Voice of Government

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

By Communications Minister Faith Muthambi

During Women’s Month a light is shone on the various issues which confront women on a daily basis. What inevitably emerges is a mixed bag of the successes and challenges that still confront women. 

On the macro level the lives of many women have undergone a sea change since 1994, partly due to the bold steps our country has taken to institutionalise gender equality and women empowerment.

Today many of the rights and freedoms that the brave women of 1956 demanded are entrenched in our Constitution. Gender equality is a constitutional imperative in South Africa and far reaching legislation has been implemented to ensure protection for women.

Despite these successes South Africa is still plagued by gender violence which is a continued blight on our democracy and freedom. 

Women’s Month is generally characterised by campaigns from government, the media and civil society which seek to increase awareness about issues affecting women. 

During this period the media generally concentrate on violence against women and usually highlight a specific case, or cases. This often triggers a national outcry and a sharpened focus on the issue of women abuse and violence. 

However, once the month passes we tend to simply return to our lives and the plight of women is shelved until the 16 Days of Activism campaign starts in November. 

This is simply not good enough. The women of our nation; our mothers, wives, partners, children, sisters, aunts, family members or co-workers - deserve more. 

The sad truth of our nation is that away from the spotlight of Women’s Month there is an alternate reality where women are abused and violated in the most horrific ways.  It is easy to assume that these abuses occur in the dark underbelly of society and are far removed from our daily lives.  

However, the reality is very different.  Sometimes women are attacked by strangers, but most often they are hurt by those dearest to them, such as a husband, partner or somebody they know.  Violence and abuse against women is therefore not someone else’s problem. It is our common problem, and we must do more as a society to protect and nurture the women and children in our lives and communities.

There are those who would argue that legislation and enforcement is the solution, but the reality is that such interventions can only go so far. Government has been at the forefront of fighting the scourge of women abuse through various initiatives.  Chief among these is a series of legislation specifically aimed at protecting women and children.  The police and the existing courts are empowered under the Domestic Violence Act, Sexual Offences Act and Children’s Act to arrest, prosecute and convict perpetrators of violence against women and children.

Our courts have also sent a strong signal to would be perpetrators by handing out severe sentences to those found guilty of women abuse and violence. 

Has this been enough to stop the scourge?  Unfortunately the answer is no. 

Legislation, enforcement and tough sentences by themselves are ineffectual.  Women abuse is a societal issue and can therefore only be defeated if every South African agrees that enough is enough. 

The perpetrators and those who are complicit in allowing these vile acts to occur have no place in society, and communities must act to isolate and expose them.  We can no longer simply turn a blind eye and believe it is not our place to interfere.

It is simply not good enough for communities and neighbours to only raise their voices after a terrible tragedy has unfolded.  It is not uncommon to read in newspapers that many people knew of the abuse but simply kept quiet.  If we say nothing we are just as guilty; through our silence we condemn women to a daily cycle of abuse that often ends in death.

Government therefore calls on our communities to do more.  It starts with being able to recognise the patterns of violence and abuse which take many forms. It can include;  

  • Dating violence
  • Domestic and intimate partner violence
  • Emotional and psychological abuse
  • Human trafficking
  • Same-sex relationship violence
  • Sexual assault and abuse
  • Stalking
  • Violence against immigrant and refugee women
  • Violence against women at work
  • Violence against women with disabilities

The time has come for communities and women in general to speak out against this scourge because silence kills.  It is therefore up to all of us to stand up and say no more! 

Together we can establish and entrench a culture in which women are valued and respected. All South Africans must partner with government to create a safer and healthier space for our communities to thrive.  Change starts with you and me; collectively we can stop the unending cycle of abuse against our mothers and daughters.