At the recent policy conference of the ANC, Social Transformation dedicated extensive time discussing the abhorrent problem that is facing our society – gender-based violence. Our immediate recommendation was severe mandatory sentences for crimes against women – aware though that this is only a deterrent and not a solution.
Gender-based violence has become a dominant, very worrying crime on the rise, impacting very negatively on our national psyche. It is a breach of women’s fundamental right to life, liberty, security, physical and mental integrity and wellbeing and a direct breach of the Bill of Rights. Its toll on our society is 150 cases per day. Shocking!
Unfortunately it continues to be an under-reported crime, with a high rate of withdrawal of cases. The urgency needs to be seen in that light. Its toll on our economy is estimated to be between R28.4 billion and R42.4 billion a year. The psychological impact – immeasurable!
The irony is that all of this is happening in possibly the only country where women fought in a liberation struggle with the intention that this would eventually liberate them from all forms of oppression and patriarchy.
Admittedly, deliberate laws, programmes and actions have been adopted and effected by the government, with the specific objective of empowering and protecting women. In this regard, the government, non-governmental organisations, civic and labour bodies have expended huge amounts of energy and resources for the advancement of women.
As this important work continues, figures of crimes against women soar to 51 895 a year.
The advancement of women is impossible without the urgent radical transformation of our society to lay the basis for women to enjoy full freedom. Outside of that, women will continue to be killed, raped and molested at the same rate as we have experienced over the years, one of the highest in any country at peace.
We may be on our way to overcoming the oppression and suppression of one group by another. However, patriarchy remains intact, because it remains the foundation of how society is arranged. As long as it is reinforced by traditions and culture, and ironically preserved and reinforced by women themselves, anything else we do will not deal with the fundamental transformation to the society that we need. For women, radical transformation means the total removal of patriarchy.
In our quest to end patriarchy, we should be mindful of the unintended consequence of the growing insecurity and marginalisation that men feel as we empower women. It may well be that in our correct interventions to empower women we have neglected to take boys and men into consideration. This obviously poses a challenge to all of us to ensure that we urgently address this matter with the necessary balanced sensitivity. With high levels of unemployment, and perceived disempowerment of males in our society, a false impression has unfortunately been created among significant sections of men that they have, indeed, been emasculated. It is almost a subconscious holding on to power and dominance that may result in violence. When the only advantage men have is their biological strength against women, they resort to violence.
Of course, this is not an excuse for unacceptable, deviant and morally wrong behaviour. It is a factor that needs to be taken into account in our attempt to change society. I am convinced that it is critical that as we modernise our society and abandon archaic views, attitudes and beliefs, and empower women, we need to simultaneously and systematically focus programmes to take our boys and men along. This is important because the strides we continue to make would come to naught if we do not create the necessary tactical balance.
We have to find a way of ensuring that cultures that celebrate male masculinity send a message that real men don’t hurt women and also celebrate the sanctity of and rights of women. They must be taught that a man who raises his hand to a woman has real, deep-seated feelings of insecurity. This we must teach our children.
I also believe that children must be taught at a very early age the equality between girls and boys. Unless we create a new culture, we will continuously reproduce all the negatives of an old culture that no longer has a place in our society. We have to transform society to represent all the ideals we have fought for.
We should move away from paying lip service to the equality and protection of women in the month of August only. There has to be continuity in the struggle, which has to be a lived experience every day.
The school curriculum must have a core component of how we can change our society to remove all vestiges of racism and inequality between the sexes. These will not automatically wither away. They have to be taught and entrenched and their impact monitored on a regular basis and supported by public awareness programmes. Cultural practices that benefit only some, can only be changed by deliberate methods, not words or protests.
Sisulu is minister of human settlements