There are laws to protect women and children from abusers, but there is no will to enforce them and anyway, laws alone are not enough.
As we celebrate Women’s Day today, four women will die at the hands of their intimate partners. According to the Medical Research Council and the Centre for Public Mental Health, domestic violence is the most common form of violence against South African women and children.
I am a solution-driven person. I want to know what’s driving this crime against our women and children – the most vulnerable of society. Women and children should feel safe in their families, but unfortunately, in South African society, they are not, and their situation is getting worse.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 5.5 in every 100,00 children are murdered, 34% of those murders happen in the home and girls (44%) are more likely to be murdered in the home than boys (28%). The same study established that child abuse and neglect were evident in 75% of murders of girls. 36-40% of pregnant women experience abuse at the hands of their intimate partners, resulting in extreme personal risk and risk to the baby, who may be born pre-term with a low birth weight, or may die in utero.
Many women suffer violent deaths. There is no way to couch the horror. Zanele Khumalo. Nosipho Mandleleni. Leonara Le Roux. Reeva Steenkamp. Karabo Mokoena. The list of murdered women grows daily. Some of these victims are named and known to us all. Many are not.
It doesn’t take a special commission of inquiry to establish the reasons for the high rate of domestic violence and murder, it takes common sense. The unadorned fact of the matter is that South Africa is still dysfunctional in three main areas: poverty reduction, education, and judicially.
This dysfunction is evident primarily in the poverty many South Africans endure.
Available data on South African poverty levels suggests that over half of our nation’s households live in poverty. Women are the worst affected, with a poverty head count of 58, 6% as compared to 54, 9% for men.
Women living under the oppression of toxic masculinities, structural patriarchy, and economic hardships are the ones who suffer most. They are the ones who have to hold families together in the face of little to no resources and, sometimes, with little emotional support.
Confronting the effects of years of poverty and economic inequality is a crucial component for addressing the challenge we face.
However, it is no silver bullet either, since violence against women knows no race or class divides. It exists at all levels where dysfunction persists.
Given the patriarchal organisation of our society, poverty especially strips a man of his dignity, denudes him his status as “traditional provider”, and makes him feel less than what he believes he ought to be.
For a man raised in a patriarchal society that invests so little in equipping him with constructive tools for coping with his circumstances, the sense of impotence in the eyes of society can be overwhelming; manifesting itself in destructive ways.
Ultimately, a man who can take home a loaf of bread to his family walks a lot taller than a man who has nothing to feed his children.
Poverty is not an excuse for a man to abuse those he supposedly loves, but understanding all this gives us as glimpse into a psyche that may drive the violence and levels of abuse we see today.
Failing our women and children at this most basic level of society – the family unit – impacts the creation of an integrated society, and perpetuates the cycle of abuse.
Children who attend under-resourced schools live in societies where dysfunction is amplified. The government systematically fails to provide a nourishing, quality educational environment that protects and educates our children.
Statistics of educational dysfunction are mainly sourced from organisations, because the government is reluctant to quantify the extent of dysfunction in education, especially in the rural areas, where the educational facilities are below what they should be. However, a Mail & Guardian article states that “results from international, standardised tests show that between 75% and 80% of South African schools are not able to impart the necessary skills to students”. If that’s not dysfunction, then I don’t know what is.
Of course, we have laws that aim to protect women and promote equality, but laws, in and of themselves, cannot guarantee changes in social and cultural norms – especially in the face of a criminal justice system that often fails the victims of abuse.
There are police who are reluctant to involve themselves in domestic disputes, prosecution authorities who cannot properly attend to cases, and magistrates who rap offenders on the knuckles – failing many women in the process.
Most importantly, there is a lack of political will. Our leaders act to undermine our laws. We have a state president who faces 783 criminal charges, Lieutenant General Berning Ntlemeza who had to be disqualified by the courts from holding office, and most recently, Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training, Mduduzi Manana was filmed beating a young lady at a Johannesburg nightclub.
Without serious consequences to perpetrators of violence against women, there is no motivation to change. This has to change. Women need to know that their country is working for them. The laws are there, but they need to better enforced.
We need to not only start by saying “Not in my name”, but by actively rejecting anything that leads to a culture in which violence becomes a tool used against our mothers, sisters and daughters.
Let us be the men who reject violence against women and children in our homes, let us strengthen our social and economic existence by promoting an economy of upliftment, and let us demand that our judicial system keep women and children safe. DM
Herman Mashaba is the executive mayor of Johannesburg. An entrepreneur, businessman and family man, Mashaba founded the famous company Black Like Me. His inspirational life story of overcoming formidable odds has captured the imagination of many South Africans. Born in near-poverty in GaRamotse in Hammanskraal, and raised by his sisters while his absent domestic-worker mother worked long hours, Herman sees his lifes purpose to help others find a ladder out of poverty.
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