Members of the National Assembly took the opportunity provided by the debate on 16 days of activism against gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) to give their party’s perspective on what ought to be done to uproot this scourge, which blights South Africa’s constitutional democracy and threatens the lives of every woman and girl living here.

As the first speaker in the debate, the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr John Jeffery, said the painful effects of GBVF are a painful indictment of South African society. “The high levels of gender and sexual violence are tearing our communities apart. Sadly, they are often committed by people who are known to the victim, a teacher, a friend or a neighbour,” he continued. Gender-based violence is a man’s problem, he said, one that is perpetrated by men who embrace patriarchy and a version of masculinity that harms women.

The solution, in the Minister’s view, is to talk to men and boys to uproot these dominant patriarchal practices and perspectives. He was optimistic that the new legislation recently passed into law will change the architectural framework of law and justice that deals with GBV. Among other things, he welcomed the National Council against Gender Violence and Femicide Bill, recently passed by the National Assembly. The council is tasked with finding preventative measures and a strategic framework to bring a holistic approach to the problem.

Ms Nazley Sharif of the Democratic Alliance was clear that as the perpetrators, it is men who bear the responsibility for finding solutions to the problem of GBV. Ironically, women continue to be at the forefront of the fight while men play a supportive role, she pointed out. “This is so absurd, because if men could stop GBV, we wouldn’t be a country with the highest levels of GBV in the world,” she suggested.  

Ms Sibongile Khawula of the Economic Freedom Fighters questioned the limit of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, saying that women suffer its effects 365 days of the year. She also complained about the shortcomings of the police and justice clusters’ response to acts of GBV. She pointed out that the victims of GBV are often subjected to further ill-treatment at the hands of the police and the justice system. Sher cited examples: “Many perpetrators of GBV are often not persecuted due to police inexperience in dealing with these cases. Or they get bail only to cause more trauma to their victims.”  

Mr Mkakazeleni Buthelezi of the Inkatha Freedom Party also considered the 16-day timeframe too short. He pointed to recent statistics which suggest that we should have “365 days of activism against GBV.” He added, “This scourge of violence is stain on our society and demands an urgent attention.” 

Mr Frederik Mulder of the Freedom Front Plus suggested that it is not enough to only fight individual acts of GBV. “We should also fight systematic acts of GBV,” he said. “Men must take into cognisance how much power they have, how much influential space they occupy in society, and they should be wary of their actions and behaviours in this regard if they are to play a critical role in ending the violence against women,” he cautioned.

Any intervention in this fight should realise the public health crisis caused by pornography and its contribution to this scourge, said Ms Marie Sukers of the African Christian Democratic Party. It has been proven that certain cases of GBV are the result of men watching pornography, she attested. “This addiction should be addressed and be given the stigma it deserves,” she said.

Mr Nqabayomzi Kwankwa of the United Democratic Movement called for men to take collective responsibility for GBV. Men also need to be educated about its negative impact on society, our human rights culture and our constitutional order for which so many fought and sacrificed their lives, he said.

What is most saddening, stated Mr Brett Herron of the GOOD Party, is the police’s inability to bring the perpetrators of GBV to book. He cited the Krugersdorp incident in which many young women were raped as a case in point. “Police made hurried arrests, but there was no DNA evidence to persecute those implicated in this barbaric act of rape,” he said.

Ms Sthembile Hlongo of the African National Congress again pointed to patriarchy as the societal architecture that allows GBV to flourish in our society. “It perpetuates male domination in various facets of life. This is due to traditional attributes linked to being a man or a boy which is associated with high economic rewards and political influence.” Worst of all, she stressed, “there are societal stigmas when women deviate from traditional gender norms.”

In our modern political setting, she said, male domination has been fortified by the division of labour along gender lines. This has resulted in “… the association of low-status domestic work with femininity and the association of high-status work with high economic rewards, public leadership roles and high political power with masculinity,” she pointed out. These gender inequalities support and enable gender imbalances, she said.

Abel Mputing

29 November 2024