The Chairperson of BLA Western Cape, Ms Nyati, and Members of the BLA Exco
Judge Mantame and members of the judiciary,
Ladies and gentlemen, friends
I was particularly struck by an article which appeared in GroundUp yesterday, where Josina Machel, daughter of former first lady Graça Machel, spoke about her experience as a survivor of violence.
She tells of how, four years ago, in October 2015, she was assaulted by her then-partner inside his car.
She was hit on the head three times and lost her sight in one eye.
But what really strikes at one’s heart, is when she tells of how, after the third blow to the back of her head, she escaped from the car and ran down the road screaming for help - in several languages - but one came out, not a single person, and the only response she heard was that of dogs barking.
She continued to stumble down the road seeking help.
Her attacker eventually realised the severity of her injuries and took her to hospital – where he told authorities that she had fallen.
This is one story - one survivor – whose name we know and who survived. There are, no doubt, countless others, whose names we do not know and some who might not have survived to tell their stories. We know that levels of gender-based and sexual violence have reached crisis proportions in our country.
If we look at the latest crime statistics, we see that the number of women killed in 2018/19 stood at 2771 (down 2.9% from 2930 in 2017/18), translating to seven women being murdered every day. This means a woman is murdered every three hours. Furthermore, a total of 1,014 children were murdered. The number of reported sexual offences increased to 52,420 in 2018/19 from 50,108 in 2017/18 – in other words an increase of 4.6%.
The Crime against Women Report, released by Statistics SA in 2018, states that attitudes and perceptions play a very important role in shaping human behaviour, including criminal activity and vulnerability to crime. Attitudes towards women, driven mostly by cultural and religious beliefs, often determine how women are treated in society.
High levels of GBV prevail throughout the life-cycle of women, starting from the unborn child, pregnant women, the girl-child, young women, adult women and elderly women.
Women and girls, when compared to men and boys, bear the brunt of gender-based violence - and girls with disabilities and gender non-conforming persons are at an even higher risk of GBV.
Patriarchal practices and attitudes continue to persist across all spheres of society and impact on women and girls’ lives negatively. It’s the attitudes of men that we have to change. As President Ramaphosa recently said:
“Violence against women is not a women’s problem.
It is not a problem of what a woman said or did, what a woman was wearing, or where she was walking.
Violence against women is a men’s problem. It is men who rape and kill women.
There is therefore an obligation on the men of this country to act to end such behaviour and such crimes.”
As you know, the “Not in My Name” movement was started by a group of concerned citizens to reach out to men to come forward and be the voice of change.
“Not in My Name” is an acknowledgement of the importance of men standing up and speaking about gender-based violence because men are the main perpetrators.
Patriarchy, male power and entitlement, socio-economic hardship, socialisation of boys and girls, absenteeism of fathers and solo parenting, substance abuse, unemployment, and broken families are known key contributors to violence against women and children. Alcohol abuse is also linked to an increased risk of all forms of interpersonal violence.
We know that often gender-based violence against women is committed by those closest to them: husbands, fathers, uncles, boyfriends, family friends and neighbours.
That is why the way we raise our children, in particular our boy children, is extremely important.
Our Department is a proud partner of the “Not in My Name” movement. This means being actively involved in programmes -
I’ve often been accused of being provocative when I say that I agree with the hashtag #Men are Trash.
Of course, the sentiment and the statement itself is not about individual men, but rather the underlying structural and systemic notions of patriarchy, toxic masculinity, chauvinism and misogyny which are so deeply ingrained in the fabric of our society.
In December 2015, the then UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women urged the South African government to strengthen the fight against GBV through awareness and education at all levels of society. She said that –
“I have heard on many occasions that violence against women is normalized in South Africa.
The violence inherited from apartheid still resonates profoundly in today’s South African society dominated by deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes towards the role of women in society which makes violence against women and children an almost accepted social phenomenon.”
This is why men have to be the agents of change.
It has to start with us.
Research shows that men and boys are influenced by each other. Research also shows that men are sometimes most influenced by what they assume other men think. Therefore engaging men and boys in prevention work is an important strategy to reduce gender-based and sexual violence.
The important role men play as influencers and allies cannot be understated.
Ending violence in our communities is a responsibility of the whole community and men and boys have to be active participants and promoters of change. It is crucial to engage men and bring about significant changes in men’s attitudes and practices and address negative notions of masculinity.
Government has taken a myriad of measures to prevent and combat GBV – such as, amongst others, passing progressive laws, establishing Sexual Offences Courts and Thuthuzela Care Centres. We have victim empowerment programmes and support services. We have a National Task Team to protect LGBTI Rights and the SAPS has increased the number of family violence, child protection and sexual offences units in the country.
As the Declaration of the Presidential Summit against Gender-Based Violence and Femicide states, a range of laws and policies, programmes and interventions are in place across all sectors to address respective forms of gender-based violence and femicide, but notwithstanding all these interventions, prevention has not received the necessary attention to make a meaningful impact.
Government and civil society can continue to run the various programmes – but the programmes will only succeed if we can guarantee the involvement of men and boys in ending patriarchal norms, gender inequality and GBV and promoting positive engagement of men in positive parenting.
Some of the other things we can do, not only in our professional capacities, but as individuals, as parents or in our communities, include -
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is also important to see the work being done by Government and civil society as long term solutions. There is simply no “quick fix”.
Furthermore, knee-jerk reactions, like suggestions about bringing back the death penalty, do not take us forward at all. Besides it being unconstitutional, the death penalty perpetuates a societal culture of violence and is also notoriously unsuccessful as a deterrent.
Some have also called for a state of emergency to be declared, and they cite Sierra Leone as an example. But what people forget is that the State of Emergency in Sierra Leone was imposed in February 2019 and revoked by their Parliament a mere 4 months later as there was widespread concern about the enforceability thereof and it was thus replaced with a new Sexual Offences Amendment Bill.
Many of you who are here today work in the criminal justice system. So we should also ask what more can be done in and by our courts to prevent and combat GBV. It has been proposed that we have more backlog courts for prioritising GBV cases. Whilst the thinking behind it might be well intended, without actual data as to whether these backlog courts are in areas with high levels of GBV it will not make the impact that it may seek to achieve.
The same argument applies to the establishment of new Sexual Offences Courts – it is crucial that they be established at the courts with the highest numbers of sexual offences cases, and not simply where there is space available for the required facilities.
We need to remember that GBV is not only sexual offences and femicides. It often starts with domestic violence, harassment, assault, stalking and other such crimes which, if left unchecked and unpunished, then very often escalate and then lead to femicide and/or sexual offences.
It is therefore important to recognise the importance of also strengthening our responses and services in respect of these so-called “lesser” crimes, in particular relating to protection orders and that the improvement of access to services should be addressed at all levels.
Some of the other measures we are looking at at the moment include –
All of these measures, existing and new, will not rid society of GBV. The only way to effectively prevent and combat GBV is by getting persons to not offend in the first place.
When it comes to crime, prevention really is better than cure.
I want to conclude with another article that featured in the very same edition of GroundUp as the article I mentioned in the beginning. It tells of girls and boys in Soweto are playing competitive soccer together.
One of the girls from Orlando Real Stars is a 15 year-old midfielder, Nomafuza Bulane, who said:
“I really hate the sound of gender-based violence. We are supposed to treat each other equally, and there shouldn’t be any difference between female and male. If a female player is competent enough to play with Bafana Bafana in the national (men’s) team, she should be given a chance to represent South Africa.”
And then, what she says next, really stayed with me. She says:
“My teammates treat me with respect and dignity. I’ve never felt harassed or experienced any form of violence and abuse.”
Her words give me hope – hope that perhaps, albeit it slowly, we are starting to change society.
Hope that we can change.
And hope that we can overcome gender-based violence.