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Violence - It`s everyone`s issue

31 July 2012

Opinion piece by ANCWL Treasurer General, Prof Hlengiwe Mkhize as appeared in the Star

The magnitude of gender-based violence in society is a major cause for concern in an ANC-led government, given the ruling party’s commitment to women’s rights as human rights, and gender equality as a pillar of social transformation.

But how politically committed are we to really tackling this issue?

How can one not stop and take notice when Gender Links published depressing research findings last year, saying that three-quarters of all men in Gauteng have at some point or another perpetuated violence against women?

The findings also highlight that half of women in the province have been victims of one form or another of violence.

In 1993 the landmark UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defined violence as “any act of gender-based violence resulting in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

The magnitude of violence against girls and women in society undermines our democracy and the culture of human rights. Delays within our criminal justice system in case management further deny victims justice and dignity through the healing process.

Our apparent ineffective gender-based violence prevention inevitably allows perpetrators to wreak havoc in every corner of society. You just need to take a look at the figures in the SAPS statistics released annually to see the gravity of the situation we are dealing with.

What is of great cause for concern is that this social ill barely features on the political agenda; it’s left as a women’s issue for women to deal with.

As a result, when KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize launched Men’s Month and the Moral Regeneration Campaign in KZN, and directly linked gender-based violence to the moral decay of our society, that went a long way in supporting women’s advocacy groups’ voices on the plight of women who are trapped in the emotionally and physically devastating situations of abuse.

Violence is traumatic, and depending on the person’s personality and circumstances, trauma can negatively affect all aspects of a person’s life, from schooling to adjustments in society. A traumatised person does not sleep well, suffers from the intrusion of harmful thoughts, is generally nervous and fearful and frequently harbours feelings of anger and pain, which can perpetuate this cycle of violence in society.

Often the ANC Women’s League is criticised by onlookers for not doing enough to eradicate gender-based violence.

But the reality is that while the women’s league is politically unambiguous about its responsibility to fight for gender equality, until such time that we all challenge all forms of patriarchy and male domination – whether masked as traditional, or cultural, or religious – at the end of the day it is these socially constructed beliefs and stereotypes that maintain violence against girls and women, mainly by boys and men.

With three-quarters of our men perpetuating these crimes, should we not view this as a societal issue and not a women’s issue?

During apartheid, racism was viewed as the enemy, and all South Africans, men and women of every race and social creed, came together with a common goal – to dismantle the evil system and to systematically create an equal society.

The negative consequences of gender-based violence are no different. We have to enhance our efforts in creating moral capabilities in line with the culture of human rights, thus transforming our society and creating a culture of non-violence.

Tackling gender-based violence should not be seen as a women’s issue but rather everyone’s issue and that is why I have to acknowledge and congratulate the KZN premier’s efforts.

He has taken a brave step and acknowledged that men and male politicians need to play a major role in not only putting this issue on the agenda, but tackling the problem as well.

He has broken the silence of public representatives around gender-based violence and pinned down the morality of men as a contributing factor.

He is basically saying that gender-based violence, at its root, is an immoral act perpetuated by men, and is something to be ashamed of. This is the message we need to get through to our men and young boys.

Mkhize specifically made reference to the long-term effects of trauma caused by violence. He used the example of how his grandchild now fears the police after seeing Andries Tatane murdered, and how the trauma of that incident has stuck with the child, who is reminded of the trauma every time he encounters a policeman.

The trauma of rampant gender-based violence has long-term consequences and if we don’t do more to tackle the crisis, the cycle of abuse will continue. The Gender Links research also mentions the Southern African Development Community’s protocol of reducing gender-based violence by half by next year. This will not be possible unless we make gender-based violence a high-level political tipping point.

The same research that analysed 1 956 political speeches noted that only 4.8 percent specifically mentioned gender-based violence, and of these only 1 percent noted gender-based violence as an issue.

This is shocking considering the rate at which it occurs, and indicates that we need to elevate the political will to deal decisively with abuse.

Gender-based violence is on top of the agenda of non-profit organisations, and many feel this is where it should be located. But the issue will not be tackled effectively until it becomes everyone’s issue, and more specifically the issue of politicians, who should follow on the initiative of the KZN premier to specifically tackle violence against women and highlight the morality of society and the incapacitating effect of trauma on development.

Politicians also need to continually acknowledge the interdependence of men and women and boys and girls in unlocking future possibilities and working towards the eradication of gender-based violence.

Troy Martens
ANC Women`s League National Spokesperson
078 120 9880
011 376 1055