What we've learned from the Gender-based Violence and Femicide Summit

Grizelda Grootboom speaks onstage during the Coalition Against Trafficking In Women's 2017 Gala, Game Change: A Night of Celebration at Tribeca Rooftop on October 3, 2017 in New York City.
Grizelda Grootboom speaks onstage during the Coalition Against Trafficking In Women's 2017 Gala, Game Change: A Night of Celebration at Tribeca Rooftop on October 3, 2017 in New York City.

The Presidential Summit against Gender-based Violence and Femicide concluded with many promises and more concerns.

While many women reiterated the need to have the government institute action against gender-based violence and femicide, government representatives maintained that it is also the responsibility of various sectors of societies and ordinary South Africans to solve these issues.

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This summit, a result of #TheTotalShutdown demand following the national march in August, was attended by 1 200 stakeholders who committed to a document of declarations.

The stakeholders attending the summit have committed to the following declarations:

  • Adequate resourcing of Thuthuzela Care Centres, sexual offences courts and shelters that respond to the needs of all people including people with disabilities and LGBTQIA+;
  • A National Strategic Plan on gender-based violence and femicide is developed within the next six months;
  • Ensure that all laws and policies, programmes and interventions are adequately planned, costed and resourced in line within a gender-responsive planning, budgeting and monitoring evaluation framework across government;
  • Promote woman-centred economic development;
  • A targeted, social behaviour change programme to address patriarchal values and norms and structural drivers of gender-based violence is developed and implemented;
    Consider creating a regulatory framework for religious institutions to curb sexual abuses and crimes under the guises of religion and;
  • Revisit and fast track all outstanding laws and bills that relate to GBV and femicide, including the decriminalization of sex work.

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Those attending the summit heard harrowing stories from survivors who have experienced gender-based violence. One account was from author Grizelda Grootboom who was sex trafficked by her best friend. She said all state systems failed to assist her and even churches and some members of Parliament were complicit in crimes against her.

Another account was from Martha Marumo. Martha is serving life imprisonment at Kgosi Mampuru prison for killing her abusive husband who she said assaulted her even when she was pregnant. Martha spoke at the summit and was met with encouragement from the audience. She said state systems failed to assist her as well. Martha was escorted back to the prison after her appearance.

Some activists said that the justice system discriminates against women and the activists at the summit started a call for the release of Martha, suggesting a presidential pardon from President Cyril Ramaphosa.

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In his address on the first day of the summit, the president said: "Stats SA reports that 138 per 100 000 women were raped last year, the highest rate in the world. We cannot, and we will not, rest until we have brought those figures down to zero ... We want to reach a point where no woman, child or man has to experience the violence, violation and trauma of rape."

During his address, activists in the audience held up soiled underwear and products of various sizes, ranging from diapers to adult sized panties. Some of the writing on the underwear raised during the demonstration read: "Don't rape, #MyBodyNotYourCrimeScene", "Where am I safe?", "Stop rape" and "Don't kill my mom".

The two-day summit was also with some criticism, not only at the event but on social media as well.

Referring to the interim structure (a steering committee and allocated funds) to be established for gender-based violence survivors, Social Development Minister Susan Shabangu said, "it's not government also which has to make sure the process is implemented or the outcome and the declaration is going to be implemented. It's about everybody who participated, ensuring that the structure is going to happen and as government we are committed."

READ MORE: "You burned my food" - and more horrifying reasons men give their partners to justify domestic violence

She said the government committed to provide resources to ensure that the goal of the interim structure is realised.

While there are some concerns of how effectively gender-based violence will be addressed, we are hopeful that women will have better experiences in how their cases are handled in South Africa – and there is no denying that the summit was a historical event.

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