Let’s all unite against women abuse

The Star Early Edition - - LETTERS - Lau­ren Marx

DRIV­ING to work one morn­ing, I heard two news sto­ries that were both shock­ing but at the same time com­mon­place in the cur­rent South African dis­course. Deputy Min­is­ter of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, Mduduzi Manana, has ad­mit­ted, cour­tesy of a sound clip which went vi­ral, to as­sault­ing two women at a Jo­han­nes­burg night­club.

It ap­pears frag­ile mas­culin­ity is be­ing com­pen­sated for with vi­o­lence. The sec­ond story in the same news seg­ment was the ar­rest of four men who al­legedly as­saulted a man and his wife out­side a KFC in Pre­to­ria re­cently.

Statis­tics re­veal that, on av­er­age, one in five South African women older than 18 has ex­pe­ri­enced phys­i­cal vi­o­lence and, on av­er­age, a woman dies at the hands of an in­ti­mate part­ner ev­ery eight hours in South Africa.

For­tu­nately, both (re­cent) in­ci­dents were re­ported and are now be­ing in­ves­ti­gated.

In May, a preg­nant woman was gang-raped in Joburg’s in­ner-city where 11 men are said to have been in­volved. In the same month, an eightyear-old girl was raped at her Rand­burg pri­mary school by three boys, aged 12 to 14.

Lit­tle three-year-old Court­ney Pi­eters was raped twice be­fore she was killed and buried in a shal­low grave. Karabo Mokoena was mur­dered by her boyfriend, had pool acid and petrol poured over her and was burned beyond recog­ni­tion, her body be­ing found in the open veld. A 15-yearold girl re­ported miss­ing was found mur­dered and burnt in Klerks­dorp in the North West on Mother’s Day.

These are al­most daily head­lines in South Africa and the level of vi­o­lence against women and chil­dren ap­pears to be es­ca­lat­ing. A 2016 re­port in­di­cates there is no sin­gle rea­son or cause for gen­der-based vi­o­lence, but that in­equal­ity and the ac­cep­tance of vi­o­lence are two ex­tremely im­por­tant fac­tors as well as so­cial con­struc­tions of man­hood.

So­ci­ety at large has a mas­sive role to play in curb­ing the scourge of vi­o­lence against our women and chil­dren. Amanda Gouws, Pro­fes­sor of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence at Stel­len­bosch Uni­ver­sity, feels that the ac­tual word­ing in re­ports of these cases needs to be ad­dressed.

Ac­cord­ing to re­searcher and jour­nal­ist Nechama Brodie, less than 20% of all femi­cides an­nu­ally are cov­ered in the press, with acts of vi­o­lence against women among the most un­der­re­ported crimes in the world.

The afore­men­tioned cases trend in the me­dia with var­i­ous ac­com­pa­ny­ing hash­tags and en­gage­ments on gen­derbased vi­o­lence but, in re­al­ity, vi­o­lence against women and chil­dren doesn’t “trend”. It is om­nipresent, cuts across racial and so­cio-eco­nomic groups and shows no sign of abat­ing.

Au­gust rep­re­sents Women’s Month in South Africa, but what does this mean? On a gov­ern­ment level, ma­jor changes have been made to the sig­nif­i­cance of women in South African so­ci­ety – for ex­am­ple, fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Par­lia­ment has in­creased from 27% to 48%.

How­ever, women and chil­dren from all walks of life are be­ing bul­lied, abused, raped and mur­dered. A rev­o­lu­tion needs to take place in this coun­try where ap­a­thy against these abuses is shunned. Re­port­ing of abuse cases needs to be­come com­mon­place, with no fear of judge­ment, ret­ri­bu­tion or failed jus­tice for vic­tims.

Women and chil­dren need to know that this abuse can hap­pen to any­one at any given time. Young school­girls need to stand up and con­demn vi­o­lence against them in the strong­est terms. There is still far too big a gap be­tween abuse and rhetoric. The catch­phrase from the 1956 Women’s March to the Union Build­ings was Wathint’ Abafazi, Wathint’ Im­bokodo (you strike the women, you strike the rock). Although this was in con­text of the op­pres­sive apartheid laws, lessons can still be drawn from it.

These women were fear­less and brave, stand­ing to­gether to shape ide­olo­gies and fight for a cause they be­lieved in, de­spite in­tim­i­da­tion, ar­rests and ban­ning. Women should cease judg­ing them­selves by what oth­ers have done to them. Noth­ing but ret­i­cence stops women from com­ing to­gether and for­mi­da­bly fight­ing against this abuse. The time has come for women to be quiet no longer. No one is above the law and weak, frag­ile, male egos can­not con­tinue to be stroked by vi­o­lence, threats and in­tim­i­da­tion. Let this Women’s Month be the first wave of se­ri­ous, pos­i­tive change re­gard­ing gen­der-based vi­o­lence, not just a pub­lic hol­i­day. Women’s rights ac­tivist Eliz­a­beth Cady Stan­ton once said, “The best pro­tec­tion any woman can have is courage”.

This Women’s Month should be used by all in SA to ex­am­ine their role in this con­tin­u­ing abuse and find the courage to im­ple­ment change. Lives lit­er­ally de­pend on it. Se­nior re­searcher, Free­dom Park

A group of women and chil­dren from Khayelit­sha joined other ac­tivists in march­ing against gen­der-based vi­o­lence at the end of last year.

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