South Africa is characterised by alarming rates of gender-based violence (GBV) against women, children, and marginalised groups. The unprecedented rates suggest that there is a normalisation of violence due to a patriarchal system that thrives on the oppression of vulnerable groups systematically, socially, politically, economically, and environmentally.
Although the dominant narrative around GBV continues to position women as perpetual victims, it undermines an incredibly powerful narrative of how women’s movement building has been pivotal in working towards a violence-free society. In the past 15 years, the contribution made by student activism and the larger women’s movement in shaping the discourse on GBV in South Africa has been fundamental in changing public perception and understanding the multi-faceted nature of the scourge.
Equally the shift towards an intersectional and feminist analysis of the scourge continues to hold institutions of power accountable for their role in perpetuating and contributing to an escalation of the violence.
Twenty-six years into democracy and the South African government has been on the receiving end of continuous scrutiny for their nonchalant approach to prioritising the effective protection of the human rights of women, children, and marginalised groups. The spike in feminist movement building and organising in our communities has placed considerable amounts of pressure on our leaders and society to hold them liable for their complacency towards GBV. These processes have been reinforced by the larger global shift in the discourse on GBV and gender more broadly, where historically private matters such as rape and femicide are being placed on national, regional, and international agendas.
In the month of August, we reflect and appreciate the rich history of South African civil resistance movements that were led by women including the Black Sash, the Alexandra Women’s Council (AWC), Women of Crossroads Movement (WCM), Bantu Women’s League (BWL) and the historic 1956 Women’s March. The victories of these women-led movements have had a far-reaching impact that is often silenced.
Therefore we, as young feminists committed to equitable change, should be at the helm of re-writing these women back into history. We must be deliberate about acknowledging the roles they played in influencing contemporary women’s movements.
In the spirit of uncensored truths, the recent growth of women’s movements and political engagement continues to demand a proactive stance from the government in addressing GBV. Movements like #RhodesMustFall. #FeesMustFall, #RememberKhwezi, #RUReferenceList, #Iam1in3, and #MeToo are an expression of women’s ability to politicise their lived experiences.
Through collective efforts and a true sense of solidarity under #TheTotalShutdown movement, the first National Summit on Gender-Based Violence was held by the Office of the Presidency under the administration of President Cyril Ramaphosa. This historic moment gave birth to the journey towards finalising the National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence (NSP).
In April 2020, President Ramaphosa launched a 10-year plan to curb GBV by providing a costed framework, and scalable measures with fixed timelines that are to be implemented in the next decade. The NSP is a powerful feminist document that truly captures the lived realities of women, children, and marginalised groups who are survivors and potential victims of GBV. Ultimately, the NSP reflects years of mobilisation and advocacy from the larger women’s movement nationally, regionally, and internationally.
Indeed, we are reminded that we are resting on the shoulders of powerful women who have carried us over decades of collective resistance for the full recognition of women and vulnerable groups as humans too. Our mandate is to ensure the realisation of feminist realities, realities that will not favour one group over the other, but will rather promote fair and equitable distribution of resources, protect, and preserve the livelihoods of all people and commit to capacitating our communities to strive for sustainable development for all. DM
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