Karen Pillay.
Karen Pillay.

Opinion - This year is turning out to be the most unsafe year for women and children in South Africa.

Our constitution guarantees the protection and care of women through the many laws and regulations, including: the Domestic Violence Act of 1998, the Children’s Act of 2005, the Maintenance Act of 1998, the Promotion of Equity and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act of 2000 and the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters Act) Amendment Act of 2000.

Why, then, do we still have the highest number of violent crimes committed against women and children?

Invariably the perpetrators are close family members, friends, intimate partners, spouses or someone known.

Just last week we witnessed a pregnant women being beaten by her boyfriend in front of a crowd who video recorded the incident, but not a single person stepped forward to stop this atrocity from happening. 

They all watched, while she was being repeatedly beaten.

Opportunistic crime in households often involves women and children being raped or murdered. 

Last month a person broke into one of the leading universities in South Africa and stole lab equipment. 

However, stealing the goods were not enough for him.

He found two young women there alone, attacked them and allegedly raped one them.

This year marks the 26th year of the campaign for the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children.

The 2017 theme is “Count me in: together moving a non-violent South Africa”.

The key objectives of the campaign are to:

- Involve all South Africans to be active participants in the fight to eradicate violence against women and children, hence the tag line “Count me in” for this year.

- Expand accountability beyond the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JPS) to include all provinces and clusters.

- Combine technology, social media, the arts, journalism, religion, culture and customs, business and activism to draw attention to the many ways violence against women and children affects the lives of all people in all communities around the world.

- Ensure mass mobilisation of all communities to promote collective responsibility in the fight to eradicate violence against women and children.

- Encourage society to acknowledge that violence against women and children is not only a government or criminal justice system problem, but a societal problem, and that failure to view it as such results in all efforts failing to eradicate this scourge in our communities.

- And most importantly, emphasise that the solution lies with all of us.

Important dates observed during this period are: November 25, International Day of No Violence Against Women; November 29, International Women Human Rights Defenders Day; December 1, World Aids Day; December 3, International Day for the Disabled and December 10, International Human Rights Day.

Evidence is increasingly indicating that women in South Africa are under siege.

On a national level, the safety of women should become a priority of all, including government. 

Paying lip service to such campaigns as the 16 Days of Activism is not enough.

We all need to become fully involved in such interventions to eradicate violence against women.

“Count Me In” has to be a national strategy that everyone adopts and participates in, for us to win the war to stop violence against women and children.

A young newly married woman is beaten to within an inch of her life and turns from being a fun-loving young woman to a scared, silent woman, families and friends watch silently and continue to insist the young woman should accept it as the norm and still live with the perpetrator.

They become complicit, much like the people who were taking the video of the incident last week without intervening.

My personal opinion is that all those complicit, including family members that encourage the survivor to stay in the marriage for the sake of honour, public image or whatever inconsequential reasoning families come up with, should all be brought to trial together with the perpetrator.

A few days ago a young woman in India was raped by her father, brother and uncles to punish her for bringing dishonour to the family by eloping with her lover.

Across the globe, women abuse and gender-based violence is being highlighted to raise global awareness.

What are the root causes of violence against women? To understand this better, we need to analyse how men are raised.

In most households and communities, patriarchy plays a leading role in the manner in which young boys are raised.

Perhaps that is why the culture of rape is so prevalent in our society and communities. 

From a tender age, boys’ thoughts and behaviour are moulded to believe that women are the weaker sex.

About two years ago, I was robbed while sleeping in my hotel room in Accra, Ghana. 

The next morning I had five live national and international TV interviews pertaining to my work.

After such an ordeal, how did I gather the courage to do this? My response was that I was thankful it was not in South Africa. 

Had it been in my own country, I cannot imagine what might have happened. 

While talking to one of the interviewers about the incident, she informed me that men in Ghana were raised to respect women and firmly believe in the honour of women.

Therefore, rape and abuse of women in Ghana is low. All they were interested in, was the money and equipment and not in harming me.

It was small comfort but it gave me the courage to be brave and continue with my work despite the trauma.

So, what makes men in South Africa different?

In reflecting on the community and culture that I grew up in, I clearly remember that boys were raised to believe they were more important than the girls in the family in all respects, including education and allocation of family assets.

And the main influencers were the mothers and grandmothers, who were inculcated with this ethos for generations. 

So how do we change this cultural practice and ethos?

It is important to start gender sensitising boys from a young age - even before they go to school.

If every household starts treating the girls, be it mothers, daughters or sisters as equals, then slowly but surely we will see the much needed change in our society and women’s safety and well-being will become a priority for all. 

It begins with you, in your household, “Count yourself in”.

Make a meaningful difference to the way women are treated in your homes, communities, schools and society.

Take a stand against atrocities committed on women. Your voice and actions count.

* Karen Pillay is an Independent Development Practitioner in Women’s and Children’s Rights sector.