September 25, 2019 marked the beginning of the globally recognised 16 days of Activism against Gender Based Violence (GBV). Commemorated every year, the fortnight usually holds a specific theme. In the SADC region the theme was succinctly put as “heightening awareness and strengthening the voice of advocacy against Gender Based Violence.”
Before one can even take a firm stance in activism against GBV one must understand just how pervasive it is in our society; more specifically in South African society. A chilling example is the case of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a young lady who, earlier this year, was the subject of much social media buzz. She was initially reported missing, but her body was found sexually assaulted and maimed and lifeless. This was but one example of a total of GBV murders that week and countless others since the beginning of the year. It is a scary but all too real reality for South African Women and Children that, as EFF MP Mmabatho Olive Mokause said in her speech to parliament on gender-based violence, "[O]ur country is under attack. Our sisters and girl children are under attack…"
The GBV pandemic cannot be overstated. Those active on social media rarely go a week (or even a day) without coming across the pleas of family members posting pictured of their daughters, mother, sisters, or cousins who are missing or have been missing for quite some time. These disappearances may or may not be attributed to GBV but when they happen in a nation where femicide is 5 times higher than the global average, the likelihood of their correlation is an unavoidable connection to draw. More especially when you look at the Domestic Violence Act/
Activism needs to take a more active stance against GBV from the top of the ladder all the way down. Government Statistics show that femicide in South Africa is 5 times higher than the global average, that violent crimes against women rose in the (crime) year ending March 2019 to close to 42 000. Women, statistically speaking, are 7.5 percentage points more likely to be unemployed than men across racial lines; this in light of the fact that the labour markets are generally more favourable to men over women. An argument can be made that though not GBV per se, this fact is a contributing factor to unequal treatment of women; either as a cause or a symptom, or both, look at the Labour Relations Act for legal provisions on equality in the work place. Activism and change starts from the top. It must take the form of more equal and equitable employment, security, and protection. Our environment has made women and children amongst the more vulnerable members and should be guarded and protected as such.
We live in a world where it is easier for a woman to get raped and/or murdered than it is for her to get a job, let alone a job where she will be equal to her male counterparts. For the next 2 weeks Activism for Women and Children will be at the foreground of many discussions. This is the time to set the tone for the time thereafter. Advocacy and activism should be the norm as opposed to a theme. For the remaining days of the 16 days of Activism I believe that the motif should be long term and sustainable efforts to go beyond heightening awareness of GBV but rather to give activism and advocacy legs upon which they can stand and march forth to a better tomorrow. It is my dream that the 16 days set aside for Activism in 2020 bring with them a notable improvement and a reaffirmation of commitment as opposed to a desire to merely increase awareness.