It's up to all of us
Imagine a world in which men did not hold patriarchal views against women; a world in which sexual harassment or male aggression was not normalised and women were not objectified; a world in which women could spend time in public places without looking over their shoulders; a world in which their rights and bodily integrity were not repeatedly violated by intimate partners.
This would be a world that proactively denounced, prevented and enforced action against the determinants of physical, mental and structural violence against women.
A world in which efforts to address violence against women did not only focus on services for survivors, but also sought to address its root causes.
South Africa seeks to be such a country, but recent events have shown how deeply entrenched gender-based discrimination that perpetuates violence really is.
On November 25, South Africa will once again mark 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children.
Yet women and children continue to be violated by people who are known to them or close to them.
More often than not, these cases do not find favour in our courts.
Sometimes they are dropped at the behest of perpetrators who have access to power and resources, while many such cases remain underreported due to stigma.
It is estimated that one out of six women in South Africa is regularly assaulted by her partner and, in at least 46% of the cases, the men involved also abuse the children living with the woman.
Recent reports of the sexual assault of up to 87 primary school children at a school in Soweto, as well as reports of a 13-year-old Pretoria pupil assaulted by a security guard and a bus driver, call on all citizens to stand up for safe spaces for women.
Such violence limits women and girls to a life of fear and prevents them from being productive members of society.
We must forge a united front with law enforcement authorities, government and all sectors of society to fight this appalling scourge and isolate these criminals in society – starting with ensuring that we root out such behaviour in every level of society.
During these 16 days of activism, we must commit to a clarion call of “Don’t look away!”
It is during this time that all sectors of society must work together to broaden the campaign, increase awareness of abuse and build support for survivors of abuse.
Through policy and practice, the state should send a strong message to political leaders, intimate partners and all men in the country that it is committed to ending violence against women and children.
What this means is that key interventions, such as effective legislation, accessible and affordable legal services, specialised facilities for survivors, and effective coordination of anti-gender-based violence efforts and community mobilisations are urgently required.
If we are committed to ending this scourge, resources and programmes must be put in place.
Legislation alone cannot be sufficient, but has to be balanced by changing attitudes through raising awareness and mobilisation at community level.
During the 16 days of activism, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation – in partnership with the Erasmus Community Works Programme (CWP) – will be hosting a gender-based awareness dialogue with stakeholders in the community.
Like most townships in the country, Erasmus in Gauteng is plagued by high levels of gender-based violence.
This pestilence can only be tackled through effective community involvement, and the dialogue is looking for sustainable community solutions to this community-based challenge.
We hope it will result in all pledging to work together in the fight against the ills that have afflicted the community
There is already a commitment by the CWP to “make our homes and communities safe places for women and children”.
The success of the dialogue rests on individual and collective actions to safeguard our society against the cycle of abuse.
Initiatives like this demonstrate the potential through which the CWP should be viewed as yet another vehicle that provides an opportunity at local level for communities to mobilise among themselves to put violence prevention measures in place and ensure safe spaces for everyone.
This community-based approach is in line with the findings of our recent research into gender-based violence, which was interrogated while violence against women continued in the country at unprecedented levels.
Legislation, effective policies and programmes and political will are not enough if communities are not rallied to the cause.
To this end, let this year’s 16 days of activism be driven by a community-based approach to change.
Xinwa is a researcher at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation