16 days, and what do you get?

In an episode of the sitcom Modern Family the father is waiting as his young Colombian wife takes ages to get ready to go out, and he says:

"Growing up surrounded by death squads and drunken uncles, you'd think she'd have learned to move faster.."

It's a cynical joke, but at the start of the 16 Days of Activism 2011 campaign, the comment rings true for me. Like in rural Colombia, the safety of South Africa's women and children seems to rest in their own hands. 

It shouldn't be that way, and sure, we have a Ministry devoted to women, children and disabled people, but ideals and ministries don't appear to be having much effect on the welfare of vulnerable South Africans. And the blame can't really be laid at the Minister's feet at all. 

To convey how impossible the task of attending to the safety of women and children is in this country, for a moment imagine that the Minister has had to visit and comfort the family of a murdered grandmother, a raped mother, the area in which 4 children starved to death while walking to find a relative to feed them, and the family of a cancer patient who died after being raped in hospital.

She would have to criss-cross the entire country in the space of a week, leaving no time to do anything but commiserate. She wouldn't have been able to schedule time to personally express condolences to the family of the young Tswane mother who was shot in the chest by thugs, the 11 learners who alleged they were raped by their teacher or the 21-year-old who was raped by a policeman inside a victim support centre.

So, like the cynical dad in Modern Family, I'm becoming more and more convinced that the only answer to our protection lies with us. Women in South Africa need to organise - we need to form networks of support, whether in the city or in the rural areas. When falling victim to physical or sexual assault, women and children need to know who to call, what procedures to follow and (very important), not to go alone when they report the crime - if possible. 

In areas where the State cannot maintain proper victim support, medical care and law-abiding policing, we have to lobby for funding to go to NGO's that fulfil those roles. In both urban and rural areas, women need to become familiar with the 'safe house' concept because in most communities there is someone who is trustworthy, and even children must know who they are. Where possible, pay the grandmothers to look after the little ones instead of leaving them alone or with drunken uncles.

I don't have any idea on how to get around a scenario where four starving children are abandoned and they die of hunger as they walk and walk, trying to find a family member - I just don't know enough about the area in the North West where they lived to understand or explain why no-one was able or willing to give them a slice of bread or a few spoonfuls of porridge. Surely someone does? This area, like any other, falls under a municipality and it's my earnest wish that someone in authority was appalled enough to rush over there and start something useful immediately. 

The women and children of that region need to stand together to feed one another. And we all need to learn how to move very, very fast.

(Joanne Hart, Health24, November 2011)


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