A peaceful revolution

2014-12-09 10:00

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16 Days of Activism gives us a platform to re-evaluate the status quo and do something to change it

From high-profile cases to those that never make the headlines, it is clear there is no cease-fire of the war in homes, neighbourhoods and workplaces. From pulpits and podiums, patriarchs attack the dignity of people who do not conform to militarised masculinity and submissive femininity.

Every day we hear of misogynistic attacks on babies, children, heterosexual and lesbian women and people who are gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex.

The campaign of 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children began on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25.

This global solidarity campaign was initiated in 1991. The year before, Nelson Mandela was released from prison and led the ANC in intense negotiations with the apartheid regime.

Those negotiations, with active civil society campaigns, ensured that the racist threats of civil war were successfully averted and South Africa developed a Constitution that committed to a nonsexist society in which women could enjoy the rights to bodily integrity and substantive gender equality.

This year’s global campaign theme is “From peace in the home to peace in the world: Let’s challenge militarism and end violence against women”.

Gender equality and relations are ultimately about power and the definition, use or abuse of that power in the home, society and the state.

Policymakers, legislators, trade unionists, civil society activists and human rights institutions have to interrogate the analytical frameworks and programmes of action that reflect and shape how we think and act.

We need to understand what social, economic and political policy choices undermine a woman’s power and devalues her life.

We need to interrogate the structural and systemic causes of a woman’s increasing vulnerability to gender-based violence and the institutionalised violence of poverty and inequality. What is preventing a woman from enjoying human rights?

The unpaid or poorly paid work of a woman helps corporations to make billion-dollar profits for a handful of very greedy owners, executives and shareholders, while a self-perpetuating arms industry provokes war across the planet.

The women’s role as subsistence farmers and small-scale farmers is recognised as the key to the right to food security, sovereignty and an end to hunger. Yet that work is not valued nor counted as a contribution to the economy and receives little or no support.

Instead, political leaders and policymakers prioritise laws such as the Traditional Courts Bill that undermines the rights of rural women.

Felicia Adams from Valhalla Park, Cape Town, does her bit to raise awareness. Picture: Carina Roux

Today, 95% of South Africa’s rural water is used by 1.2% of people who own agribusiness, mining and other industries, while more than 60% of South Africa’s children live in poverty.

The most recent report by Stats SA reveals that “only 30.8% of black African women are employed”. Most of the jobs in which women are employed are precarious jobs.

Thousands of “women’s jobs” in the formal economy have been destroyed by economic policy choices that are blind to human rights, especially substantive gender equality. In the “informal economy”, women receive little protection from the labour laws they had fought for.

In 1996, our government acceded to “decrease military expenditure and increase spending on women’s empowerment”.

Yet, later that year, our country entered into an arms deal with European corporations.

This deal was a corruption of South Africa’s policy priorities to address violence, poverty, inequality, HIV and Aids, by arms corporations, backed by their powerful governments.

Central to these priorities was the need to demilitarise our police and security forces after the war of apartheid against the citizens of our country and in neighbouring countries.

Democratic South Africa had to build a new culture of accountable and responsive government that respected the dignity of those the apartheid state had deliberately undermined.

Accountability of the state to people who are black, female and poor requires a fundamental shift of paradigm and practice from apartheid’s capitalist, patriarchal mind-set.

Elected leaders whose mandate is to protect and promote human rights must be held accountable to those who have been reduced to the poorest and most powerless as their land, water and other natural resources are taken from them. Leaders cannot collude or be corrupted by those who lay claim to the wealth of the world.

Civil society has demanded that the ministry of women “develop and implement a comprehensive and fully funded national strategic plan to prevent, combat and respond to gender-based violence”.

There are many expert research reports that address the policy and programme changes required in the criminal justice system, cooperative governance, social development, health, finance, human settlements, water and sanitation, labour, trade and industry, economic affairs, agriculture, small business development and many other departments in all spheres of government.

The many parliamentary hearings and consultations in civil society that have been held can inform an inclusive strategic plan.

This year’s campaign can be used to expose the connection between the violence against women and the institutionalised violence of economic and religious fundamentalism that perpetuate war, poverty and inequality.

This solidarity campaign ends on International Human Rights Day, which recognises women’s rights as human rights and human rights as women’s rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that human beings are entitled to the right to be “free from fear and free from want”. It also recognises that “everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this declaration can be fully realised”.

Nothing less than a peaceful revolution in ourselves and our world is needed to create that order.

Govender is deputy chairperson of the SA Human Rights Commission and a feminist activist

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