Sixteen days of activism against women and child abuse: usually the campaign gets the same reaction from men and women, but this year there's something new happening.
Why only 16 days, why not 365?
Indeed. But the campaign is not about abusers keeping their fists in their pockets and zippers up for sixteen days, it’s specific time laid aside to focus attention on the issue.
This year alone we have had to deal with a massive catch-up regarding HIV/Aids, a trashed public health system, a recession, the strike season (I guess this fifth season falls somewhere between summer and autumn), a largely successful Soccer World Cup, numerous tax-draining trials, the ongoing athletics scandal, disturbing cases like the Jules school sex scandal, service delivery protests – the list is pretty long. So, you can see how easily the abuse of women and children could get lost in the mix.
It’s easy to become cynical, but it’s critically important that we don’t. Because women and child abuse is not just something that happens to other people – it could be happening to your teenager, it could be happening to your toddler, or to your neighbour. Here are some ways to help you identify abuse, and if you do, call Childline, POWA (The People Opposed to Women Abuse ), or even Lifeline for advice and assistance.
In an action that may give the 16 Days Of Activism some real clout, and improve the lives of thousands of children, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille and Social Development MED Patricia De Lille are aiming to name and shame maintenance defaulters. Their government, together with the department of justice, will be publishing the names of defaulters over all of the 16 days so that defaulters can be located and they can appear in court.
I’m not an abuser, and nor are any of my friends – what does this have to do with me?
Unfortunately, here the statistics are against you. Sure, the people you consider close friends may not be abusers or the abused, but your circle is wider than you think. It includes that unmanageable child that your kid likes to play with, the little girl living next door, your colleague that takes a lot of time off, and perhaps even one of your employees.
You don’t have to become a nosy-parker, but you can become aware. And if you suspect something is up you can always just ask if everything is ok. If you are an employer, there’s nothing wrong with putting up a few posters, and the Lifeline and POWA numbers, on the company notice board.
I wouldn’t let a man abuse me – why doesn’t she just leave?
Many of the family murders that tear at our communities are the result of a woman leaving an abusive partner, or threatening to leave without having a strong support network. The truth is that support and protection can be very difficult to find.
It’s also important to remember that shame and stigma prevent abused women from speaking up; sadly they often encounter judgement and criticism from other women.
Financial limitations are also a very real factor. A mother will take another beating rather than see her children go hungry. If you encounter someone in an abusive relationship, try not to tell her how lucky you are to have a wonderful husband, or how you’d never put up with it – rather refer her to organisations such as POWA who will understand her situation, and help her to take the next step in safety.
(Joanne Hart, Health24, updated November 2010)