New in­ten­sity in the fight against gen­der-based vi­o­lence

Public Sector Manager - - Contents - Writer: Dale Hes

South Africa steps up ini­tia­tives to curb gen­der­based vi­o­lence through the Na­tional Sum­mit against Gen­der-based Vi­o­lence and Femi­cide

At the be­gin­ning of Novem­ber, the fight against the cri­sis of gen­der-based vi­o­lence reached a new level of in­ten­sity. The Na­tional Sum­mit against Gen­der-based Vi­o­lence and Femi­cide saw more than 1 200 peo­ple, in­clud­ing gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, ac­tivists and sur­vivors of this type of vi­o­lence, meet­ing to dis­cuss ways to stop the scourge once and for all.

Sadly, gen­der-based vi­o­lence (GBV) re­mains deeply rooted in our so­ci­ety, af­fect­ing mil­lions of women and girls on a daily ba­sis. As ur­gency to ad­dress the is­sue in­creases, the Na­tional Sum­mit against Gen­der-based Vi­o­lence and Femi­cide was a crit­i­cally im­por­tant in­ter­ven­tion, rep­re­sent­ing a strong com­mit­ment to­wards end­ing the scourge.

GBV is an is­sue that has re­ceived in­creas­ing na­tional and in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion. De­spite this, South Africa still suf­fers lev­els of rape, abuse and femi­cide that are well above the global av­er­age. Ac­cord­ing to Statis­tics South Africa, the mur­der rate for women in­creased by 117 per­cent be­tween 2015 and 2016/17. Over the same pe­riod, re­ported sex­ual of­fences against women rose by 53 per­cent, from 31 655 to 70 813.

It is im­por­tant to note that GBV ex­tends fur­ther than this. It also in­cludes emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse, mean­ing that the prob­lem is much more wide­spread than phys­i­cal vi­o­lence alone.

The women of South Africa have steadily been strength­en­ing their re­solve, show­ing that they are un­will­ing to ac­cept this sit­u­a­tion any longer. On 1 Au­gust, more than

100 000 women, ac­tivists and gen­der non-con­form­ing peo­ple marched to gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions in all nine prov­inces, to protest

against GBV, un­der the ban­ner of #TheTo­talShut­down.

Other or­gan­i­sa­tions, such as Sonke Gen­der Jus­tice, Peo­ple Op­pos­ing Women Abuse and many oth­ers, have also been de­mand­ing swifter and more strin­gent ac­tion in clamp­ing down on GBV.

Gov­ern­ment re­sponded to the call by bring­ing for­ward the con­ven­ing of the sum­mit, which was based around 24 de­mands made in the mem­o­ran­dum handed over to Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa dur­ing the #TheTo­talShut­down march.

Har­row­ing sto­ries from sur­vivors

Open­ing the sum­mit, Min­is­ter of So­cial De­vel­op­ment Su­san Sha­bangu said GBV had reached un­bear­able lev­els in the coun­try.

“With all the good laws we have passed since 1994 – why are we still in this place to­day, in a coun­try where women con­tinue to be abused, with daily re­ports in the news­pa­pers of women raped and of psy­cho­log­i­cal, phys­i­cal and eco­nomic abuse? And, although we live in a demo­cratic space, we have to ask our­selves if women en­joy the same democ­racy,” she said.

The bru­tal­ity of GBV was vividly ex­posed at the start of the sum­mit, as sur­vivors shared their painful per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences of abuse.

Phindi Ncube, one of the sur­vivors, was raped by eight men and had to un­dergo five surg­eries on her stom­ach. She showed her scars to the at­ten­dees, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Ramaphosa.

“I was not born like this. This came as a re­sult of my at­tack­ers. I have to carry the scars,” said Ncube, call­ing for stiff sen­tences for abusers.“Our lives can't be paroled, Mr Pres­i­dent.The min­i­mum sen­tence for sex of­fend­ers must be at least 50 years,” she urged.

Re­spond­ing to the cri­sis

Pres­i­dent Ramaphosa took to the stage to re­assert gov­ern­ment's com­mit­ment to re­spond­ing to the cri­sis of GBV.

“Sur­vivors of sex­ual vi­o­lence and abuse – be it phys­i­cal, psy­cho­log­i­cal or eco­nomic – of­ten live with these scars for the rest of their lives. The phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects may re­cede, but they very rarely dis­ap­pear,” noted Pres­i­dent Ramaphosa.

“In Au­gust, I made a com­mit­ment that we shall con­vene this sum­mit to de­velop a na­tional plan of ac­tion against gen­der-based vi­o­lence. We are agreed that we need a multi-sec­toral ap­proach that re­sponds to the de­mands of the marchers and strength­ens the broader in­ter­ven­tions that ad­dress the causes and ef­fects of such vi­o­lence.”

The Pres­i­dent said the so­ci­etal is­sues of pa­tri­archy, eco­nomic re­la­tions and skewed gen­der re­la­tions all need to be ad­dressed in or­der to elim­i­nate the scourge.

“A so­ci­ety that does not sup­port no­tions of au­thor­ity and con­trol over women, and does not tol­er­ate vi­o­lence against women, is more likely to re­duce gen­der-based vi­o­lence.”

Pres­i­dent Ramaphosa added that gov­ern­ment is ac­cel­er­at­ing a num­ber of in­ter­ven­tions, rang­ing from ed­u­ca­tion at schools, to stricter law en­force­ment and a com­plete change of the ex­ist­ing so­cial sys­tem of pa­tri­archy.

“[Pre­vent­ing GBV] re­quires that we ad­dress so­ci­etal is­sues of pa­tri­archy, eco­nomic re­la­tions and chang­ing the way of think­ing about gen­der re­la­tions.”

Re­newed re­solve to end GBV

The most im­por­tant out­come of the sum­mit was a dec­la­ra­tion that reaf­firms gov­ern­ment's com­mit­ment to a “united, com­pre­hen­sive and ef­fec­tive re­sponse to GBV and femi­cide”.

Sev­eral im­por­tant com­mit­ments have been made by gov­ern­ment, based on strict time­lines for im­ple­men­ta­tion.

It was agreed that an in­terim coun­cil, com­pris­ing var­i­ous stake­hold­ers, will be es­tab­lished within six months af­ter the sum­mit, to specif­i­cally fo­cus on GBV is­sues. The coun­cil will com­prise at least 51 per­cent civil so­ci­ety mem­bers.

A Na­tional Strate­gic Plan on GBV and femi­cide will be de­vel­oped, along with a so­cial be­haviour­change pro­gramme that ad­dresses skewed gen­der re­la­tions in the home and so­ci­ety as a whole.

Recog­nis­ing the im­por­tance of ad­e­quate fa­cil­i­ties for vic­tims, the dec­la­ra­tion com­mit­ted to bet­ter re­sourc­ing of Thuthuzela Care Cen­tres, shel­ters and sex­ual of­fences courts.

Other in­ter­ven­tions in­clude strength­en­ing ed­u­ca­tion on GBV, fast-track­ing leg­is­la­tion, im­ple­ment­ing rec­om­men­da­tions made in var­i­ous stud­ies and de­vel­op­ing new eth­i­cal guide­lines for the me­dia re­port­ing on GBV.

Pres­i­dent Ramaphosa de­scribed the dec­la­ra­tion as a key mile­stone in the fight against GBV.

“We are look­ing to this sum­mit to pro­vide clear di­rec­tion on a com­pre­hen­sive na­tional re­sponse to gen­der-based vi­o­lence. I am con­vinced that by work­ing to­gether, by con­fronting dif­fi­cult is­sues and by mo­bil­is­ing all South Africans, we shall cre­ate a so­ci­ety where women and chil­dren feel safe and are safe at all times and in all places,” he said.

Key role-play­ers in fight­ing for change, civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions such as #TheTo­talShut­down were en­cour­aged by the out­comes of the sum­mit, but called for words to be con­verted into ac­tion.

“Although the sum­mit was an im­por­tant ac­com­plish­ment, it marks only a first, al­beit im­por­tant, step in the di­a­logue be­tween gov­ern­ment and civil so­ci­ety on GBV. How­ever, the oc­cur­rence of GBV-re­lated in­ci­dents is at a na­tional cri­sis, and it re­quires more than just di­a­logue but de­ci­sive and im­me­di­ate ac­tion to pro­tect womxn [see def­i­ni­tion in side­bar] and chil­dren,” said Les­ley Ncube, Na­tional Spokesper­son for #TheTo­talShut­down.

Sonke Gen­der Jus­tice Le­gal Man­ager Kayan Le­ung said that the sum­mit had yielded a num­ber of vic­to­ries, most im­por­tant of which was the com­mit­ment to de­velop a fully funded Na­tional Strate­gic Plan.

“We are pleased and cau­tiously op­ti­mistic that much of the lan­guage and ad­vo­cacy asks that Sonke and civil so­ci­ety part­ners have been ad­vo­cat­ing for over nu­mer­ous years are in­cluded in the dec­la­ra­tion is­sued by the Pres­i­dency.”

Le­ung added that civil so­ci­ety would be a cru­cial im­ple­ment­ing agent.

“While we must cel­e­brate these vic­to­ries, it is equally im­por­tant as a civil so­ci­ety col­lec­tive to take the work for­ward to en­sure that com­mit­ments be­come tan­gi­ble for ev­ery­one. It is im­por­tant for the con­tent of the dec­la­ra­tion to be shared with all com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing in ru­ral ar­eas. On­go­ing work on pre­ven­tion must con­tinue,” said Le­ung.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, ac­tivists and sur­vivors of gen­der-based vi­o­lence were among the del­e­gates who par­tic­i­pated inthe Na­tional Sum­mit against Gen­der-based Vi­o­lence and Femi­cide.

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