Women want state to take action, not offer them platitudes
IT’S THAT time of the year again – no, not for the jingle of cash tills nor the swoosh of credit cards, but the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children.
’ Tis the season when some women ministers and MECS – their male counterparts seem to vanish like Peter Pan – make Santa-like appearances bestowing a facility here and a tree there.
And this is the season for making statements such as, “those who commit atrocities and murders against children must rot in jail”, like Lulu Xingwana, the Minister for women, Children and People with Disabili- ties, who must fly business, not “lala class”, because of her health.
But the other 349 days of the year have not laid the foundation to ensure statements like these are the reality for those who need action from the state, rather than private doctors and lawyers.
The Social Development Department failed to ensure it did what was needed so that tens of thousands of foster kids continued to receive grants – until the courts intervened.
Access to dignified health care, be it after surviving rape or in the middle of child labour, is grim.
Maternal mortality has rocketed and HIV/AIDS prevalence among pregnant women reporting to state clinics increased, albeit marginally, to just more than 30 percent.
HIV/AIDS “is a disease spread by men and suffered by women”, was Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s apt take after releasing the monthlong 2010 prevalence survey, which also revealed that 120 pregnant girls aged 10 to 14 had turned to state clinics for help.
Courts are burdened with backlogs and delays such as the 48 postponements for one teenaged rape survivor in Moutse, Limpopo, or the five-year, ongoing trial of nine men for murdering Khayelitsha lesbian Zoliswa Nkonyana.
And while police hailed this year’s drop in crimes like cash-in- transit heists, it went largely unnoticed that murders of women were up 5.6 percent. Some 55 000 rapes, including of children, were recorded – just a slice of reality as only one in nine rapes are reported to the SAPS in the first place.
Across the board, the state has failed to ensure the rights of women to dignity, health care and safety are progressively realised, as the Constitutional Court put it in previous judgments.
Planting a tree in memory of the 10-year-old Masego Kgomo, who was butchered alive for muti, does not even begin to put a plaster on this festering national sore.
All of us who turn a blind eye; who stay silent when a man beats a woman, or ignore the screams coming from our neighbour’s home, are contributing.
Everyone who tells boys it’s okay to use force to get what they want – even if that’s just meant for the sports fields – and tells girls to be sweet and accepting, is contributing.
It’s been 10 years since the rape of nine-month-old Baby Tshepang hit the headlines. Has her foster grant continued? Can she get medical attention at state clinics? Are there books in her public school? Will she get financial support to go to university? Will she grow up to be a young woman who can insist on using condoms or say no?
There has been much research into why South Africa is so tough for women: the high levels of violence, patriarchy, the fundamentalist religious glorification of the man as the head of the household and using the shield of culture to protect today’s take on ukuthwala, the abduction and forced marriage of girls as young as 12 to significantly older men.
There’s alcoholism, poverty, the ongoing effect of the apartheid migrant labour system, women’s economic dependency (given the high unemployment rate), and men of power, including cabinet ministers, using it to stray off the “one boyfriend, one girlfriend” path.
Yet, every day, millions of women take care of their families – be it by selling amagwinya (vetkoek) on the sidewalks, hoeing veggie fields, on factory shopfloors and in boardrooms. Whether they go home to a supportive environment or to one where the threat of a beating or psychological abuse hangs over their heads, these are the women who do what it takes to make it.
And often they do it not just for their own families, but within their communities.
They do not need a minister or two in glam designer shoes and outfits to suddenly find a voice at special events over 16 days.
What we need is real action.