A plan for ending gender-based violence
OVER the last few weeks, our country has woken up to daily news of the gruesome killings of women and girls by men who are mostly known to them. And, quite correctly, our country has been united in condemning these killings.
Since the brutal death of Karabo Mokoena, the young woman who was allegedly murdered and burned by her partner, the media, including this publication, has dedicated commendable resources to ensuring this crisis is highlighted. For once, politicians and civil society have also been playing their role in isolating the perpetrators. Also welcome has been the role played by men, especially the youth of our country in the form of organisations such as #NotInMyName, who have distanced themselves from these horrendous acts of criminality.
Slowly but surely these cruel men among us are running out of space to hide. There are many reasons why our society’s men, who are supposed to be protectors of our women and girls, have turned into their own killers. For a start, it is true our country has a violent past. Colonialism and apartheid were violent ideologies which disproportionately affected women and children.
Violence against women and girls is rooted in gender-based discrimination and social norms and gender stereotypes that perpetuate it. Given the devastating effect violence has on women, efforts have mainly focused on responses and services for survivors.
Since the dawn of democracy in 1994, we have done a lot to address the legacy of apartheid and its violence. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was one of the most imaginative ways of dealing with our painful past. And the establishment of the Moral Regeneration Movement (MRM) was another step in reviving our moral fabric as a society.
However, the recent spate of killings of our mothers, our wives, our girlfriends and our girls shows that the impact of such interventions as the TRC and MRM is waning. We need to reinvigorate these efforts.
Law enforcement agencies can help, but their help normally comes after the fact. After all, research shows that much of the violence against women and girls is perpetrated by men who are known to the victims and behind closed doors.
Stiff sentences, such as life in imprisonment, can act as a deterrent to would-be offenders but, again, like arrests, jail terms are a blunt tool in dealing with this scourge.
My humble submission is that the best way to end violence against women and girls is to prevent it from happening in the first place. We can do this by addressing its root and structural causes.
First, prevention should entail a thorough and deep analysis and diagnosis of the root problem and the resultant solutions of the exercise.
Second, prevention should start early in life, by educating and working with boys in promoting respect for women and girls, as well as gender equality. Working with our youth is our best bet for faster, sustained progress on preventing and eradicating gender-based violence. For it is a critical time when values and norms around gender equality are forged.
Third, awareness-raising and community mobilisation, including through media and social media, is another important component of an effective prevention strategy.
And fourth, prevention should involve working with men’s organisations instead of demonising them. This will help accelerate progress in preventing and ending violence against women and children.
This weekend, in an initiative supported by our government and endorsed by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, we began the process of formulating a comprehensive plan. Under the auspices of the SA Men Movements United, around 500 men from all walks of life gathered in Boksburg, Ekurhuleni, to deliberate on a plan.
The purpose of the conference, which brought together government; political formations such as the AIC, UDM and Cope); churches; and other men’s organisations, sought to produce a plan to end incidents of violence against women and girls through prevention, advocacy, education, law, departmental synergies and working relationships, to create a safe environment for our women and girls.
Characterised by mutual respect and candour, the discussions were courageous, constructive and cordial. They interrogated all the factors that enabled men to turn against their loved ones. These factors included the role played by the legal framework, the economic and workplace environment, education, sports and culture and spirituality. Crucially, the delegates proposed bold measures on how each sector of society can assist in ending this crisis.
It is significant to point out that the conference shouldn’t be seen as a silver bullet. Nor should it be seen as a replacement of all the other initiatives that have been undertaken over the past few weeks since the resurgence of gender-based violence. Our modest goal for this weekend was to start a movement that will ensure our homes and public spaces are safe for our wives, mothers, girlfriends and girls. As heads of our families, we want to join hands in leading this critically important national effort. Working together, we believe victory is within reach.
Jail terms are a blunt instrument in dealing with this scourge
The author, currently senior director at GN Ministries and overseer at Men-In-Prayer, is chairman of SAMMOVU