by JASMINE KHAN
Whenever there is a case of a woman found brutally raped and murdered, there is an outcry from politicians, religious leaders and women’s organisations. With the recent announcement that in the last few weeks, 21 women and children have died because of gender abuse, the topic is once more in the news.
Our president, in his address to the nation announcing the change from level 4 to level 3, addressed this issue and called it the second pandemic. With all due respect to the president, gender violence is an ongoing scourge in our country. Far from being the second pandemic, it is an ongoing one.
The situation has escalated from 2009, when statistics showed that half of all women murdered were killed by an intimate partner. Further statistics show that 25 to 40 per cent of women have suffered abuse from a partner.
There is talk of raising awareness; if awareness were an umbrella, it has been raised so many times that it would, by now, be floating high up in the stratosphere. In the meantime, abuse continues to rain down on women and children.
Najmunesa Solomon, a transformational therapist, says that for the past twenty years she has attended seminars and awareness programmes, and she keeps hearing the same thing.
In a recent interview on iTV, a young woman, Amaarah Garda, a B.Comm graduate and the head of politics for South African International Affairs at the MSA Union, said the time for raising awareness is past.
‘What we need is understanding and commitment,’ she says. She ascribes this ongoing scourge to the result of allowing misogynistic and patriarchal values to co-exist in a society that is incredibly violent. When told that many people ascribe this penchant for violence to the effects of apartheid, Amaarah said that one cannot ascribe it to just that, although she concedes that it has some validity.
Lack of policing and the level of corruption in the justice system allow men to get away with what they do.
There is also the fact that not all cases of rape are reported because, when they are reported, the women are victimised and, sometimes, the perpetrator is warned that an accusation has been lodged against him, and this is when the victim is killed – to silence her.
South Africa has a legacy of apartheid, says Professor Pumla Dineo Gqola, director of research at the University of Fort Hare. She has written several books on femicide. Interviewed by Karima Brown on ‘The Fix’, a show on eNCA, the professor is of the opinion that the violence can be traced back to slavery, colonialism as well as apartheid.
This has resulted in anger and, with no other outlet, it is taken out on those most vulnerable. ‘We are a patriarchal society,’ and patriarchy uses power to control, she says. This propensity for violence has never been addressed and she believes that with the transition to democracy, it was ignored. Being primed for violence has almost become natural.
When transitioning from apartheid to democracy, little or no attention was focused on it. It was never positioned as unacceptable; it was ignored as outside the ambit of even the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Thus, in our failure to interrupt this propensity for violence, we have almost, by default, accepted it as the norm. We have an idea of the why of this situation; what are we doing to prevent this violence?
According to both Amaarah and the professor, women and organisations have come up with policies and programmes but these have largely been ignored.
Government possibly feels that this is a societal issue and they will deal with the curative aspect, although even this does not have a very good record.
It is time for Government to do more than condemn and make promises. A part of our Bill of Rights in our Constitution, under the heading, ‘Freedom and security of the person’, states:
‘12. (1) everyone has the right to freedom and security of the person, which includes the right –
(c) To be free from all forms of violence from either public or private sources;
(d) Not to be tortured in any way; and
(e) Not to be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way.’
However, this does not absolve us from responsibility. As women, we have to shift from the ‘us and them’ mentality. Abused women are silent because of the fear of judgment and condemnation by other women. Silent abuse will continue until abused women open up and expose the abusers. They can only do this if they have the support of the rest of the women. We need to open our hearts and show compassion and solidarity to our sisters, and united we can make a difference.
Nu’man bin Bashir (RA) reported that Rasoolullah (SAW) said: ‘The believers in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body. When one of the limbs suffers, the whole body responds to it with wakefulness and fever.’ (Bukhari and Muslim)