There is a need to change the socialization of society if we are to root out the abuse of women and children in society. Twenty-three-years into democracy and 61 years since the historic women’s march to the Union Buildings, the struggle for equality for South African women remains far from over.
Whilst many milestones have been gained over the course of time since the dawn of democracy, thanks to policies championed by the ANC-led government, to advance the rights of women, including the replacement of oppressive legislation with progressive ones and the introduction of state institutions in support of constitutional democracy such as such as the Commission for Gender Equality, the journey to an equal society is still long.
The recent incidents of gender-based-violence (gbv) that seem to continue unabated are not just a stark reminder of the mammoth task that still lies ahead of us but they pose a real threat to the full realization of a national democratic society as was envisioned by the courageous women of the 1956 generation, such as Mme Ruth Mompati, Helen Joseph, Lillian Ngoyi, Albertinah Sisulu and many other others.
In particular, the reporting and coverage of femicide murders is becoming a daily routine in both print and electronic media. Femicide is a global phenomenon and South Africa is not an exception especially to intimate partner killings. What do we understand by intimate Femicide? The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes intimate femicide as “intentional murder of women and girls”. These killings are usually committed by intimate partners or ex-partners, and involve abuse at home.
Other kinds of femicides according to WHO are honour killings (involving a girl or woman being killed by a male or female family member for an actual or assumed sexual or behaviour transgression, including adultery, sexual intercourse or pregnancy outside marriage etc); dowry-related femicide (linked to cultural practices of dowry, It involves newly married women being killed by in–laws over conflicts related to dowry, such as bringing insufficient dowry to the family) and non-intimate femicide (committed by someone without an intimate relationship with the victim). Studies by both the Medical Research Council (MRC) and WHO point to the violent nature of these relationships, which includes sexual violence.
The fact that men continue to be perpetrators of acts of violence against women and children points to the need to change our socialization methods to ensure that we bring up a boy child that will be caring, respects women, girls and human life in general. Socialization processes should include amongst other things addressing issues of patriarchal tendencies and power. Critical social institutions like schools, church, traditional authorities and families should play a greater role in tackling these issues head on and help transform societal attitudes and mind-sets that continue to be reinforced daily through cultural practices, tradition, religion and the media.
It is clear that the education campaigns and programmes such as the 16 Days of Activism have not been adequate to deal with these issues. A new approach that will focus on ensuring that survivors of violence are educated on support services available to them such as safe houses and also targeting perpetrators to open their eyes to the wrongness of their actions and available programmes to assist them to overcome their destructive behaviour is needed. Correctional services programmes on anger management and sexual offenders programme could be utilized to educate perpetrators about their gruesome actions.
The health care system should play a more active role in the prevention of femicide cases by ensuring that health practitioners are more sensitive to victims of gender based violence, after all, research has proven that women who end up becoming victims of femicide do seek the assistance of health practitioners along the way.
Whatever reasons there could be, femicide is unjustifiable. The solution to these kinds of barbaric murders is to educate families about the respect of human rights and foster implementation of criminal justice laws including giving perpetrators long sentences.
For us to achieve a truly free society where women do not live under a cloud of fear for their lives we need to heed the words of President Nelson Mandela in his first State of the Nation Address in 1994 when he stated that “Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression… Our endeavours must be about the liberation of the woman, the emancipation of the man and the liberty of the child.”
Lulama Nare is the Commissioner of the Commission for Gender Equality