Mr President, November 25, the International Day of No Violence Against Women, marks the start of the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender-Based Violence (GBV).
At the GBV summit you called on November 1 and 2, South African women made it clear with messages painted on panties that they are done with such campaigns. As we build up to 25 years of democracy next year, they want the “bodily integrity” promised by our Constitution that you so skilfully helped to craft. After eight years of Jacob Zuma, the former president acquitted of rape but who scores an “F” for his conduct towards women, there’s a high expectation from the #TotalShutdown campaign and its allies that you can offer a new deal.
First, congratulations on becoming the first president in South Africa, in Southern Africa and possibly in the world, to call a national crisis summit on GBV. You have had a job summit, an investment summit and now a GBV summit. How will you connect these threads? Will ending GBV be counted as one of your legacies?
Here is some advice from the summit communications commission, of which I formed a part.
• Make ending GBV a political priority. Gender equality is a cornerstone of our Constitution. Gender violence is the single most telling indicator of gender inequality: “an affront to our shared humanity”, as you put it. Statistics South Africa reports that 138 per 100 000 women were raped last year, the highest rate in the world. The real rate is probably nine times higher.
• Connect the dots. As you rightly pointed out, ending gender violence requires that we “address societal issues of patriarchy, economic relations and changing the way of thinking about gender relations. Patriarchy means that men feel entitled to exert economic and other forms of power over women”. This is where your three priorities — investment, jobs and GBV — come together. Women need more than safety nets. They need economic means and agency.
• Change the narrative. Listen to the new generation of young women. On August 1, the #TotalShutdown campaign camped on the grounds of the Union Buildings, declaring they had nothing to celebrate in Women’s Month. Their 24 demands prompted the GBV summit. As Brenda Madumise, one of the leaders, put it, there’s a new type of civil society in South Africa. They are watching and are ready to march in black and red if no action is taken.
• Rebrand, learn from the HIV and Aids campaigns. Prevention, the end of the line in the government’s GBV response-support-prevention model, was quickly put at the top of the agenda in HIV strategies and got state support. Government prevention efforts on GBV pop up during the Sixteen Days, with messages such as “Act against abuse” and “Don’t look away” that ring rather hollow in the #MeToo, #TimesUp era. The demand to extend the 16 days to 365 days of radical action is louder than ever. Why not make one of your walks during the Sixteen Days a #TakeBacktheNight walk with women through, say, the streets of Hillbrow to make the point that the night belongs to all of us? And then walk the talk until all of us own the night and day.
• Put the lived experiences of women at the centre of the campaign. We noticed your pain as the survivors spoke out at the opening ceremony of the summit — a migrant woman, a survivor of trafficking, a woman who killed her abusive partner, and many more. These are the raw, lived experiences of women. Centre their voices in this new revolution.
• Free Martha. You have the power to give presidential pardons. Martha Libuseng Marumo, 57, gave one of the most riveting testimonials of the day, describing how she killed her abusive husband in 2003, after failing to get help from the police and the department of social development. As she is serving a life sentence, she will not be eligible for parole for another 10 years. You noted that femicide increased by 11% in South Africa in the past year and is among the highest rates in the world. It’s rare that women kill their husbands and, when they do, it’s usually after years of the system failing them. You can’t condone murder but you have the power of presidential pardon.
• Be consistent and persistent in your messaging. A recent Gender Links study shows that GBV is only mentioned in 4% of political speeches in South Africa, and rarely as a topic on its own. Make it a point that every minister mentions GBV in every speech — finance, transport, justice, social development — not just the rather feeble women’s ministry. If you and your Cabinet wore the red (HIV) and white (GBV) ribbon every day of the year in 2019, imagine the effect that could have.
#EndGBV, #CreateJobs, #Inclusive-Growth — @Cyril-Rampahosa’s #legacy?
#ThumaMina, we are at your service, sir.
Colleen Lowe Morna is chief executive of Gender Links