Total shutdown march against woman abuse gender voilance Total Shutdown Campaign says South African women have very little to celebrate Women and gender non-conforming people marched countrywide against gender-based violence Picture:Ayanda Ndamane/ African News Agency (ANA)

Amina was young and beautiful, and a mother of four. She was doing well in her job and had recently been promoted to a management position in the factory where she started out at the bottom, more than 10 years ago. Her future was looking bright except for one thing: her abusive husband.
Her husband, Amien, was not much older than her, unable to hold down a job and had a serious addiction to a range of drugs. His addiction and inability to remain employed were probably related.

It was not unusual for him to start a new job, impress everyone with his work ethic, only to stay away after two or three weeks because he got bored or succumbed to a drug binge.

Amina would sometimes come home to discover she no longer had a television set or a fridge, pawned so that Amien could buy drugs.

She then suffered the indignity of finding out where he sold her stuff and having to buy it back.

If she complained too much, he would beat her. But in the community where they lived, Amien was not seen as a bad person because he was seen as a good Muslim who prayed five times a day and fasted religiously every year.

No one in Amina’s family said anything about their relationship, with everyone happy she was married to a good Muslim. She stayed with him until she died at a young age.

It is not known whether her death was related to the abuse.

Roberta was a professional woman who held down a highly-paid executive job in Cape Town. She met Mr Right who was from Durban and relocated to be with him. Fortunately she managed to find an equally well-paid job in Durban.

But soon she realised Mr Right was not perfect. He had a tendency to lose his temper quickly, taking it out on her. She often had to hide bruises on her face and body caused by heavy beatings.

She was hesitant to tell her friends because she was now living in a strange city and depended on Mr Right to help her fit in.

She also knew all her friends, most of whom were in Cape Town, would tell her to leave him, which she was not prepared to do.

She was quietly hoping that things would change, that he would bring his temper under control.

But the beatings never stopped and a year later she packed her bags and left. She did not want to return to Cape Town - that would almost be an acknowledgement that the relationship was a failure - so she moved to Johannesburg.

I thought of both women this week as I watched thousands of women marching to the centres of power in Pretoria and Cape Town to protest against woman abuse.

While I did not use their real names, they were real women who were special to me.

When I heard for the first time about the abuse they suffered at the hands of their partners, my immediate advice was: “Get out. Leave him. No abusive man is worth hanging on to.”

These are just two examples of the abuse of women I have encountered. There are many more I could list, including the many women on the Cape Flats who always have black eyes after they “walked into a door”.

What I learnt from both women’s experiences is that the abuse of women will never stop unless the abusers have no alternative but to stop.

Abusers will continue as long as they know they will get away with it without facing any consequences, or that the consequences will not match their crimes.

The abusers will also continue as long as they can convince their victims to remain silent and they enjoy the protection of people in their communities.

The only way to stop abuse is to highlight it at every possible opportunity.

Survivors of abuse need to know that they can come forward and will be protected. Unfortunately, our justice system does not inspire confidence, especially for victims.

Communities need to isolate, shame and report the perpetrators of abuse. They need to know that they cannot hide behind people in the community who are normally considered to be decent but who for some reason do not want to confront this scourge.The abuse of women and children should not be seen as a problem for women and children.

Men should play an active part in campaigning against it and ending it. If men do not speak up against the abuse of women and children, then it is almost as if they are also guilty of abuse.

I salute the women who marched this week. I hope that soon we will see men not only marching but also organising against abuse in communities.

* Fisher is an independent media professional. Follow him on Twitter: @rylandfisher

The Sunday Independent