Violence against women and girls is a pandemic in southern Africa and an obstacle to equality, development, peace and human rights.
This is the message from the Executive Secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax, in her contribution to the 16 days of Activism against Gender Based Violence (GBV).
The 16 Days of Activism against GBV is an annual global campaign dedicated to raising awareness and advocacy to end violence against women and girls.
The campaign runs every year from 25 November, which marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women to 10 December, which is dedicated as Human Rights Day.
"We cannot be silent and inactive on GBV as a region," Dr Tax said, adding "silence and stigma have allowed violence against women to escalate to pandemic proportions."
She said "in realizing that violence against women and girls continues to be an obstacle to achieving equality, development, peace as well as to the fulfilment of women and girls' human rights," the region has come up with various measures to address the challenge.
For example, a number of regional strategic documents and frameworks including the Revised Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan, and the Strategic Indicative Plan for the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security considers GBV as a critical area of concern.
In fact, these regional documents clearly affirm the principles of women empowerment and gender equality, and recognize the prevention and reduction of GBV as a catalyst for attaining an environment conducive for peace and security.
The Revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development identifies GBV as an area of concern and proposes several approaches to addressing this pandemic.
The Revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development provides for the empowerment of women, elimination of discrimination and attainment of gender equality and equity through enactment of gender-responsive legislation and implementation of policies, programmes and projects.
The protocol was revised in 2016 to align with the provisions of other instruments such as the Sustainable Development Goals, Agenda 2063 and the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap 2015-2063.
Dr Tax said to intensify the fight against GBV, the region has put in place other legal frameworks such as the Regional GBV Strategy 2018-2030 and its Framework of Action and the SADC Regional Strategy on Women, Peace and Security 2018 - 2022.
The SADC Regional Strategy on Women, Peace and Security gives due attention to the need to include women in national security sector institutions and processes and the need to combat any human rights violations of women and children with emphasis on combatting sexual GBV.
The SADC Regional Gender Based Violence Strategy was developed to ensure the effective and efficient implementation of the Revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development with a specific focus on Articles addressing GBV.
SADC also developed the 10 Year Strategic Plan of Action on Combating Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (2009 - 2019). GBV is used to manipulate and control women, men, boys and girls who fall victim of trafficking in persons and forced labour.
According to Secretariat, these measures coupled with other efforts continue to yield positive results in addressing GVB.
"In the last decade, we have seen the issue of GBV moving from the shadows to the foreground of commitments and actions to attain sustainable development," Dr Tax said.
"Global actions like the 16 Days Campaign are some of the initiatives that continue to provide an opportunity to mobilize global, regional and national actions against GBV."
She urged Member States to intensify action aimed at prevention of GBV and to strengthen related services, as well as "create platforms for giving voice to the voiceless, including to allow for safe reporting, provision of shelters and places of safety for victims and survivors of GBV."
The United Nations (UN) Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka added her voice, saying that it is still unclear as to the extent of violence against women, as most fear reprisal.
Mlambo-Ngcuka said there is stigma associated with GBV and this has silenced victims from reporting such cases, hence it is critical for the global community to unmask the true extent of these continued horrific experiences.
This year's 16 Days of Activism against GBV aims to encourage people to speak out and act against GBV.