By Duduzile ‘Dudu’ Sokhela
Like Climate change and Global Warming, Gender-Based violence (GBV) is a pandemic that continues unabated. Each one of us is aware of the dangers these factors pose to human species. Women are beautiful, yet unique species. They epitomize extraordinary beautiful gems, created in the image of such gems. Women are the backbone of families and the backbone of society, without women, the world shall not be beautiful, families shall not multiply, therefore families shall not prosper. And yet, in the eyes of the abusers and perpetrators of gender-based violence, these women are seen as perfect targets for pervasive GBV. Those perpetrating violence against women, have a deep-seated hatred for women. Women across the globe have taken to the streets to protest against gender-based violence and gender discrimination.
The United Nations (UN) Women estimates that 243 million women and girls between the ages of 15-49 have been subjected to sexual and physical violence perpetrated by an intimate partner in the last 12 months. This number is likely to increase as countries are hit by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. GBV is regarded as one of the most excruciating forms of gender inequality across the world and continues to be one of the most pervasive human rights violations of modern times, by far. It is a narrative that disproportionally affects women since it has links to the unequal distribution of power between men and women.
In 2019, the inception of the COVID-19 breakout in Wuhan China has seen increasingly more women become victims of gender-based violence. While the globe has directed its attention and resources towards the epidemic, there is another pandemic that is rearing its ugly head; in which increasing attention has shifted towards the alarming abuse of women across the world. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres alludes to the fact that the violence women are facing “is not confined to the battlefield, but the threat looms largest where they should be safest.”, which is their very own home. There is no day that goes by without hearing about the excruciating and even brutal murder of a woman in the hands of those that they know better. It is a shame to think of statistics of women losing their lives because of gender-based violence.
South Africa, my beautiful country, with a wonderful Constitution in the World, is one of the country’s leading in gender-based violence and Gender discrimination. Genderbased violence has spiraled out of control. “The South African government, the Commission for Gender Equality, and non-profit organizations advocating for women’s human rights have and continue to take critical steps to see to it that policies and frameworks to combat all forms of gender-based violence and discrimination against women see the light of the day”. Perpetrators of gender-based violence have so far, shown no mercy, they have displayed their unfair treatment towards women. Since the lockdown (announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa due to Covid-19), in the first week of lockdown alone, SAPS recorded 2,300 GBV complaints (SAPS, 2020). Statistics revealed in August 2020 reveals that during the first week of the lockdown, 87 000 cases of GBV were reported across the country. This is alarming. Surely these cases have risen from that time. Therefore, it can be said that the high rates of gender-based violence are a huge concern for SA, and the feminist and gender movements. Statistics South Africa (2019) reveals shocking statistics of femicide which is 5 times higher than the global average. By implication, South African women are 5 times more likely to be killed as a result of gender-based violence committed by men. The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) received the highest number of complaints about gender equality violations in 2016 (SAHRC, 2013-2017, p.11).
South Africa has run out of ideas on how to curb the pandemic of gender-based violence and discrimination of women in society and at the workplace. Covid19 has exposed those in power by revealing their lack of tangible solutions to the gender-based violence pandemic. Combating GBV does not require rhetoric, it requires a political willingness from higher authority as The Duchess of Sussex Megan Markel asserts “Women make up more than half of the world’s population and potential, so it is neither just nor practical for their voices to go unheard at the highest levels of decision making” While these voices are heard loudly, often times are politicized and left unattended until the next incident occurs, and we hear rhetoric’s again. I likened gender-based violence to ’Ethnic Cleansing’ in modern era where women are murdered and beaten with impunity by those known to them. A type of cancer eating slowly and sometimes at a faster pace on human species when it identifies its target. It will continue unabated until there is nothing left on planet earth. Gender-based violence has reached boiling point if no drastic measures are taken by law-makers to combat it proactively.
I often wonder as to what exactly has gone wrong in the areas of life of those perpetuating gender-based violence. In the same vain, I contemplate as to whether the environment in which they were raised is not the contributing factor? I pondered on many possibilities, while at the same time, I think of how the coming generation can be raised in such a way that makes them cognisant of the rights of women to life like any other human being, and often have no exact answer. Under certain circumstances, I tend to conclude that the perpetrators of gender-based violence display troublesome emotions. Some, if not all of them, view women who are independent, educated, and go-getters as a threat to their existence, whether in a union, cohabitation, partnership, or a relationship. The perpetrators seem to be stuck in the system of patriarchy which is perpetuated continuously. Patriarchy is a problematic system, it is a catalyst for genderbased violence, misogyny is problematic corollary and yet those perpetuating it are working to sustain the system with no intention to dismantle it. All these systems are deeply entrenched and widely practiced as a system to contain and control the lives of women. As such, galvanized and accelerated efforts are required to dismantle these problematic systems.
Women are very clear on how to live their lives, they want the freedom to make decisions knowing that no one is waiting on the other side waiting to validate their decisions. To those not understanding of ‘us’ as women, find it in your hearts to believe that we are always armed with solutions rather than mere speeches made day in and out each time there is evidence of gender-based violence and discrimination against women.
It is an opportune time while the world and society continue to contemplate the devastating effects of COVID-19 and how women’s basic fundamental rights were disregarded and continue to be disregarded during the pandemic lockdown. Gender- Based Violence and Discrimination is one of the imperatives of our time and thus demands deep reflection of crisis that rampages our country.
Each time there are gender-based violence incidents, society makes rhetoric’s which contributes little to solving the problem until another incident happens. Leaders of the world have no solution to curb gender-based violence. Each time gender-based violence occurs society is told that ‘ it needs immediate attention’. Funds promised to fight the scourge do not yield positive results other than the funds being allocated to individual gender-based violence organizations fighting GBV and yet in certain instances, there is no improvement to curbing it.
As I conclude, I want to reiterate a call that women are failed by the same society expected to create an enabling environment to live in prosperity and freedom. Women do not need protection from anyone, they are capable of protecting themselves. Women need a free society, cognizance of their human rights, capable of developing policies and framework friendly to their livelihoods. Drastic action needs to be taken to begin the process of grooming the boy child right from Early Childhood Development (ECD), at his infancy, to value humanity and value the life of a woman. We have no time left, we are racing against time.
The tide is not turning yet. It is not UHURU until women are liberated from the shackles of those who are part of them and yet they inflict severe pain on them. Women activists and feminists in South Africa need to reflect as to whether they have done or are doing enough to put pressure on lawmakers to deliver on promises for the freedom of women in its entirety. Otherwise, they will be seen as colluding with perpetrators of violence. Feminism is not about anger. No one is free until all women are free of any kind of abuse inflicted on them. A free society is the one who sees the true liberation of women as an undisputable factor. A civilized society is seen through the eyes of respect for women.
The story is based on the narrative of gender-Based Violence in South Africa.