16 Days of Activism: Paying lip service to abuse

Have we made progress as a society in terms of women's rights?  (Robben Island Mayibuye Archive)

Have we made progress as a society in terms of women's rights? (Robben Island Mayibuye Archive)

 I'm sitting in my home in Diepkloof with my girlfriends Rachel and Lebo and we're asking ourselves: Have we made progress on this issue as a society?

We are unanimous – no. Lebo, a former victim of violence, says she's grateful she was able to get out of what she calls a haunting situation.

"I remember those days clearly: one moment he was gentle and romantic and the next moment he would [throw] punches," she says.

Violent behaviour gradually developed as their relationship went on. "It went from a slap in the face to kicking and punches that would leave me bruised and blue," Lebo recalls.
She admits that she enjoyed the shoving and occasional slaps at first because she found it cute that he was the "jealous type".

Then Rachel, my other friend, points out the dangers of believing that if your man truly loves you, he will be jealous. It doesn't make it okay for him to slap you around.

Lebo and I nod in agreement. Lebo can't believe how silly she was and how fortunate she is to have finally gained the confidence to remove herself from that situation.

Such errors in judgment are regrettably common among girls and women in black society. Some are not as fortunate as Lebo: they get trapped in relationships that lead to a lifetime of hardship. Bad choices such as unplanned pregnancies and marrying abusive men have echoes that sometimes continue throughout their entire lives.

These issues tend to prevent women from getting an education, to the extent that black women represent the bulk of those suffering in poverty in South Africa today.

Rachel lambasts the government for failing to ensure that women are empowered to be more independent. Women are too often made the custodians of the problems that plague our society.

"They end up being trapped in violent homes because of monetary reasons. Women who are abused often ask themselves where will they go and what will happen to their children if they leave?" she says, angrily.

This kind of pattern threatens to create a vicious cycle that could be inherited by future generations.

The World Health Organisation says children who grow up in families in which there is intimate-partner violence may suffer a range of behavioural and emotional disturbances that can be linked to the perpetration or experience of violence later in life.

Lebo expresses her unhappiness with the department of women, children and people with disabilities, whose initiatives for women and children are scarce. But these government officials will crawl out of the woodwork when the 16 Days of Activism campaign starts.

Such initiatives are great in highlighting the violence and other abuse suffered by women and children, but real change remains a challenge.

Palesa Lebitse is a young South African journalist

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