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Editorial: We must treat GBV as a pandemic

Gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa is a pandemic that is destroying our homes, communities and our country. Women are being murdered in severely violent ways, every single day, by men. On Wednesday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa made another impassioned plea to men who murder and rape, and to the communities who protect them. This cannot continue.

But actions speak louder than words and all you have to do is look at the response to Covid-19 to see how seriously government takes violence against women. Days after the first Covid-19 case was detected, the country was put under a state of disaster. The army was deployed. Emergency budget shifts were made. Hundreds of people were arrested after police were able to track down who was smuggling cigarettes and alcohol.

It has been easier to get someone arrested for breaking lockdown regulations than to get the authorities to respond to calls from women who are being beaten to death. Even our communities would rather snitch

to the police about their neighbour selling alcohol than call the law-enforcement authorities when the same neighbour is killing a woman.

That is how little we regard women, the backbone of this country. Children are even more easily forgotten, because they have no one to speak up for them. Can you imagine a child, raped and thrown into bushes?

The perpetrators are not animals. They live among us and some of us know them and continue to protect their patriarchal positions that allow for gender-based violence to thrive in a society in which police would rather devote resources into chasing cigarette smugglers than tracking murderers and rapists.

Although the president reiterated that money would be pumped into the system to allow more courts to focus on gender-based violence; that thousands of evidence-collection kits have been distributed; and that officials have undergone sensitivity training, the situation on the ground is very different.

Legislative amendments that were prepared months ago about, among other things, minimum sentencing in cases of gender-based violence have still not been passed. When there is a pandemic, every moment is used to fight the virus or find means to do that. Violence against children is not viewed as a pandemic by the people we voted in as MPs, by the police officers who never have a vehicle to deliver a restraining order, or by men and women who still won’t call out their buddies catcalling, slut-shaming, beating and killing women.

If gender-based violence were treated as the pandemic it is, women would feel safer to sleep in their homes at night, go out for a walk, and leave abusive husbands without fearing they will be another statistic — murdered, raped and thrown in the bushes.

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