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16 Nov Making violence against women unthinkable

Making violence against women unthinkable

In her seminal text, South Wind, Corinne Kumar challenges us to conceive of “making violence against women unthinkable.” I first met this visionary and dreamer at the Courts of Women against War and for Peace in Khayelitsha in 2000, and she has held a special place in my heart ever since. Her words and her insistence on silence when we listened to women sharing their testimonies of violence, courage and resilience, resonated with my soul.

The Courts of Women is an international women’s movement that has been sustained for many years across numerous continents.  When I recently attended the International Network on Violence Against Women (INVAW) planning meeting in East London, I was reminded of the very important work we still have to do to live this dream of making violence against women unthinkable.

Both the INVAW and the Courts of Women identify patriarchy as the root cause of violence against women.  Any initiatives functioning outside of this paradigm is doomed to fail.  As we have witnessed in South Africa and in most countries across the world, violence against women and girls has reached pandemic proportions. This flies in the face of having made significant gains in advancing women’s rights: an increase in the representation and participation of women in government; the ratification of international treaties like the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW); targets on gender equality as part of the Millennium Development Goals and now the new Sustainable Development Goals; and constitutional gender equality commitments as well as progressive legislation that aims to protect women’s rights and people of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations. Violence, hate and injustice persist, especially for the majority of women living in poverty.

The normalisation of violence in our society, compounded by intersection of class, race gender and sexuality means that all women and girls in South Africa continue to live with violence and the fear of violence in both private and public spheres. The brutality and levels of gender based violence are shocking. According to a 2014 KPMG report called Too Costly to Ignore— the Economic Impact of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in South Africa states that one in five women experience an incident of gender-based violence (GBV) each year, and the costs are very expensive, not only women but for everyone as well as our country’s development.

Femicide or the gender-based killing of a woman by her partner is one of the most extreme forms of violence and a manifestation of patriarchy. According to the South African Medical Research Council, in 2009 one woman was killed by a partner every eight hours in South Africa. A VAW Baseline Study published by Gender Links reveals that over half the women of Gauteng (51.2%) have experienced some form of abuse (emotional, physical or sexual) in their lifetime and 78.3% of men in the province admit to perpetrating some form of violence against women.

More shocking statistics reveal that 28% of men reported having perpetrated rape; that rape mostly starts in the teenage years; three quarters of men who rape do it for the first time before the age of 20; more than a third of girls have experienced sexual violence before the age of 18 (unwanted touching, forced sex or being exploited into sex by much older men).

ActionAid South Africa recently conducted baseline research in some schools located in Gauteng and Limpopo. The preliminary findings reveal that 45% of learners in Gauteng and 49% in Limpopo said boys force girls to have sex. One out of every five learners said they feel pressured by educators to have sex with them. 9% of learners admitted to being raped, while at just one school, 33% said they had been raped.

A state’s priorities are reflected in its allocation of resources.  There is a war is against women and girls in this country, yet for the 2015/2016 financial year, the South African government allocates R44.5 billion, which is approximately 1.1% of the Gross Domestic Product to the Defense Budget, and the ministry aims to push it to 2%. It is criminal that the borders of this country are protected, but women and children are not. The KPMG report also notes that GBV costs the South African economy  between R28.4 billion and R42.2 billion a year, and that this money could fund wage subsidies for all unemployed youth, build half a million RDP houses, or give healthcare to a quarter of all South Africans.

Six years ago, Advocate Rashida Manjoo was the first South African to be appointed as the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women. Despite her missions being fully funded by the UN Human Rights Council, our government did not deem it important enough to invite her to undertake a mission to South Africa to monitor and report on the our country’s compliance in responding to and preventing violence against women.

Our government has failed in its due diligence commitments to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of women, and this failure points to a complete lack of political will which I believe, has been subsumed under a neo-liberal agenda.  Even gender equality has become a commodity in a context where the neo-liberal agenda creates and recreates inequality. Patriarchy, inextricably linked to racism and capitalism, is alive and kicking.  We must bring the politics back into the struggle to end violence against women and girls.  We must ensure that ending violence against women becomes everyone’s responsibility.

We can’t continue to do what we know, because it isn’t working! This country must be brought to a standstill. We must work towards women’s liberation and towards a world where “violence against women and girls is unthinkable.”

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