Men, this battle needs you

Thursday, September 12, 2019

With the dust barely settled on the streets from last year’s 100 Men March, South Africa continues to grapple with alarming gender-based violence and femicide.

The latest crime statistics released on 12 September 2019 paint a grim picture: sexual offences are on the rise, having increased by 2 312 cases or 4.4% from the 2017/18 reporting period. While the number of women murdered in the 2018/19 financial year decreased, the number of children murdered increased. There were 2 771 women murdered in the period, down from 2 930 -- a decrease of 5.4%. However, there were 1 014 children murdered in the 2018/19 financial year, a 2.9% increase from the 985 murders the previous year.

Activist groups and government alike are upping the ante to stem the violence against women and children, which Parliament wants declared a national crisis. The dire situation is receiving urgent priority from the top, with the President having recently announced a suite of measures to nip the terror in its insidious bud.

With every day that passes, new cases of missing, raped and murdered women are brought to the fore, adding impetus to movements such as #AmINext? The nation is shaken to its core and rightfully so. Something has to give. The centre, as it is, will not hold.

The excruciating pain felt by families who have lost their loved ones under unspeakable circumstances has taken a firm grip of the national agenda. Everyone agrees that enough is enough.

The time has never been more ripe for men to take the lead in the fight against gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF).

“It is men who commit these atrocious crimes. It is men who rape and it is men who traffic women and young girls. We need the involvement of men from the religious sector, business, politics and traditional leaders as advocates or ambassadors of violence against women and children,” says the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) spokesperson, Javu Baloyi.

An experienced hand at the CGE, Baloyi has been part of many campaigns led by the commission. The CGE was among the organisations that partnered with Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) during the #100MenMarch last year. The CGE was among the stakeholders who drafted the resolutions at the Presidential Summit on Gender Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) held in Tshwane in October 2018.

The commission has been running outreach and legal clinics throughout the country, and has been working with various schools in an effort to raise awareness among learners.

Apart from regular radio programmes used to raise awareness, the commission also invites institutions of higher learning to come and account on their programmes aimed at addressing GBV on campus. Baloyi says the commission has also assisted many institutions in developing policies to stop GBV.

“These efforts have seen universities doing something to address the scourge of GBVF. It is a pity though that some universities have to be subpoenaed. The CGE also invited the top leadership to come and account on the shortages of rape kits and long delays in prosecuting GBVF cases. This happened in September 2018 and 30 May 2019.

“These efforts have also seen the CGE being invited to various platforms by the CGE to assist them or capacitate them in understanding the scourge better.  The CGE also works with House of Traditional leaders in an endeavour to make them understand better the scourge and how best to address this phenomenon,” Baloyi tells SAnews

What more can be done? 

The President has already made a commitment to request the Finance Minister to allocate additional funding to the campaign against gender-based violence.

After the release of this year’s crime stats, the Portfolio Committee on Police has urged SAPS to consider increasing visible policing in communities over weekends to curb the worryingly high murder rate. Crime stats reveal that South Africans are more likely to become victims of crime over weekends.

Baloyi agrees that more resources are needed, including a fully functioning National Council on GBVF.

“We need to move away from statements, condemning and rhetoric, and move to action. We need to ensure that our justice system is functioning optimally. There should be harsher sentences for perpetrators of GBVF,” says Baloyi; sentiments shared by President Ramaphosa. 

And you cannot demand change without first addressing the mind. Baloyi says this will only happen through targeted education.

“We need to educate men, particularly those in the taxi industry and SAPS [South African Police Service] customer care. Women must not suffer secondary victimisation - be it police stations, clinics or hospitals.”

Boys, says Baloyi, must also be brought in to break the vicious cycle for the upcoming generation.

“What’s also missing is that we are not doing enough to teach young boys about respect and how to be responsible citizens so that they do not become abusers themselves in future.”

Baloyi insists perpetrators must go through counselling in order for them to understand the gravity of their actions through self-introspection.

“They can seek assistance and counselling. Perpetrators must put themselves in the shoes of their victims and maybe, if the roles are reversed, they will somewhat understand the pain and hurt they are inflicting.

“It is not late to remove the patriarchal mentality and be a better version of themselves,” Baloyi says.

He invited men and women to join hands with the police.

“Let us work with the police, community policing forums, community workers and other structures available. It is society that can play a bigger role in ensuring that GBV is eradicated.”

Making the system work

Baloyi says government must live up to its promises and ensure that rape kits are available.

“We have a coordinating structure with a clear strategy in dealing with GBV. Government must deal decisively with those who do not serve in the best interest of the country.

“It must ensure that police stations, clinics and hospital staff get training on how to engage survivors of GBV. Those who subject survivors of GBV to secondary victimisation must be dealt with accordingly.”

President Ramaphosa has announced that laws on domestic violence and sexual offences will be reviewed to prioritise the needs and interests of survivors.

“We have established 92 dedicated Sexual Offences Courts since 2013, with a further 11 to be opened this financial year to improve conviction rates and provide comprehensive and appropriate support services to ensure survivors of sexual offences are not subject to further trauma,” the President said last week.

Moreover, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has recently announced that a committee has been set up to revisit cold cases relating to sexual offences and gender-based violence – a directive issued by the President.

Register of GBV offenders 

Some of the additional measures to be taken include an overhauling and modernising of the national register of gender-based violence offenders, provided for in the Sexual Offences Act, to ensure it is effective in combating gender-based violence.

“This National Register of Offenders will list all the men convicted of acts of violence against women and children. I will ask Parliament to consider amending the legislation to make the register public. I will propose to Cabinet that all crimes against women and children should attract harsher minimum sentences," the President said.

Emergency response teams will focus in particular on violence directed at women, children and other marginalised groups including the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning, intersex and asexual) Plus community and people with disabilities.

Survivors can contact the GBV Command Centre on its 24 hour toll-free number 0800 428 428 to report the abuse. 

They can also call SAPS toll-free Crime Stop number 08600 10111 to report all cases of rape, sexual assault or any form of violence. 

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