Bleak, painful, and shattered reality for women
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August, dubbed Women’s Month, is supposed to be jubilant. It is a month that should be used to celebrate great strides made by women in history in so far as the gender struggle is concerned.
The pivotal role of women in the liberation movement, in general, key women achievements in all sectors, and groundbreaking moments in our recent history that continue to pave the way for the future of women in society ought to be highlighted in Women’s Month.
It is unfortunate, however, that what we see in the media and social media reports leaves a lot to be desired.
Many women are trapped in their homes with their abusers and continue to endure a life of torture. In many instances, these women die at the hands of their loved ones. On the streets, there is no refuge, and women continue to experience all sorts of abuse in their neighbourhoods, churches, workplace, and every other institution in society.
August highlights the ongoing need for governments and institutions to commit resources to advance women’s rights. South Africa’s gender crisis is a stark reminder of the persisting barriers to gender equality for many women around the world. Unfortunately, it seems the fight for gender equality is far from over.
An article on another media platform described all these heinous crimes against women that occurred during Women’s Month. “Dark and brutal Women’s Month, marred by the brutal violence against women”. This is an indication that while the government continues implementing efforts to defeat the Covid-19 pandemic, GBVF is rearing its abominable head as the second pandemic that is destroying the fabric of our society.
According to reports, the government’s GBV and Feminicide Command Centre, a call centre to support victims of GBV, recorded more than 120 000 victims in the first three weeks of the lockdown. Just weeks later, in Pretoria, a similar call centre was receiving up to 1 000 calls a day from women and children who were confined to abusive homes seeking urgent help.
Prior to the pandemic, femicide in South Africa was already five times higher than the global average, and the female interpersonal violence death rate was the fourth-highest out of the 183 countries listed by the World Health Organization in 2016. Evidence has now emerged that suggests cases of violence against women are increasing.
In 2019-2020, there was an average increase of 146 sexual offences and 116 specifically rape cases per day, predominantly rape, compared to the same period between 2018-2019. Researchers from the Wits School of Governance suggest that the lockdown measures are likely to be the cause of this increase in GBV, as women were forced to stay home and left more vulnerable to domestic abuse.
In addition, the lockdown has prevented access to civil service groups dedicated to supporting victims of GBV. In South Africa, reports of GBV are often dismissed by the police, who perceive the issue as a private matter for families rather than a criminal matter for the courts.
Within our communities, there is also the stigma associated with sexual violence. Together, these factors contribute to the under-reporting of GBV cases. Women then die in silence, fearing secondary victimisation from the police and their communities.
Although President Ramaphosa has invested millions to strengthen the criminal justice system and provide better care for victims of GBV, many women and children continue to suffer on a daily basis. Moreover, the additional funding has failed to curb the exponential rise in cases of abuse and rape.
Experts say that domestic violence in South Africa is culturally deep-rooted and can be traced to the apartheid era. Grassroots movements, including the Black Womxn Caucus and Women and Men Against Child Abuse, have repeatedly urged the government to do more to ensure swift prosecution in cases of GBVF.
However, there are fears that legislation alone may not be enough to decrease the number of cases linked to gender-based violence in our country. These same movements are, in addition, suggesting that changes in attitudes and approaches to gender will be just as important as legislative changes.
All these findings indicate that legislation and government alone cannot curb nor win the fight against GBV alone. Furthermore, the crisis of GBV is one that should be prioritised by all government departments because this crisis cuts across all sectors. Furthermore, the family unit remains the basic societal unit, where the boy and girl child must be taught values that will instil love, mutual respect and humanness in their conscience to ensure that they grow up knowing that violence is never a solution.
Most recently, brutal murders include: the University of Fort Hare law student Nosicelo Mtebeni, 23, whose dismembered body was discovered dumped in a suitcase in East London. The murder of Palesa Maruping, 29, who was found hanging from the ceiling of a house in Stilfontein. The death of Pheliswa "Dolly” Sawutana, 32, who was strangled to death with shoelaces in Kosovo informal settlement in Cape Town. The 27-year-old Samantha Zungu, from Duduza, was allegedly beaten to death by her alleged boyfriend. Samantha lost her life together with her baby, as she was pregnant.
The latest crime statistics showed more than 10 000 people were raped between April and June, with many of the victims raped at home. What has gone wrong?
A concerted effort is needed to change the picture. Individuals, families, communities, from a street level, churches, government, civil organisations, law enforcement agencies, the justice system, schools, corporate, must all pull together to put an end to GBVF.
I contend we must acknowledge that the government alone cannot defeat the scourge of GBVF. However, we must unite as communities to put an end to GBVF. Sekwanele, we cannot sit and wait for crime to be committed against us. Let us act now to end gender-based violence.
Morakane Mosupyoe, is MEC for Gauteng Social Development. She writes in her personal capacity.