Women want state to take ac­tion, not of­fer them plat­i­tudes

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES - MAR­I­ANNE MERTEN

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.

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