President Cyril Ramaphosa delivering the keynote address at the National Gender-based Violence and Femicide Summit. Picture: Siyabulela Duda/GCIS.

Pretoria - President Cyril Ramaphosa has lambasted the poor response to gender-based violence crisis that has gripped the country. 

Ramaphosa said despite South African being signatories to a number of conventions and declarations, there was no clear plan on how to deal with the scourge of gender-based violence.  

“Despite having progressive laws and being a signatory to many international instruments – such as the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the UN Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power – our country does not have an effective, coordinated response to the scourge of gender-based violence,” said Ramaphosa. 

The president was speaking at the gender-based violence summit on Thursday in Pretoria. The summit was hosted by the government and involved hundreds of stakeholders from organisations dealing with gender-based violence. 

The summit has been in demand for months as cases of gender-based violence dominated headlines this year. The gathering was preceded by a nationwide #TotalShitDown march held in August to highlight the rising costs of being a woman in South Africa. 

Women from around the country, who attended the summit, shared their experiences with gender-based violence and how often they felt like they were failed by the law enforcement agencies when they reported the incidents. 

While Ramaphosa was speaking a few women stood-up in protest holding up panties with different inscriptions. One read, “gender-based violence spreads HIV”. 

Ramaphosa acknowledged in his speech that often women were failed by society once they revealed they were victims of sexual crime or violence with many being forced to close cases. 

The reception at many police stations was just as poor for victims of gender-based violence, Ramaphosa said. 

“Our society is too tolerant of violence against women, often forcing women to withdraw charges against the perpetrators. Very often families exert the most pressure on women and children not to press charges against abusers,” said Ramaphosa. 

“We must name and shame those who perpetrate violence against girls and women. We must name and shame those who perpetrate violence against girls and women,” he said. 

The president said some of the ways the country could go about fixing the problem was to properly train law enforcement officers.

He also said the empowerment of women was key, but that training of young men was also critical especially from a very young age. 

“Research shows contradictory results about whether the economic and social empowerment of adult men makes a marked difference on whether they continue to perpetrate violence. Boys and young men who participate in school-wide programmes targeting change in social attitudes tend to show a marked reduction in peer violence. This points to the need to target our education programmes at young children in order to make a difference in attitudes from the start,” said Ramaphosa. 

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