Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the executive director of UN Women, said this year’s Women’s Day and Women’s Month were “the most sombre”.
She was speaking at a high-level forum last week, held at the University of SA, in honour of Women’s Month.
The event was organised by UN Women and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in partnership with Amnesty International, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and other stakeholders
Mlambo-Ngcuka said she believed South Africa had a long road ahead when it came to addressing gender-based violence.
“It has not been very celebratory because we are reflecting. We are not saying we have not achieved; we actually recognise that what we still have to achieve is daunting, that there is a risk of over-celebrating mediocre progress and that sometimes the progress we have made is exaggerated.”
She said the scourge of gender-based violence contradicted South Africa’s Constitution, adding that the country could not speak of having made significant progress when children and old women experienced the current unacceptably high levels of violence.
“Perpetrators become repeat offenders and they do it because they can,” she said.
Mlambo-Ngcuka said the country needed to stop and think about the different ways it could move forward.
“When it comes to gender equality and violence against women, we now have reached a point for truth, reflection and transformation of society [to be discussed] just around the issues of gender inequality and violence against women ... almost like a Codesa,” she said, referring to the Convention for a Democratic SA, a series of negotiations which took place in the early 1990s to end apartheid.
Mlambo-Ngcuka said the #Total Shutdown march against gender-based violence, which took place on August 1, provided a platform for this to happen.
“This is everybody’s business. You cannot have more than half of the population living in pain and perpetual abuse, and life does not come to a standstill in a country. We actually need to convene in a manner that forces us to agree about the next steps.”
She also weighed in on recent reports of gender-based violence occurring at tertiary institutions saying universities had become danger zones for young women.
“These are the battles that we must win. Because universities are regulated spaces, there has to be someone responsible for making this stop. Who is that?
“We have to make sure that it is not the girls fighting for themselves; the institutions, the parents, the society – everyone has to be there to fight this fight.
“We must be able to respect one another and to collaborate in order to make sure that we realise the benefits of some of these critical aspects of our Constitution that have not yet been realised.”