August 09, South Africa’s national women’s day commemorates the day when women participated in a national march to petition against pass laws in 1956. Legislation laws by then required African persons to carry a document on them to prove that were allowed to enter a white area. Such oppressive laws were considered barbaric, and therefore had to be advocated against. However, decades after winning victory against pass laws, women in South Africa are now experiencing a new wave of struggle.
For the past few months South Africa and the rest of the world has been brought to a halt by the deadly pandemic, and this has greatly highlighted the struggle experienced by women. Although Covid-19 has resulted in the loss of loved ones, jobs, depression etc one of its most threatening challenge has been the increase of gender based violence since the lockdown started. The World Health Organization and various research claim that Covid-19 has virtually been intertwined with the increase of gender based violence cases.
According to the United Nations gender based violence is any physical, sexual, verbal, psychological and mental harm or suffering towards any human being including threats of such acts, coercion and arbitrary deprivation of liberty occurring in either public or private life. It occurs between families, household members, wives and husbands, boyfriends and girlfriends or parents and children. The abusers can be men or women but the people often abused are children and women.
Contributing factors of gender based violence include women’s incapability to be economically independent, early arranged marriages, infidelity in marriages, lack of capital, assets and resources vital for personal development. However, despite women’s inadequacy this violence has its roots in the gendered inequities that favour men over women. Such complexity of power relations usually manifest as femicide.
According to Statistics South Africa (SSA) femicide is the intentional murdering of girls and women based on their gender, with intimate femicide being the most common in South Africa. The World Health Organization ranked South Africa number 4 on the list of worst murder rates of women by country, estimating that 12,1 in every 100 000 women are victims of femicide meaning a woman is murdered every 3 hours.
Time and again horrific deaths of women have flooded news rooms, often arousing waves of outrage and resulting in social media outcry hashtags over these gruesome murders. These murders are mostly influenced by the social construction of manhood especially the masculine identity of men. Combined with their obsession of power most men feel entitled to own and subject their partners as properties, hence ordering them around or killing them however and whenever it pleases them.
A few weeks ago I remember how terrified my family was after I left the house unannounced to go to a nearby supermarket, this is how bad femicide is in South Africa. One can simply leave home for work, shopping or errands to never return especially women and children. Returning home alive is such a great blessing that often times goes unappreciated. South Africa like most African countries got its freedom in 1994 but how free are her women when their freedom of movement is limited? Being outdoors especially after 6pm is not safe. For how long will women lock themselves in their homes for safety? How did we get to a point were brothers, uncles, fathers and boyfriends rape, torture, shoot, burn and kill their sisters, nieces, daughters, wives and girlfriends? Are men not supposed to protect women?
Therefore it is of great significance that gender based violence in all its forms be condemned as it continues to be a threat to personal and national development at large. Sustainable Development Goals and the SADC Gender Protocol have taken huge steps in eliminating gender based violence to halve by 2030. To achieve communities free of gender based violence women need to be educated of their deserving human rights whilst men are to be taught not to infringe or abuse these rights.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her book titled “A Feminist Manifesto” states that to deal away with cultural norms that oppress women like gender based violence everyone should become a feminist. In its political ideology feminism is the belief in social, political and economic equality of sexes. In simple terminology it is the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. As communities we have to desist from the notion that being a powerful or career woman is aberration. It is important for women to be economically independent as this will give them power to decision making and walking away from abusive relationships.
According to Gender Links 2017 baseline research 11 out of 15 SADC countries including Zimbabwe and South Africa have put in place domestic violence legislations. All the other countries offer form of services to survivors of gender based violence including Post Exposure Prophylaxis treatment.
Citizens and organizations that advocate for the end of gender based violence often times ask if the government is doing enough to ensure that women are safe. It is therefore of paramount importance that government leaders ensure that justice prevail in order to curb the scourge of violence. Court rulings must ensure that perpetrators are brought to book through competent jurisdiction. In addition media coverage should also expand when reporting gender based violence and communities at grassroots level must come together and put an end to gender based violence.
Women should speak out and shun ideologies and norms that encourage them to suffer in silence. Attitudes fueling gender based violence should be regarded as taboo. Society should stop supporting highly esteemed personals such as celebrities, artists and socialites as it supposedly deems them perfect to perpetuate evil deeds and doubt their victims. This will not only result in justice prevailing but will encourage men to take full responsibility of their actions. It is every citizen’s right to advocate against gender based violence.
On this women’s day I am rising as an African woman and demanding safe streets and cities on behalf of all the women in South Africa and around the world. I claim freedom over their bodies, their bodies; their choices. NO means NO. Our bodies are not men’s crime scenes. African women are very resilient and contribute a lot towards the growth of national economies hence we need them alive at all costs. Together we can put a stop to Gender Based Violence. Happy women’s day.
Melody Kandare is a human rights activist, interested in human and social development as well as international relations. She writes in her personal capacity. This article is part of her word press blog @Multifaceted Diamond.