16 Days of Activism against GBV: Renewed energy needed to fight long-standing scourge
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By Nonhlanhla Makhuba
As South Africa braces itself for the fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, a lot is being done to limit the rapid spread of infections.
The government is taking commendable steps to push the uptake of vaccines and encouraging preventative habits like mask-wearing and sanitisation.
There are considerations being given to the idea of mandatory vaccines to add into our protective arsenal against the devastating pandemic.
Nevertheless, my contention is that the same energy is lacking in our nation’s long-standing fight against the second pandemic of gender-based violence (GBV).
The onset of the fourth wave in our country coincides with the annual 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children Campaign.
The significance of the campaign must not be underestimated as it places domestic and international attention on the scourge of gender-based violence. The point of it is not lost to South Africa, as we have the highest rates of femicide, alongside other violent crimes committed against women and girls.It was around this time last year when President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a period of national mourning, from November 25 to 29, in honour of those who had lost their lives due to Covid-19 and femicide.
A year later, we find ourselves in the same position where the police are failing to quell the rising tide of femicide and sexual violence cases.
According to the latest SAPS’s figures, 9 566 cases of rape were reported between July and September this year.
This is an additional 600 rape cases reported compared to the same time last year.
What is also concerning to note is that, for the first time in three years, Gauteng (Temba police station) has replaced KwaZulu-Natal (Inanda police station) as the area with the highest number of reported rape cases.
The IFP believes that the failures by the SAPS to protect South Africans, especially women and children, against violent crime constitutes a national crisis on its own.
This crisis not only aggravates the intensity and frequency of violence in our society but also creates a sense of impunity among the perpetrators.
The concern of the IFP Women’s Brigade is that, despite the existence of consistent awareness GBV campaigns, the scourge continues.Moreover, the spaces where the violence takes place are also increasing.
The family home, schools, church, public facilities, and even online social media platforms have all become likely sites where various manifestations of gender-based violence can be meted out.
Therefore, it is not far-fetch to conclude that ours has become a female unfriendly and unsafe society.Gender-based violence cannot, and should never, be regarded as an inevitable part of our social existence.
Just like the Covid-19 pandemic, GBV can and must be prevented if there is sufficient social and State-led commitment to change it. And that is what is lacking in our efforts against GBV. Our Constitution affords each of us equal rights and dignity, and these rights must always be protected.
That means all of us, the State, civil society, and ordinary citizens alike, have a responsibility to change the harmful social norms and behaviours which make it acceptable for men to think they can abuse the rights and dignity of women and get away with it scot-free.
However, for the longest time, the responsibility has been disproportionately shouldered by women who also happen to be the victims of GBV.
The relentless escalation of violence against women makes a compelling case for why all men need to be part of the anti-GBV struggle. Men, too, must shoulder equal responsibility within our families, our schools, churches, places of work, and public institutions to normalise accountability for their actions when it comes to the treatment of women and girls.
With that said, the government should also enforce accountability in its own institutions where there are inefficient delays in the apprehension of perpetrators and which denies proper justice for victims and survivors of GBV.
In addition to words of support, financial support needs to be directed towards creating more survivor centred services across policing, justice, health, and social sectors and funding for the women’s rights organisations.
The private sector can also help to challenge the patriarchal social norms and constructs of masculinity and femininity in its marketing campaigns, thereby changing harmful stereotypes that contribute to GBV.
These are simple ideas that we can all put into practice to prevent the spread of the gender-based violence pandemic.
None of it is impossible.
We simply must be as committed as we are in the fight against the Covid pandemic.
* Nonhlanhla Makhuba is the IFP deputy national chairperson of the Women’s Brigade and former MMC for transport in the City of Johannesburg.