Guest Column

OPINION: We need same determination that beat apartheid to end GBV

2019-10-23 18:00
Johannesburg Student Council Alumni Network members staging solidarity protest at City Council offices.(Supplied)

Johannesburg Student Council Alumni Network members staging solidarity protest at City Council offices.(Supplied)

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Since the beginning of time, women have had to endure the burden of being seen as mere implements for men's desires – their inalienable right to self-determine their own bodies has been usurped.

Considering that women have given birth to over 7 billion people worldwide, our subservient societal position is woefully illogical and incomprehensible. Owing to the age-old encumbrances placed on the women's path, the world remains unfairly deprived of the full potential of women to date.

Scientifically, men walk around with their mothers' DNA and yet some harbour an erroneous belief that they are superior to women. These are flawed beliefs in the extreme. This murky outcome has not resulted from happenstance, but from various practices – ranging from cultural idiosyncrasies to mundane daily routines and conversations – that have been deployed to corrode women's humanity. Patriarchy and misogyny are unnatural and palpably irrational.

OPINION: Are we so desensitised that we think it's OK for girls to be brutalised for protesting against brutality

Phrases such as "man up" and "that's unbecoming of a lady" are but some of the casual but fatal routes to gender inequality and modern-day gender slavery. Churches, schools, political parties, corporates, unions, traditional authorities and society at large need to embark on an uncomfortable journey of introspection to appreciate their own contribution to this incendiary situation.

We all know these poisonous idiosyncrasies, but we generally opt for convenience as opposed to thought-provoking, uncomfortable conversations. The circumstances of our time, however, require us to shake the age-old certainties about gender disparity to their root if we hope to bequeath a thriving world to future generations. We need to probe the root causes of this scourge – it is the only way to unlocking the world's potential.

Unhealthy views live on

In an era of instant gratification and information immediacy, the material that we interface with and the opinions that we share, remain a reflection of our inner-most beliefs. While discourse platforms have become more sophisticated and social media has forced many among us to think more narrowly – usually in 165 characters – we are the culmination of previous generations. Much of our values, outlook and principles have roots that date back generations and are strongly influenced by our cultural beliefs. Some unhealthy views, initially forged thousands of years ago live on in us – the denigration of women has existed for millennia and the toxicity associated with this has shaken society to its very core.

Our "convenient" conversations are a huge part of the problem. Jargon-filled, politically-correct conversations that say little only reinforce our unhealthy obsession with the status-quo. The quality of our debates and conversations need to challenge the foundations of our deep-seated beliefs and prejudices. Our progress will only be powered by the robustness of our debates.

Relegating conversations about gender imparity to Women's Month has done us little favours. Politicians say what they think we want to hear, broadcasters increase their decibels based on the reaction of listeners, social media influencers are more concerned about trending, business leaders, who are worried about alienating customers often say what is required but not what is needed, and activists tend to deal in absolutes and extremes. I have followed the #MenAreTrash exchanges with keen interest as I sought to cancel out the "noise" and hone in on the epicentre of the crisis that is gender-based violence.

In my opinion, we need men to lead alongside women in the fight against the plague of women abuse. #MenAreTrash, among many such messages, can only create costly divisions between men and women. Such divisions are phoney as no dispassionate logic can ever bear them out. Would apartheid have collapsed without all races joining hands? Liberations elsewhere in the world were attained through inclusive participation by both the oppressed and the oppressor. Violence against women will eventually be conquered by common cause between women and men.

One of the defining characteristics of humanity is the ability to sense injustices against our fellow human beings and redress these – however horrific. Painstaking and arduous as it may be, history has proven that we eventually "course correct". The 1990s Rwandan crisis is a prime example of where our collective humanity intervened. Morality is one of our most powerful tools, and has often transformed history. When all seems lost, our moral compass, along with the power to tell uncomfortable truths, is the only route to surmounting the seemingly insurmountable.

ANALYSIS: Little is left of the feminist agenda that swept South Africa 25 years ago

Throughout history, sustainable solutions have involved all parties. The horrific genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda 25 years ago literally razed the country to the ground. Against the odds, and in a remarkably shorter period of time, the Tutsi and Hutu joined hands and broke the shackles of hatred to remerge as a beacon of hope for Africa, and indeed the world. The perpetrators and victims, hand-in-hand, are rewriting the future they desire.

The lessons that resulted from Rwanda, and indeed the birth of our own democracy in 1994, have to be deployed in our quest to end this scourge. Genuine common cause, coupled with the cultivation of a strong moral rectitude will, without a doubt, give us the results we so desperately need.

'Employment' and 'community safety' our Achilles heel

The Women, Peace and Security Index for 2019/20, an initiative by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the Peace Research Institute in Oslo (and illustrated by National Geographic), provides a sense of the plight of women in 167 countries globally considered through three key metrics – inclusion in society, sense of security and access to justice. Ranked a lowly 66, behind the likes of Bulgaria, Argentina and Kazakhstan and only marginally ahead of Paraguay and Qatar, the study is a reality check for South Africa. "Employment" and "community safety" prove to be our Achilles heel.

To compound matters, South Africa's latest crime statistics, released in September this year, suggest that the number of reported rapes rose almost 4% to roughly 41 600 in the year through March 2019 – the highest number in four years, according to Bloomberg. Almost 2 800 women were murdered during the same period. Worryingly, the South African Council of Educators recently confirmed that sexual abuse by teachers rose by a whopping 230% in the last five years.

It is beyond debate that a woman's position in society has degenerated to sub-human levels, otherwise rapes and murders would not be so prevalent – it is easier to rape and murder a woman. Women are assaulted wherever they may be – the sanctity of safe spaces has also been broken.

Men need to hold each other accountable. It is precisely this point that underlines why initiatives such as HeForShe – a United Nations Global Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality – are so important. There is a recognition that this is much more than a women's issue – it is a human rights issue. In the words of the United Nations, "the men of HeForShe are not on the side-lines. They are working with women and with each other to build businesses, raise families, and give back to their communities". Involving men in the dialogue, and not alienating them, is imperative.

- Punki Modise is CFO for Absa Retail and Business Bank. She writes in her personal capacity.

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:    gender-based violence  |  femicide


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