Saturday, January 12, 2013

Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women


From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let's Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!

Sixteen Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children is a moment for all of us to reaffirm our commitment to reclaim our streets and create a society that is safe and secure for women and children

From 25 November until the 10th of December, our country and the world observed 16 Days of Activism Campaign on No Violence against Women and Children. This year marks the 13th anniversary of the national campaign that began in 1999. The theme for this year is: "From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let's Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!"

As a sub-theme, South Africa will also focus on the theme for the 57th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW): "Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and children". The national slogan for the campaign remains: Don't Look Away - Act Against Abuse". The 25th of each month was declared the International Orange Day by the United Nations. The campaign is aimed at ensuring that violence against women and girls is observed on a daily basis and that the awareness is incorporated into our 365 days Action Plan on Gender Based Violence.

Militarization and violence is a major challenge particularly in regions affected by conflict and war. Domestic violence becomes even more deadly when guns - legal or illegal - are present in the home, because they can be used to threaten, injure or kill women and children. Indeed, women are three times more likely to die violently if there is a gun in the house.

The 16 Days of Activism Campaign focuses primarily on generating an increased awareness of the negative impact of violence on women and children as well as society as a whole. The campaign further seeks to address issues that affect vulnerable groups (women, girls and boys, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities, people with disabilities, etc.) such as sexual harassment, rape, cultural practices that are harmful to women and children (ukuthwala, child muthi killings, witchcraft burning and killings).

The campaign seeks to mobilize all of us as members of the community to also join in this effort. I urge all South Africans to join this fight. When we know that someone is being abused in our own home or in our neighbour's house, we have a duty to report it. We also have a duty to stand in court as witnesses to make sure that these abusers are prosecuted successfully. Domestic violence is not something that should be left to families to resolve. Neither is it a private family matter. An uncle who rapes a niece needs to face the full might of the law. Once a crime has been committed, let us allow the law to take its course.

Since 1994, as a country, we have made significant progress in putting in place legislation, policies and other measures for advancing equality and empowerment of women, children and people with disabilities. Through the Constitution and various other statutory provisions, South Africa has sought to protect and promote human rights. South Africa is party to and signatory to international conventions and protocols that call upon us to institute appropriate measures to eradicate gender-based violence.

Despite South Africa's constitutional and legislative protection, violence based on gender and sexual orientation remains at unacceptable levels. The violence takes different forms such as sexual harassment, abuse, assault, rape, domestic violence and other cultural practices that are harmful to women and children (ukuthwalwa and ukungenwa etc).

Whilst there are programmes and interventions to prevent and respond to abuse, government cannot do this alone and therefore depends on mutual partnerships with non-governmental and women's organisations, business, faith-based organisations, traditional leaders, political parties, various sectors of society and communities.

Success of the 16 Days of Activism campaign is dependent on the partnership between government and various sectors of society including the media. A concerted effort is required to promote outreach for the campaign to particularly rural areas including farming and mining communities. Those most severely affected by violence are in these areas and may not be aware of the resources and services available to them to help them cope with their circumstances. We believe that the unacceptably high levels of gender-based violence require the collective efforts of all South Africans.

As South Africans, we must pause and ponder the real impact of gender-based violence. These include direct costs relating to health care services, judicial services, social services and other related services. Gender-based violence robs women and children of the opportunity to become productive citizens of the country. It denies them their constitutional rights and condemns them to a life of perpetual fear.

They are therefore prevented from enjoying the fruits of our freedom and democracy. The reality that we must collectively confront is the reluctance on the part of some victims of violence to come forward and seek legal advice and social support. This could be due to lack of knowledge about their rights and the social stigma around domestic violence.

We must also accept the sad reality that financial dependency on husbands, fathers, partners and family members increases their vulnerability to domestic violence, rape, incest, abuse, and murder. We remain convinced that empowering women will help us win the war against poverty, inequality, unemployment and abuse. The behaviour of child and women molesters poses fundamental questions to us as members of the human race. All civilised human beings throughout the world protect their women and children.

Even animals make an effort to protect the weak among them. From time to time, they can be seen protecting their young ones from predators with all the might they have. To them seeing their young ones hurting is unacceptable. The question that must be posed is: If animals find it unacceptable to abuse their young ones, why is it that some among us derive pleasure from seeing their own flesh and blood in pain?

Today we read about horror stories of fathers who rape or kill their own children, innocent souls that actually look up to them for love and protection. Today we read about husbands who organize gang rapes for their wives. Yet, they tell the world that they love them. Today we are witnessing a serious breakdown of the social fabric of our society. What happened to the spirit of ubuntu that has been the hallmark of our society for many centuries? What happened to the respect and admiration that men used to have for women from time immemorial? Have we, as a society, lost the sense that children are innocent and need to be protected at all times?

All of us have a responsibility to help expose those who harm the most vulnerable in our society. The scourge of child and women abuse threatens to erode many of the hard-earned gains of liberation struggle. Child and women abuse deny women and children their birthrights. It condemns them to a life of fear and prevents them from being productive members of society.

Women and children long for the day when they can walk the streets without fear of being raped or brutally assaulted. They long for a day when they can walk the streets without having to look behind them to see who is following them. They long for a day when society will protect them against sexual molesters.

The current spate of child murders in our country is a matter of grave concern and a painful reminder of the disregard for human life and rights of children. In memory of all children who perished in the hands of abusers, we must move with speed to put these murderers behind bars. As we do so, we must also focus our attention to those who claim to be sangomas who pay for the body parts of our children. The law must be equally harsh on them. I urge real sangomas to take a stand and expose those who trade with the bodies of our children.

By giving women and child abusers harsher sentences, our courts are continuing to play a role in sending a message to these abusers that their actions will not be tolerated. Those who commit atrocities and murders against women and children must rot in jail. They do not deserve bail or parole. They must not be allowed to share the same spaces with our women and children, nor must they be allowed to roam our streets. We also urge the Minister of Justice to speed up the re-establishment of the sexual offences courts.

We are cautiously encouraged by the crime statistics released recently by the Minister of Police, Mr Nathi Mthethwa. For the 2011/12 financial year, the sexual offences cases decreased by 3,7%. Rape decreased by 1,9% but it is still unacceptably high. We believe that the introduction of the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) units have contributed positively to the fight against the scourge of violence against women and children.

Despite these encouraging figures, we believe that the levels of crimes committed against women and children remain high, and that more needs to be done to ensure that we eliminate this scourge. All vulnerable groups have the right to live and walk anywhere in their environment, which must be understood as their collective right to safety and security in the spaces they inhabit. My message to all our people is that public safety is everybody's business. All institutions, community groups and citizens need to contribute to the development of safe and secure communities for all our people.

In the name of all our women and children who were brutally murdered by those who were supposed to be their protectors, we must work tirelessly towards creating safe and secure communities. As we mark Sixteen Days of No Violence Against Women and Children, we must pose uncomfortable questions to ourselves.

One of the critical questions is: What are we doing, individually and collectively, to address this scourge that threatens to erode the gains we have been making since 1994 to build a caring society? Beyond adopting the role of critics, what is it that other sectors can do to help government to eliminate violence against vulnerable groups?

As we ponder these questions, let us agree that all of us need to do more than what we have been doing if we are to reduce the unacceptably high levels of abuse in our society. Let me take this opportunity to make a few announcements:
• On 4 December, President Jacob Zuma will embark on a Siyahlola visit in Mbombela, Mpumalanga, as part of government's commitment to promote and protect the rights of people with disabilities. This event takes place within the context of the 16 Days campaign to eliminate gender-based violence and also commemorate International Day for People with Disabilities.
• The closing event for the 16 Days of Activism campaign will be held in Rustenburg, North West on 10 December 2012, which is International Human Rights Day. It will be at this occasion that the Deputy President, Hon Kgalema Motlanthe will launch and inaugurate the National Council Against Gender-Based Violence

Working together, we can do more to prevent domestic violence and make our homes places of safety, places of hope and places of peace and harmony. The call to action is for all of us to work together to reduce the number of sexual offences, attacks and murder of women and children in our country.

Lulu Xingwana is the Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities. This is an edited extract of her speech at the opening ceremony of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children.

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