By Annisa Essack
Pain, fear and anger were what I saw when I looked into the eyes of mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces and friends. Fear of the very ones who are responsible for the protection of women – our men.
Thursday evening I listened to the words of the President as he addressed the nation through a radio and television broadcast and then a personal address to the thousands who marched to Parliament to express their anger on gender-based violence and to deliver a memorandum calling for tougher measures against men who abuse women.
President Ramaphosa during his speech said: “The nation is mourning the deaths of several women and girls who were murdered by men. “We know the names of Uyinene Mrwetyana, Leighandre Jegels, Janika Mallo, Ayakha Jiyane and her three little siblings but we also grieve for many others who have died at the hands of men.”
Looking closely into the issue of gender-based violence, I realised that we women were constantly told “to speak out”, “be more aware”, “keep away from places deemed unsafe” and “support each other.” This was “OUR” responsibility although it was women who bore the brunt of the vicious attacks, brutal beatings, rape and murder!
I then heard the President say: “Like millions of men across this country, I am appalled at the war being waged on our sisters, our mothers, our wives, our partners and our daughters. “Women have every right to expect that they be free from harassment and violence on the streets, in schools and campuses, on buses, taxis and trains, at places of work and worship, and in their homes.”
I wept. He had taken responsibility as a man and was standing there telling other men that the violence against women was 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,” he said.
He said men must speak out. “We must not look away. We must face gender-based violence head-on. Let us, as families, make sure that we raise boys to respect women, to respect themselves, to value life and human dignity.”
“As South African men, let us take responsibility for our actions. We must treat women and girls in our country with care and respect. It is only when we do that that we will end violence against women and children. Let us declare that enough is enough,” President Ramaphosa said.
YES! Violence against women is a MAN’s problem and a war being waged against women.
The President welcomed the protesters’ demands and assured demonstrators that the criminal justice system will deal more harshly with perpetrators.
Steps Taken to Address Gender-Based Violence
President Ramaphosa said the country’s collective anger must strengthen the nation’s resolve to end the scourge. He highlighted the progress made by the Government to address gender-based violence and noted progress on the implementation of the decisions of the Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence last year. He highlighted further steps taken such as the review of laws on domestic violence and sexual offences to prioritise the needs and interests of survivors and the establishment of 92 dedicated Sexual Offences Courts since 2013, with a further 11 to be opened this financial year.
National Register of Offenders
The additional measures on the Government's agenda include the overhaul and modernisation of the national register of gender-based violence offenders provided for in the Sexual Offences Act to ensure it is effective in combating gender-based violence. He also committed to asking Parliament to consider amending the legislation to ensure that the register was made public.
“This National Register of Offenders will list all the men convicted of acts of violence against women and children,” said the President.
Harsher Minimum Sentences
The President said he would propose to Cabinet that all crimes against women and children should attract harsher sentences.
“We agree with the women of our country that the state should oppose bail and parole for perpetrators of rape and murder against women and children,” said the President.
As many women’s organisations complained of the lack of enough rehabilitation programmes in the country’s prisons, President Ramaphosa committed to increase and reconfigure these programmes to reduce the number of repeat offenders.
“All gender-based violence cases that have been closed or that were not properly investigated must be reviewed,” said the President.
Emergency Response Teams
Government further committed, to strengthen emergency teams that will bring together police, social development, health, justice and education, at a provincial level. These teams will focus, in particular, on violence directed at women, children, people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community.
Taking top place on Governments’ agenda will be the systemic challenges such as the backlog of cases, delays in DNA testing and the availability of rape test kits in police stations.
GBV Campaign Funding
The government would implement a national multi-faceted plan to prevent gender-based violence through school programmes, community initiatives and workplace policies.
Additionally, the President will request the Finance Minister to allocate additional funding to the campaign against gender-based violence.
Importantly, the President would be asking Parliament to discuss and identify urgent interventions that can be implemented without delay.
In all that was said by the President, these words really caught my attention: “Violence against women has become more than a national crisis. It is a crime against our common humanity.”
“The health of a mother and child is a more telling measure of a nation’s state than economic indicators.” (Harjit Gill)