Rev Professor Peter Storey, a former Methodist Bishop and President of the South African Council of Churches said that among the complex reasons behind gender-based violence (GBV), culture is an important factor. “Some cultures have been more successful than others in abolishing male dominance,” he said, “but too many males in our country treat culture as a god; they hide behind ‘my culture’ to excuse misuse and abuse of women.”

Culture is not a static thing and patriarchy is no longer acceptable, the Rev Storey continued. “Women are not property and all of us males in all cultures need to be challenged to recognise the full autonomy and status of women, and to behave accordingly.”

He said that the culture of male dominance and insensitivity to gender violence manifested itself also at police stations, where female victims of GBV were supposed to enjoy some temporary refuge. “Regrettably, at police stations women are exposed to the perpetuation of violence. When they seek to lay a charge against perpetrators, they are often laughed at and ridiculed by the police,” added Rev Storey.

“In this regard, the South African Police Service are a disgrace. They are part of the problem instead of being part of the answer.” He said that a massive, ongoing education drive was necessary to curb GBV, to remove these stereotypes from the minds of men.

Churches could play an important role, but they too were often guilty of patriarchy. “When churches treat women as second-class members, they must not be surprised if their male members get the wrong message.”

He also hoped that women would become more militant in their struggle against violence that targets them, and that every institution in the land needed to be pressured to embrace the message that “Black Women’s Lives Matter”.

“In 2003, Christian and Muslim women in Liberia even withheld sex from their spouses to help stop a war. What would happen if South African women did the same until the GBV that is injuring so many of them ceased? Maybe it would stop the war against women in our land.”

By Mava Lukani

21 June 2020