Women activists believe that Women’s Month will remain meaningless in South Africa as long as it is marked by speeches against femicide and gender-based violence without any real accompanying action.
South Africa has high rates of reported femicide and sexual assault. In the most recent release of crime statistics before Parliament, the SA Police Service revealed that, during the reporting period from April last year to March this year, there were 53 293 reported sexual offences including rape, sexual assault and attempted sexual assault, as well as contact sexual assault.
According to Police Minister Bheki Cele, in that period, a total of 18 231 reported rapes took place at the residence of the victim or that of the perpetrator, with a further 7 940 taking place in public places.
Fortunate Ngobeni (30) from Tembisa, a sexual and emotional abuse survivor, said the trend of mainly talking about gender-based violence in August every year was not enough because the issues were forgotten as soon as the month passed.
“The focus is only in August. After that, no one follows up on what is said. No one ever follows up to see if there really is transformation or a solution, and that is the reason we are always singing the same song.
“Leaving your abuser can be difficult, but as women we need to teach each other to not protect our abusers; we need to understand that if you are abused, no family meeting will stop your partner from beating you up. Women must understand that it is okay to leave 20 years of marriage alive, rather than in a coffin,” Ngobeni said.
Lerato Dlamini (28), who survived physical abuse at the hands of her partner, said femicide and gender-based violence were the order of the day in townships.
“Our mates die on a daily basis at the hands of men. Many are raped and warned to keep quiet as they continue to die from within. It is such a shame that all that government can do is just say that it is concerned, but does nothing about it. Our rapists and abusers roam the streets within five years [of conviction] and when they return, they continue to abuse us without remorse. We want action,” demanded Dlamini.
Snikeziwe Ndaba, who runs a home support group for abused women in Orlando, Soweto, says Women’s Month means nothing to the women she helps because they are abused every day of the year.
“Women are fighting a war with men who are meant to help them and protect them. They are poor, and when they try to get out of poverty, they are told it’s either they sleep with the person hiring them or they don’t get a job.
“If it is not that at work, they face inequality simply because they are women. Then, when they get home, they get beaten up and raped because they are women.
“We are tired of hearing concerns; we want action. The solution comes from helping the men we have in society because the rot is in the men. Government needs to provide men in townships with jobs, so that at least the frustration is lessened.
“This lockdown has made a mess of things and that means we will continue to suffer. [President Cyril Ramaphosa] had promised billions to fight gender-based violence, but no one knows where the R1.6 billion disappeared to,” said Ndaba.
ANC regional task team member Aluwani Chokoe said that government needed to give harsher sentences to offenders.
“Twitter outrage is not enough; it must be known that we want harsher sentences for those who kill women and children. In cases of rape, we want the perpetrator to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the rape did not happen. We want safer communities for women.”
Mbuyiselo Botha, a gender violence expert and member of the Commission for Gender Equality, said the solution was awareness that taught women about their self-worth.
“There are many women who still feel that the police have no clue about what domestic violence is, what sexual violence is and what the Sexual Offences Act is,” Botha said.
Last week, Ramaphosa pleaded with men to help prevent gender-based violence. In his Women’s Day address, the president acknowledged the inequalities that women still face.
“South Africa is in the grip of two pandemics – the Covid-19 coronavirus and the scourge of gender-based violence and femicide. It cannot be that this Women’s Day is drenched in the tears of families who have lost their sisters, daughters and mothers to violence perpetrated by men. This cannot continue,” he said.
Is government paying lip service with its utterances about gender-based violence? What real interventions do you recommend?
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