19 November 2018

Africa: Mr President Time for GBV Campaigns Are Over, Concrete Action Is Needed

Mr President, 25 November, International Day of No Violence Against Women, marks the start of the 16 Days of Activism on Gender Based Violence (GBV). At the GBV Summit you called on 1-2 November, South African women made it clear through messages painted on panties that they are done with such campaigns. As we build up to 25 years of democracy next year, they want the "bodily integrity" promised by our Constitution that you so skilfully helped to craft. After eight years of Jacob Zuma, the former president acquitted of rape, but scoring "F" on his conduct towards women, there's a high expectation from the #TotalShutdown campaign and its many allies that you can offer a new deal.

First, congratulations on becoming the first president in South Africa, in Southern Africa, and possibly in the world to call a national crisis summit on GBV! You have had a job summit, an investment summit, and now a GBV summit. How will you connect these threads? Will ending GBV be counted as one of your legacies? Here is some advice from the Summit communications commission, of which I formed a part:

Put ending GBV as a top political priority: Gender equality is a cornerstone of our constitution. Gender violence is the single most telling indicator of gender inequality: "an affront to our shared humanity," as you put it. Stats SA reports that 138 per 100,000 women were raped last year, the highest rate in the world. The real rate is probably nine times higher. There can be no justice without gender justice. Seize the moment!

Connect the dots: As you rightly pointed out, ending gender violence requires that we "address societal issues of patriarchy, economic relations and changing the way of thinking about gender relations. Patriarchy means that men feel entitled to exert economic and other forms of power over women." This is where your three priorities - investment, jobs and GBV come together. Women need more than safety nets. They need economic means and agency.

Change the narrative: Listen to the new generation of young women: On 1 August, the #TotalShutdown campaign, using a forceful combination of social media and grassroots mobilisation, camped on the grounds of Union Buildings declaring they had nothing to celebrate in the traditional "Women's Month." The 24 demands they insisted on presenting to you in person prompted the GBV summit. As Brenda Madumise, one of the leaders, put it at the summit press conference, there's a new type of civil society in South Africa. They are watching and ready to march in black and red if no action is taken.

Rebrand, learn from the HIV and AIDS campaigns: Prevention, the end of the line in government's GBV response-support-prevention model, was quickly put top of the agenda in HIV strategies, and got state support. Government prevention efforts on GBV pop out during the Sixteen Days, with messages like "Act Against Abuse" and "Don't look away" that ring rather hollow in the #MeToo, #TimesUp era. The demand to extend the 16 days to 365 days of radical action is louder than ever. Why not make one of your walks during the Sixteen Days a #TakeBacktheNight walk with women through say the streets of Hillbrow to make the point that the night belongs to all of us? And then walk the talk till all of us own the night and day!

Put the lived experiences of women at the centre of the campaign: We noticed your pain as the survivors spoke out at the opening ceremony of the summit - a migrant woman; a survivor of trafficking, a woman who killed her abusive partner and many more. These are not the usual stories you hear in male power- loaded courts or media. They are the raw, lived experiences of women. Centre their voices in this new revolution.

Free Martha!You have the power to give presidential pardons: Martha Libuseng Marumo,57, gave one of the most riveting testimonials of the day, describing how she killed her abusive husband in 2003, after failing to get help from the police and social development. As she is serving a life sentence, she will not be eligible for parole for another ten years. You noted that femicide - the killing of a woman by an intimate partner- increased by 11% in South Africa in the last year and is among the highest rates in the world. It's rare that women kill their husbands, and when they do it's usually after years of the system failing them. No, you cannot condone murder, but you have the power of presidential pardon. Nail your colours to the mast: #FreeMartha!

Be consistent and persistent in your messaging: A recent Gender Links study shows that GBV is only mentioned in 4% of political speeches in South Africa, and rarely as a topic on its own. Make it a point that every minister mentions GBV in every speech - finance, transport, justice, social development - not just the rather feeble women's ministry. If you and your cabinet wore the red (HIV) white (GBV) ribbon every day of the year in 2019 imagine the impact that could have!

(Colleen Lowe Morna is CEO of Gender Links)

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