College of Human Sciences

My strong plea to our Minister of Women

This week on 27 April, the country will observe Freedom Day, a day set aside to celebrate freedom due to South Africa's first non-racial democratic elections of 1994. It is significant because it marks the end of over three hundred years of colonialism, segregation and white minority rule and the establishment of a new democratic government led by Nelson Mandela and a new state subject to a new constitution.

As a sociologist whose research is focused on domestic violence, with the aim to diagnose and provide solutions to the existing violence that is perpetuated against women and children, I can say with certainty that this day holds no meaning for many abused women and their loved ones.

While violence against women is a global phenomenon and not unique to South Africa, in our country, there is no denying that it is widespread. Femicide statistics from 2009 indicated the rate of femicide in South Africa stood at one woman killed by her intimate male partner every eight hours. Linked to this is the latest statistics from the South Africa Medical Research Council (MRC), which highlight that 40% of men assault their partners daily – and that three women in South Africa, are killed by their intimate partner every day. This means there are 1095 women killed by their intimate partners every year.

So I ask, how can we celebrate freedom day, when the freedom and human rights of our women, our mothers, daughters, children, sisters, aunties, are being violated daily? What are we – government, academia, civil society – doing to resolve this? What plans do we have in place, other than to reshuffle a cabinet and place an unconvincing minister as the head of the department of women, a department that needs resolute leadership from its minister and not one who is a gatekeeper of patriarchy.

To be fair, South Africa attempted to implement a 365 Days of Action to Eliminate Violence against women and children, which was a year-long campaign of “action” and had a five-year cycle from 2007 until 2011, but it just did not work as funding seemed to be a challenge. However, if you look at the current funding available to deal with gender-based violence matters (between R28.4 and R42.4 billion per year or between 0.9 per cent and 1.3 per cent of Gross Domestic Product annually), one can argue that there is funds to run this campaign. Therefore, rather than the annual 16 Days of Activism for no violence against women and children campaign, why can’t South Africa use these funds to continue the 365 days’ campaign?

As mentioned above, given that South Africans recently witnessed yet another cabinet reshuffle, I again turn my attention to those who have now been charged with addressing the social and economic challenges facing our people, in particular, our women.

I will start with our minister of women; this is my message for you. I sincerely hope you understand the importance of the portfolio you have to been tasked to lead. Please acknowledge these suggestions I put on the table and help our women attain true human rights and dignity.

In order to prevent the perpetuation of the generational transmission of domestic violence, the South African Department of Women should focus on working collaboratively with NGOs and the private sector. There should also be strong collaborations with other departments. Examples of how to work with other departments include:

  • The Department of Education: Design curricula that teaches learners about gender equality.
  • The Department of Higher Education and Training: Provide visible opportunities (such as work and/or bursaries) for men who are studying gender studies and studies on violence against women and children; this would remove the perception that gender studies is women centred only.
  • The Department of Justice: Insist that the files for cases of domestic violence should be dealt with as separate and not be filed with other assault or murder cases. Class, race, and gender should not undermine the domestic violence policy. There is a lack of engagement on the part of the judiciary. South Africa needs to rethink how it can move away from the current situation in which there is too little on holding perpetrators accountable. The life of a man is more valuable than a life of a woman, should not be the dominant narrative.
  • The Department of Health: Insist that injuries caused by domestic violence must be treated as such; nurses and doctors should be trained on how to refer victims of domestic violence to relevant offices for counselling, and should report it to the police.
  • The Department of Arts and Culture: Work closely with traditional leaders in an attempt to end cultural customs, which aim at exploiting women. This ministry could run workshops, trainings, and campaigns from already spotted provinces or areas where such cultures exist.
  • The Department of Social Development: In the year 2014, this ministry opened a free emergency landline, open 24 hours and 7 days a week. It offers counselling to survivors and or victims of gender-based violence. This is an initiative aiming at addressing the alarming increase of violence against women. It must also create opportunities for skills development for unemployed women who are receiving government social grants, so that they become skilled and employable. This will assist in reducing the increasing number of unemployed women receiving social grants in South Africa.
  • The Department of Police: Must intervene in domestic violence cases; and facilitate the prosecution of crimes committed in a domestic context. It must launch its own Victim Empowerment Centre in all nine provinces which aims at educating communities about ways in which to report domestic violence, how to go about protecting themselves, and where counselling is available. It may also hold workshops at schools and women’s circles on how to apply for a protection order for both women and children. It is critical that it also launch SAPS forensic science laboratories in all nine provinces.

I also have advice for those of us outside of government, because it does take a village, and we are that village. Always remember that the prevention of the intergenerational transmission of domestic violence is an individual moral obligation and a social responsibility.

Parents and guardians, you must unlearn all your previous lessons regarding the traits of femininity and masculinity. You have a critical role to play when it comes to issues of teenage pregnancies and the “blesser” phenomenon. Absent fathers (physically absent due to death or did not marry the mother or emotionally absent) play a role in molding their daughter’s well-being.  Parents must instill the values of love, respect and self-worth within their children, earlier in life. Without these values, their children become adults who lack insight, the deep sense of love, respect and self-worth. The same adults will seek partners who possess love, respect and self-worth, with an intention to extract all of it, in the name of “love”.

For those communities with incidents of violence against women, leaders within these communities should revisit cultural customs that are exploiting, dehumanising and compromising the lives of women. The traditional leaders need to play a positive role in resolving domestic violence in their local communities. Churches and other religious groups should play a positive role by condemning acts of domestic violence and protecting the rights of women and children. Prevention is better than cure.

To those adult children who witnessed violence at home, forgive your past-experiences, you were not responsible for it, however, you are responsible for your present and future experiences. Begin early adulthood by having a relationship with yourself. Love, respect, create your self-worth and have deep conversations with yourself. Learn to be secure with yourself, your emotional and physical abilities so you won’t need to search and extract it from intimate relations and workplaces.

As I conclude, I must reiterate that we should never underestimate the importance of education. Given the seriousness of this problem, empowering women and men through education and training on how to deal with domestic violence issues should be regarded as top priority and not just another marketing activity.

* Written by Professor Nokuthula Mazibuko (Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, Unisa) and adapted from the speech made to the Motsepe Foundation on International Women’s Day. The event was addressed by Dr Precious Moloi Motsepe, Advocate Professor Thuli Madonsela, and Mrs Zanele Mbeki, among others.

Publish date: 2018/04/27