Women's Month: A Stark Reminder Of How Far We Still Have To Go In Ensuring Women's Safety And Security In South Africa

Women's Month: A Stark Reminder Of How Far We Still Have To Go In Ensuring Women's Safety And Security In South Africa

This year, the commemoration of womxn's month brings about a bag of mixed feelings. Some strides have been made towards protecting and safeguarding womxn's rights, security and bodily integrity, however, the reality on the ground is proof that these safeguards are yet to become a practical reality for womxn in South Africa. Two shocking incidents targeting womxn and girls preluded this year's women's month. The rape of eight womxn between the ages of 19 and 35, in Krugersdorp on 29 July and the hacking to death of two schoolgirls in Ngwangwane village, KwaZulu-Natal on 1 August 2022.

The two abhorrent incidents are an affront to the protection of womxn and their bodies through GBV laws, policies and plans in place to combat violence against womxn in South Africa. The timing of these brutal attacks on womxn, just before the commemoration of womxn's month and during Africa's womxn's day is an affront to the women's month and the continent wide celebration of womxn. The bodies of womxn and girls have become a living and daily site of violence and human insecurity. We must ponder on this, as we commemorate womxn's month. Being a womxn has become a bodily security risk, whether in the home, on the streets or in the presence of other men. Womxn are not safe when alone and when in the presence of others. In some communities, womxn, young and old, know that from 6pm in the evening until morning, they cannot go out of their houses anymore.

There is no emergency too big to compel womxn in West Village in Krugersdorp and other communities where womxn live in fear, to venture outside in the night, out of fear of being raped or killed. In the face of South Africa's National Action Plan on Womxn Peace and Security, the National Strategic Plan on Gender Based Violence and Femicide and the 3 Gender Based Violence (GBV) laws passed by the President in January this year, we ought to be celebrating the strides made to date towards gender equality. We ought to be actively paying homage to the sacrifices made by womxn back in 1959 by progressively advancing their agenda when they fought against a system that sought to reduce womxn and put them at the mercy of men.

Legally speaking, and policy-wise, we have succeeded in protecting womxn's rights and ensuring their safety and security. Yet we are still far when it comes to socialising this protection of womxn, to the very structures in communities and family settings where this violence and brutalisation of womxn take place. Prevention of sexual violence against womxn and femicide as well as broader GBV is still lagging behind. The hard work of transforming attitudes, belief systems and norms that give men the right and power to do as they please on the bodies of womxn, is still outstanding.

This is the hard work that the criminal justice system cannot do. It is time for all of us to fold our sleeves and prepare to go back to the trenches – the communities where womxn and girls stay and engage in dialogues with family members, elderly womxn, community leaders and the men, to address patriarchy and other harmful beliefs and norms that pose a serious threat to the womxn's bodily integrity and security. The much-needed dialogues and conversations in families, social spheres, community gatherings, stokvels, funerals, wedding gatherings, social movements that will not keep silent about Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) in South Africa need to be reactivated.

The womxn's month in 2022 should be a clarion call for all of us. While more than 20,000 womxn marched to the Union Buildings in 1956, our generation needs to do a different kind of protest, one calling for transformation in our homes, communities, belief systems and norms. The work of transformation requires all hands on deck from government to the ordinary woman and man on the street, denouncing, abhorring, dissociating and actively becoming part of the solution in addressing SGBV and the security of womxn in South Africa.

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