The 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children Campaign, this year, is commemorated under the theme “Accelerating Actions to end gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF), leaving no one behind”. It is a call to action to raise awareness about the devastating impact that GBVF has on women, children and the entire social fabric of South Africa.
Earlier this week, I participated and delivered the keynote address at the Gender Practitioners Community of Practice (CoP) in South African Universities Conference in the Free State.
The conference coincided with His Excellency, President Cyril Ramaphosa, and African Union (AU) Chair H.E. Azali Assoumani, the President of Comoros, jointly hosting the third annual African Union’s Men’s Conference on Positive Masculinity, with this year’s outcome expected to be the development of an AU Convention towards ending violence against women and girls, once and for all.
Speaking at the Men’s Conference, former Executive Director of UN Women and former Deputy President, Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka stated: “We will encourage men to do what is right, but we will not praise men for doing the right thing because we don’t praise fish for swimming.”
She further pointed out that much of the eradication of age-old issues plaguing humanity, especially in Africa, lies with men themselves. For example, in terms of child marriages, all that men need to do is refuse to marry children, and that will completely end child marriages, so the crux of the matter lies with men doing the right thing. In fact, it’s actually very simple: it is the rest of us who complicate things by entertaining, understanding, justifying, and normalising behaviour that is resulting in the abuse and even fatalities of our women and children.
This year’s theme is very strategically worded as “Accelerating Actions”, the significant word being “actions”. We have discussed at length the obscene rates of GBVF in our country, with statistics telling us that 969 women were murdered in the first three months of the year, so approximately 10 women were murdered daily. If this disturbing trend continues, it means that potentially 310 women could be killed in December 2023. Making matters worse are the alarming 10512 rapes and 15000 assaults in the same first three months, meaning that 116 women were raped daily and 167 were assaulted, and these were just the reported ones.
Yes, absolutely, we can and should blame policing and even find fault with the justice system if we want to, but we critically need to look at the root cause and not just blame the inefficiency of the monitoring systems. The buck actually stops with communities because that’s where it starts and is allowed to fester. It begins with our families and friends that allow it to perpetuate, that cover up, that normalise or justify why “she deserved it”.
We need to stop victim-blaming because it’s the easy way out. Remember, we are not going to praise fish for swimming; we expect men to do the right thing and behave as society expects and demands. I truly believe we are better than this as a nation. I would hope that men in South Africa would think more of themselves than just being known for being perpetrators of violence against women and girls.
We come from a rich history of struggle and winning against not just colonisation but also Apartheid, and this is where we are today: where our women and girls are being violently destroyed by our own, their partners, fathers, and uncles, the men who are supposed to protect and be pillars of the community, but they are actually the perpetrators of violence, and they are being protected by women and men alike within communities, thereby normalising this decrepit, sickening state of affairs.
We are so desensitised as a nation, as news of women and children being killed, raped, or assaulted no longer stops us in our tracks, we speak about it less than we would the interest rates, load shedding, and the wars playing out across the world, yet there is a war on women and children on our streets, homes, and communities right here in South Africa that we need to have as much of a response to as we are having with the ghastly human rights issues within the context of war being seen in other parts of the world.
The statistics of violence per day even exceed those of losses of life at the height of Covid-19, yet we are not seeing a response to lifesaving anywhere near the efforts made to eradicate Covid-19 from our lives. Why is that? We think GBVF won’t affect us because it only happens in other communities, because it will never happen to me. It does affect us. GBVF does not discriminate on any basis – wealth, race, status or poverty – it touches all of us. And it can happen to you, me or someone close to us.
Did Reeva Steenkamp’s parents think their daughter’s life would fatally end in the way that it did? Or Uyinene Mrwetyana’s? Or Tshegofatso Pule’s? Or Kirsten Kluyts’, whose suspected murderer was arrested recently? Did any of them, or their families, think it would happen to them? This also brings me to the viral video of the stabbing at Peninsula University of Technology. Are perpetrators so brazen or have no fear that this could be done in full view of the public? Is this the society we are living in? Is this the education system that we are sending our daughters and sisters into? This can’t be a South Africa we are proud of or a South Africa we collectively call home. We have to do something, and that lies with every single South African because the normalising of GBVF starts with each and every one of us. After all, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men (or women) do nothing”.
And while government has made significant strides to reduce the scourge, it regretfully continues to rear its ugly head. A significant milestone was achieved when President Ramaphosa assented to crucial legislative reforms: The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act Amendment Bill; the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill, and the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill. These reforms, coupled with implementing policy and other measures, underscore our consistent retort in our war on GBVF.
As the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, we will continue undertaking frontline monitoring and evaluation of places, such as police stations, Thuthuzela Care Centres and victim-friendly rooms, and present tangible recommendations and findings to ensure adequate and proper support is rendered to victims. We will also continue working with all stakeholders and communities to reduce and ultimately end the scourge of GBVF.