Guest Column

OPINION: State of emergency - taking the plight of women and children seriously

2019-09-03 15:07
Uyinene Mrwetyana. (File)

Uyinene Mrwetyana. (File)

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It is too often that the burden of responsibility is shifted to the victim and not the perpetrator and or policy makers. We have often heard them being asked, what were you wearing, why didn't you say something, why were you walking alone, writes Sifiso Skenjana.

The tragic death of Uyinene Mrwetyana at the hands of a Post Office male worker has left the country reeling in pain, disgust, defeat and a complete sense of vulnerability to the relentless and unforgiving flurry of murders, rapes, kidnappings and all forms of other abuse. Many women, girls and children, throughout the course of the search and final discovery of Uyinene relived their own horrid experiences, felt at the hands of men in South Africa.

Men have for centuries been an enemy of women and children. Abuse and marginalisation at the hands of men is and has been commonplace, through any society you choose to observe. And in a contemporary world they continue to wage war against the very people who become the backbones of families, companies and societies at large.

Dobash & Dobash (1979) and Anderson (1997) argued that men tended to commit violence against women as a means to exert dominance and control and that this was exacerbated by social orders relegating domestic violence to a "private problem of family". It has been long overdue that the government declare this war against women and children a state of emergency. What then does this mean in the choices that leadership makes as emergency response mechanisms?

Power dynamics, exertion and implications

Mathews, Jewkes & Abrahams (2014) in their paper performed in-depth interviews of 20 incarcerated men who had killed their partners (female) and found that they sought to exercise "exaggerated versions of predominant ideals of masculinity, emphasising an extreme control of and dominance over women". The central elements of their masculinity were in their ability to be financial providers (breadwinners). The exertion of that power is neither a natural state nor an ideal one, instead it is informed by the preservation of structures (societal and professional) that continue the marginalisation of women.

Power design is a structurally-informed reality for all those impacted by it. And by design this means we could imagine and enforce a very different power dynamic and power balance; if leadership could be bold enough.

A plethora of research finds that the economic realities of many women in South Africa are such that they are not paid at the right level for the work they do, exposing them to a form of economic dependence to their male counterparts. The first emergency measure therefore that the government ought to table, is a legislation which outlaws gender pay disparity by 2025. We as a country have been brilliant at using other countries as case studies for policy making, now couldn't not be a better time to look at the likes of Iceland, which became the first country globally to outlaw the existence of gender pay gaps.

Resource capacity building

We note the introduction of victim support rooms in police stations which are in spirit intended to provide a safe and well-resourced space for victims of gender-based violence (GBV). These rooms otr centres have broadly been reported to be under-staffed, staffed with underqualified trauma counsellors, as well as many having been found to be short of necessary equipment like rape kits, for the collection of evidence.

The second emergency measure, therefore, is: 1) a resource plan for police stations,2) funding for a trauma counselling offices at all higher learning institutions and 3) the introduction of Specialised GBV courts, just like we have specialised courts for family and child maintenance. The victim often goes through second and third rounds of trauma as a result of the length of time cases take to be finalised; this has also therefore been a barrier to the "speaking up" that is often asked and expected of victims.

A South Africa for all who live in it

It is too often that the burden of responsibility is shifted to the victim and not the perpetrator and or policy makers. We have often heard them being asked, what were you wearing, why didn’t you say something, why were you walking alone, etc. Kalmoe et al (2018) found causal evidence "that reducing crime news raises presidential approval and depresses problem importance evaluations for crime". This suggest that news courage and content scope plays an important role in democratic accountability of incumbents.

The third emergency measure, therefore, is the introduction of a dedicated crime channel. Not only will this increase the democratic accountability of our leadership, but it will ensure that more crimes are covered and reported on. We have seen how the public plays its role in aiding the resolution of crime incidents when there is sufficient coverage of the said crime.

Enshrined in the Freedom Charter was that South Africa would belong to all who live in it. The South Africa we know and experience only currently belongs to a few, while others live in constant fear walking to the shop, coming home, street hurls among a long list of abuse permutations biased towards them. It also holds true that the proposed emergency measures largely appear to be reactive. Much work still needs to be done on a long-term project of societal reform. The reform that would ensure we create an environment for responsible, accountable and abuse free communities - particularly towards women and children.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    human rights  |  gender violence
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