and stalling the progress being made on closing the gender pay gap. In addition, many women have acknowledged facing mental-health and burnout challenges.
The scourge of gender-based violence
At the most heart-rending end of the spectrum has been the victimisation of women by members of their communities and households. It was almost a year ago that our country was deeply traumatised by acts of extreme violence perpetrated against women and children, with the brutal murder of young Uyinene escalating this systemic problem to a national crisis. It was a moment that shook the very foundations of our society and cry of “Enough is enough” was heard across the country.
It felt as though an acute struggle was moving from the periphery of the civil rights movement and settling firmly at its core. It is particularly disheartening that the protective measures of a global lockdown, aimed at containing the spread of Covid-19, has added fuel to this other deadly danger.
There has been a reported increase in gender-based violence in many countries across the globe and the United Nations has rightly dubbed this as a growing shadow pandemic. In South Africa, domestic abuse ranks among the worst in the world. It is something for which every South African citizen, women and men, rich and poor, needs to take responsibility and accountability.
Importantly, the most privileged among us simply cannot distance ourselves from the scourge of gender-based violence. Grassroots organisations and communities have played a critical role in responding to this crisis but need to be supported strongly in their current frontline role, including with funding.
In this regard, the private sector has a critical role to play, using our resources and platforms to create awareness and lend support.
With this in mind, we at Coronation have made a large donation to the TEARS Foundation, a registered NPO that that uses innovative technology in the fight against domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. If you would like to know more about this important initiative, please visitwww.tears.co.za.
A time for renewal … a time for thanks … and a time to stand together in our shared humanity
Covid-19 is already challenging us in ways most of us have never previously experienced, providing emotional and economic shocks that we are struggling to rise above. The escalation in domestic violence emerging as a dark feature of this pandemic is both a mirror and a challenge to our values, our resilience and shared humanity. We must not only survive Covid-19, but emerge renewed, with women as a powerful force at the centre of a more healed society. After the gains of past decades, we cannot be complacent. We owe it to the women who came before us, and to our daughters’ generations and beyond, to push for more progress.
Kirshni Totaram, Global Head of Institutional Business, Coronation Fund Managers.