On July 31, a day before the beginning of Women’s Month in South Africa, the department of police released its annual crime statistics for the year ended 31 March 2020. The figures tell a dire story of unsafety for women and children in South Africa.
The statistics reveal that all forms of gender-based violence (GBV) have increased, based solely on cases that are reported to the police. According to the figures, on average, 58 people are murdered in South Africa every day, and more than 146 sexual offences are committed every day. The incidences of these cases have continued to rise over the past decade.
We seem to move on after every traumatic GBV story makes headlines, and forget about continuing to transform our society.
What has been done to prevent these cases? There is much focus on punishment and the effects of gender-based violence, but few preventative measures have been put in place. As I noted in Stellenbosch News, we live in a patriarchal society where structures and institutions are often complicit in the toxic mindset of entitlement over women’s bodies. This results in even members of the justice system downplaying the seriousness of GBV.
The importance of tackling toxic masculinity and violence from a grassroots level is often overlooked. In multiple memorandums to government officials, activists have called for Life Orientation to become a subject where sex education, gender identity and positive gender expressions are taught. Although the department of basic education has wanted to transform the syllabus, it has come under severe criticism from conservative communities.
A comprehensive approach needs to be taken to prevent GBV. A complete overthrow of a deeply oppressive system is ideal, but unlikely. South Africa has the most progressive Constitution in the world; we must use it and support existing legislation as best we can.
Women, children and the LGBTQ+ community are not safe in most spaces. The Gender Summit of 2018 has set goals that have not yet come to fruition. Promises made by the President outside Parliament in September 2019 have yet to be honoured.
A core value of our constitutional dispensation is accountability, but it’s often lacking in leaders in government, institutions and work environments. Civil society’s role, to participate actively in holding leadership bodies accountable, is exceptionally important, especially with regards to protecting our constitutional values and rights.
In spite of this, GBV should not be the be-all-and-end-all of Women’s Month. We need to celebrate women’s excellence, while advocating for the empowerment of women and for gender equality. Women’s month should be a time to showcase women’s successes and the achievements made by women throughout the years. This does not mean that GBV should be ignored; instead, we must note that GBV is a formidable, violent barrier preventing women empowerment and gender equality. It is an ongoing, ruthless scourge of oppression.
There is notable movement against gender-based violence and calls for more action for the public and private spheres of society to tackle this social pandemic. During Women’s Month, the fight must continue, but it must run parallel to the celebration of women’s achievements. But only dismantling the violent systems of patriarchy and misogyny will result in true equality.
Luke Waltham is a writer, blogger and social justice and human rights activist. He is an Honours student at Stellenbosch University.