Five inspiring women, all leaders in the fight against gender-based violence (GBV), made their voices heard during a panel conversation held on Tuesday 13 August at The Vineyard Hotel in Newlands. The media event occurred on the first of three training-days that collectively formed the “Voices Against Violence” programme, an international training model to strategise with and support local leaders.The training programme was convened by the Avon Foundation for Women with support from Avon Justine and in partnership with Vital Voices Global Partnership, a global non-profit organisation (NPO).According to Christine Jaworsky, director of the Avon Foundation for Women based in New York, this was the fourth programme of its kind in South Africa initiated by the group. “It’s crucial that we open up the conversation about gender-based violence and open up partnerships and connection between the players that can make a tangible difference,” said Jaworsky.On the panel were Tina Thiart, a trustee of 1 000 Women Trust; Itumeleng Moloko, counselling service manager of People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA); Tarisai Mchuchu-MacMillan of the Mosaic Training Services and Healing Centre for Women; Bernadine Bachar, director of the Saartjie Baartman Centre; and author Ellen Pakkies, a survivor advocate against abuse. A question raised was why weren’t more women coming forward to report crimes against them. Most on the panel agreed that a big part of this was because women felt victimised by the criminal justice system. Moloko of POWA, however, felt it went deeper than that. “It all starts with socialisation. From an early age, men are taught that they have power over women. And if you believe that, you will use it. We need a change of mindset in this country.“We need to choose the people who are placed in influential positions more carefully. They must be people who see the struggles that woman face as something that needs to be addressed urgently,” she added.Bachar of Saartjie Baartman was of the same mind. She felt that society needed to scrutinise the way women and children were being treated by the justice system. For example, the choice of language used needed to be given careful thought. “We had a case in court where the advocate referred to women living at Saartjie Baartman as ‘inmates’ or that they were there because they had ‘a tiff with their husband’. Language like this undermines women,” she said.Another issue identified was how outdated South Africa’s Domestic Violence Act of 1998 was. Mchuchu-MacMillan of Mosaic said it was about time politicians amended it.“Protection orders are still being issued on paper. What should women do if they lose it, or if it is at home, often the very place where her abusive partner is waiting? If she arrives at a police station without it, she is told to fetch it before they can act,” she said.The predominant message that surfaced was that it would take a collective effort to stop the abuse.“We can’t do it without our male partners. Just being a good man is not enough. They have to call out other men when they see them perpetrating violence against women and children,” said Mchuchu-MacMillan.Bringing the message home was Pakkies, who shared her life story.“For many people, I will always just be the woman who killed her son (Adam). People don’t take the time to get to know each other, to get to know their children.“We must start being interested in those around us and try to see the good in them. Women especially should uplift each other rather than gossip behind each other’s backs,” Pakkies said. V Vital Voices Global Partnership works with women leaders in the areas of economic empowerment, women’s political participation, and human rights. The organisation is headquartered in Washington, DC.