Wednesday, November 14, 2007

South Africa Needs a Gender Violence Response


SA needs a gender violence response

Wed, 14 Nov 2007

More women die from gender-based violence in South Africa than from any other cause, the Masimanyane Women's Support Centre said on Tuesday.

Executive director Lesley Ann Foster, addressing the two-day International Women's Conference at the Osner Hotel in East London, said many deaths were recorded as a "medical event", but the real reason was gender-based violence which was covered up.

"This is an injustice we will not tolerate anymore. Men die violently but that's usually male-on-male. Women in South Africa die violently but that's usually by men, and more often than not, by men they know," she said.

HIV/Aids was also addressed at the conference.

Foster said: "There is a steady march of HIV/Aids in South Africa. Too many have it, too many are being infected every day, too many young women.

"We can't even count the loss... of parents, siblings, grandparents, history, skills, economic stability, but the biggest loss of all being human life," she said.

Other issues addressed at the conference were teenage pregnancy, unsafe abortions, forced prostitution and child trafficking, murder because of sexual orientation and gender.

"We need a response to gender-based violence that is political, social, economically-based and that includes everyone. We need to shift a gear to a place where we have a better chance of bringing about change in the lives of our women and children."

The Masimanyane Women's Support Centre welcomed government involvement in the fight against gender-based violence and appreciated the National Victim Empowerment Programme, Tutuzela and the 16 Days of Activism Campaign — which Masimanyane was instrumental in starting and which government had since taken on.

"This began with just a little march down Oxford Street, of around 100 people. Today the campaign stretches to every corner of South Africa. It's there,' said Foster.

Women's activist Amneh Helweh told how a Middle Eastern network of woman had come up with a novel concept in their fight against gender-based violence.

The Jordanian activist explained how the Karama Network used hard facts gleaned from studies around the Middle East to change hearts and minds about the economic impact of violence against women.

Helweh said: "An abused women is more likely to be less productive".

This does not include the associated costs on state health resources arising from hospitalisation.

"Empowering women to know their rights is not enough. We need to capacitate them with skills, especially economic and financial skills," she said.

Mmatsilo Motsei, author of the 'The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court: Reflection of the Rape Trial of Jacob Zuma', challenged women to consider why South Africa still had among the highest rape and domestic violence statistics in the world.

"We are all products of sexist societies, and we all have certain prejudices. We need to transform the thinking of men, yes, but also the thinking of women.

"Often, we don't need men to oppress us, we oppress each other. We must change the way women are perceived by men, but also the way women perceive either other, and the way we perceive ourselves," she said.


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