With International Women’s Day being marked this Friday, 8 March, it is fitting for South Africans, reeling under the burden of a shameful reputation for gender-based violence, to engage with the reports issued by the UN Secretary General as well as the discussions taking place at the current Commission on the Status of Women in New York.
Without diminishing the value of such forums and their impact on laws and government policies, why is it that millions of women remain disempowered, disregarded and abused – denied their human rights? What aren’t we doing to radically improve the lived experience of women and girls? It is, after all, nearly 30 years since the Third International Conference on Women in Nairobi where the issue of violence against women and girls as a violation of human rights was first widely accepted and drawn from the private to the public sphere.
With the groundswell of abhorrence against the violence perpetrated against females of all ages, from girl babies to old grandmothers, which is palpable in South Africa at present, there is an opportunity to turn the tide.
Already over the last few weeks South Africans have expressed themselves through: wearing black, dancing, protesting, petitioning, media-driven awareness campaigns, mass signing of an anti-rape pledge by school children and general outrage expressed through the media.
Accompanying these actions there is also talk about and signs of sustaining and expanding the ‘work’ to accomplish deep changes in behaviour amongst men. This is a long-term project requiring deep commitment.
Understanding this, the National Development Plan proposes a range of measures to advance women’s equality and deals in some detail with the safety of women and girls. It suggests that resources must be made available to realize the stated objectives and the 2013 National Budget has made allocations to assist Sexual Violence Services.
Furthermore, there is a Ministry dedicated to Women, Children and the Disabled which has established a National Council Against Gender-Based Violence. It has published the ‘Women Empowerment and Gender Equity Bill’ (2012) for comment.
Acknowledging the contribution that Government is making in the legal and policy domain it remains true that civil society formations, such as the Shukumisa Campaign with its 28 affiliated organizations, are the main players who ‘stir and shake up’ public and political will and implement on-the-ground programmes. They point out, however, that for their 22 member organizations only R5,7 million was allocated in 2012 and ask: ‘Are statements condemning violence against women being translated into rands and sense?’
An organization deserving of mention as a meaningful contributor in the fight against violence against women and girls is Soroptimist International (SI). It is the largest women’s organization of its kind, with over 90 000 members working in over 3000 communities. Its General Consultative Status with ECOSOC and other bodies within the United Nations give it accreditation for forty SI representatives who are presently at the UN attending sessions, lobbying, sharing information about the experience and work of SI, presenting workshops as well as recommendations which they believe will help to effect change.
Of this body of membership, there are 160 Soroptimists in South Africa who quietly get on with the work that needs to be done both towards the elimination and prevention of gender-based violence and supporting services to victims.
The questions, however, remain: Do we understand why SA experiences such extreme and cruel violence by men against women? Why aren’t the perpetrators listening? What interventions will be instrumental in turning the tide? What is going to be the tipping point? How can our Government, its services and Civil Society, over a sustained period, and at scale achieve safety for women and girls?
The voice of gender activists is escalating in South Africa, and, the global community is focused for the next two weeks on the Elimination and Prevention of Violence Against Women. It is essential that the Council, the global policy making body, produces Agreed Conclusions which contain an analysis of the issues as well as a set of concrete recommendations for governments and non-governmental organisations to be implemented at international, national, regional and local levels.
Citizens the world over, however, are not delaying their action. This Friday, 8th March, there will be both men and women, girls and boys, who will be standing on bridges, picketing, petitioning, lobbying, building a groundswell of awareness as well as pressure in a collective effort to eliminate and prevent violence against women and girls.
They will be visible on the 8th and continue, day after day, to work to change behaviours on the ground. We need to acknowledge and commend them all, recruit more to the mission and intensify action with greater resources.
The time is now!
President: Soroptimist International of South Africa