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Opinionista

Gender-based violence is a war against the humanity, dignity and equality of women

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Nobuntu Hlazo-Webster is Founder of the South African Women’s Commission and Deputy Leader of Build One South Africa (Bosa).

At its core, violence against women and girls seeks to express the ‘lesser-than’ status of women in society; to place women in a category of existence where they are suppressed, disempowered and dominated over. It is no different from what the system of apartheid sought to do to black people.

On Wednesday, in my capacity as deputy leader of Build One South Africa (Bosa), I was invited to give a keynote address at the launch of a state-of-the-art mobile app that uses artificial intelligence to combat the scourge of gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa.

The app, designed and pioneered by Kwanele South Africa, is a groundbreaking initiative designed to combat GBV and provide crucial support to victims. It offers real-time assistance and information to individuals affected by GBV.

The technology is extremely impressive, and I am convinced it will do much to assist women in what has become a daily assault on their bodies.

However, I was painfully struck by this reality: while many other countries are developing state-of-the-art technology to advance their society and economies, South Africa requires an app to protect women from physical abuse. It is a stain on our national conscience – one which we must collectively tackle.

At its core, violence against women and girls seeks to express the “lesser than” status of women in society, to strip women of their dignity and is an act which defies the very humanity of women. It is a means to place women in a category of existence where they are suppressed, disempowered and dominated over. It is no different from what the system of apartheid sought to do to black people – to suppress, disempower and dominate over them.

It is the physical expression of GBV which is most visible, but daily, in homes, in communities, in workplaces, many women have not realised a life of equality. The scales in power, influence and even mere existence, are tipped in favour of men – in the economy, in families and in societal structures.

If the apartheid system saw movements emerge to challenge that oppression, the international community rise in solidarity to fight this enforcement of inequality, a country in flames to fight for human dignity and equal rights – why in a free and democratic country does such a crisis against human equality persist?

While South Africa’s Constitution promotes equality for all people, irrespective of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, our human rights-based legal system has failed to effectively address and redress the issue of gender inequality in the country – despite South Africa being the most dangerous place to be for women. This is most glaringly illustrated by the state of GBV in South Africa.

Until there is a force of action against this oppression against women and the enforcement of laws and policy which communicate the weight of this right to equality, the scourge of GBV will persist.

Our country has failed

For this to be realised, it will take leadership which recognises the brutality of inequality, is alive to the resulting violent culture and has the decisiveness to ensure the enforcement of all measures. The leadership of this country has failed in this regard. In a country at war with its women, our country has failed.

Despite enacted legislation, its limitations and the ineffectiveness in resourcing and implementation has seen a less than 10% decrease in rape rates in South Africa. The shocking rate at which South African women are killed by intimate partners is five times higher than the global average (World Bank, 2019).

The World Health Organisation recognises GBV as a major public health problem, but in South Africa, it is an oppression which has, to a large extent, been normalised; not just in society, but as evidenced by a lack of urgency on the government’s part in responding to what has been duly declared a pandemic.

The resources and funding directed at the ecosystem of prevention, support for victims and corrective interventions do not reflect the extent of the crisis. As an example, an average of R50-million per year has been spent in support of GBV shelters over the past four years, an amount which barely scratches the surface for a critical intervention in the ecosystem. Police stations continue to be ill equipped and under resourced for the reporting of GBV crimes, and the judicial system fails victims of GBV.

It is the lack of progress in these areas and the communicated lack of political will to correct an oppressive ill in our society that have resulted in South Africa’s being considered as the rape capital of the world. In the first quarter of 2022, about 10,818 rape cases were reported. Between July and September of this year, 10,516 rapes were reported to the police. This is almost the same number of cases reported in the previous year – a clear indication that the government is failing in effectively addressing GBV.

Bosa will continue to advocate for interventions at national government level to assist the fight against GBV. These include an automated national registry for protection orders; an updated and public sexual offences registry; legal aid to GBV victims who want to sue the government for failure to protect and prosecute; ending the shortage of rape kits at police stations; and building more sexual offences courts.

It is time we saw violence against women for what it is: a war against the humanity, dignity and equality of women. We cannot afford for another generation to normalise this indignity and violence. We need to fight for change. DM

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