Feminist gender activists, members of the LGBTIQ+ community and women from various persuasions were part of the #TheTotalShutDown march to Parliament today to register their concern about what they describe as the rise of impunity of gender-based violence in the country. This march was a show of women’s unity against this scourge in recent times. And women were not apologetic about the fact that they hold the government accountable for it, for it has failed to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of existing laws aimed at curbing gender-based violence.

A representative of Mom’s Move for Justice, Ms Avril Andrews, said as women they are held hostage in their own communities by gangs who terrorise them at will. “As women we don’t feel safe in our own communities. Our girl children are raped, killed and maimed by gangsters almost at will.”

We are here to call on government to disarm gangsters in our areas, she said. “The best that can be done now is to disarm gangsters who prey on girl children.”

The first Deputy President of South African Federation of Trade Unions, Ms Nomvume Ralarala who was part of the march, said they came to support the march and were not wearing their union’s regalia because they were of the view that the women’s cause was not party political. They were there to make a statement for women’s emancipation from all forms of discrimination and violent abuse.

Most of all, they were part of this march to underline the fact that the women are best placed not in the kitchen, but in the revolution. In this regard, we took strength as women from the women of 1956 who came before us to fight for women’s emancipation. “We have joined this march to heed the call for women’s emancipation.”

She was miffed by the fact that when there is a crisis, task teams and judicial commissions of inquiry are formed to address it – but no task team or judicial commission of inquiry has been set up to investigate gender-based violence, which has reached a crisis point in this country, she said.

The Total Shutdown’s Cape Town Convener, Ms Onica Makwekwe, said they came to Parliament to present 24 demands that correspond with the 24 years since the advent of democracy in this country. And these demands were a perfect illustration that women were not yet free, she said.

She said they recognised the fact that their march was not the first women’s march to Parliament and that demonstrated the fact that there was no integrated approach to curb gender-based violence in the country. Part of their list of demands is that there should be a gender summit during this month and the review of failed strategies that sought to curb gender-based violence. Also, there must be strict criteria for those employed to deal with gender mainstreaming in government departments. “We must ensure that they are gender-sensitive in the broadest sense possible, and understand the rights of non-gender conforming people.”

Most of all, there must a national plan of action that will come up with new strategies, but also monitor and evaluate the existing policies aimed at curbing gender-based violence. And there must be a parliamentary committee that must conduct oversight over the policies and processes that will be stipulated in this national action plan to ensure that they comply with the law – and are adhered to.

She also mentioned that they want new sentencing guidelines that are reflective of gender diversity and sensibility, and that would be a deterrent.

Included in the long list of demands, was a demand for government to incept a 365-day media campaign that will have information on gender rights and that would also advocate for gender awareness on LGBTIQ+ and non-gender conforming community.

Concluding the list of their demands, Ms Makwekwe reiterated: “We are not free until all these demands are met.”

When time came for their memorandum of demands, which are accompanied by respective deadlines, to be handed over to Parliament, they insisted that they would do so only to a Presiding Officer of Parliament: either the Speaker, her Deputy, or the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces. When they realised neither of them was present at Parliament, and parliamentary officials were sent to accept it instead, they vehemently objected to that angrily. But they eventually handed it over to the parliamentary officials who were sent to receive it.

Ms Makwekwe interjected: “We can now see that our plight is not taken seriously. In this country, one woman gets killed in every hour. We are here not to just hand over demands, we are also here to perform our anger. To demonstrate that we are tired of being maimed and we are here because we want to die no more.”

She concluded: “If men are uncountable, we will hold the government accountable. And if some of our demands are not met on the 9th of August, we will be back here. We will be back here not to celebrate Women’s Day, but will be here to demand justice and freedom.”     

By Abel Mputing
1 August 2018