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HLENGIWE MKHIZE: Women face a double burden in coronavirus crisis

OPINION

What gives men in our country this false assumption of ownership over women and the girl child?

In instances of gender-based violence and, particularly against children… I say enough is enough.

South Africa is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child since 1993 and ratified it on 16 June 1995. According to Article 34 of the convention, South Africa, as with any other member state, undertook to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. The convention further instructs us to ensure that no child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

It is therefore incumbent on all of us to protect our children, and not violate them in any way.

Sphiwe Sibeko, a 14-year old girl from Dobsonville in Soweto disappeared on Thursday after heading to a nearby shop, only for her body to be found in a bush on Friday at eMndeni Extension, brutalised, allegedly raped. I am told she was only identifiable by her clothes and birthmark.

This brought back a vivid memory of the gruesome killing of Tazne Van Wyk in February, which epitomises a country that is at war with women and children. Eight-year-old Tazne was found dead after being missing for nearly two weeks. She was last seen walking to the tuck shop across the road from her home in Cape Town.

According to crime statistics released by Bheki Cele, the Minister of Police, in the 2018/19 financial year, a total of 2,771 women were murdered in South Africa. That was down from 2,930 in 2017/18.
Even with the reported decline, the number is still unacceptably high. What is also shocking is that during the 2018/19 year, 1,014 children were murdered.

I am disappointed that the toxic patriarchal mind-set seems unstoppable, ‘ayinamkhawulo’ even when the nation is walking in the shadow of a deadly disaster.

It is clear that women are exposed to a double sword war. Women are carrying the double burden of fight the spread of coronavirus infections and attacks by perpetrators of gender-based violence.

The lockdown is stressful and anxiety-provoking and in, some instances, triggers serious mental health problems. We appeal to all our men to appreciate the burden of care and share the household chores during these stressful 21 days.

The Coronavirus Command Council, under the leadership of President Ramaphosa, has taken decisive interventions to curb the spread of COVID-19 infections. They issued an instruction of a lockdown from March 26 until April 16.

During the lockdown, the message is for us to stay at home, wash hands regularly, sanitise and maintain a safe physical distance from others. They have also decided to disperse mobile teams to our densely populated communities. People are being screened for coronavirus symptoms, and tested at the discretion of the screening official.

The Coronavirus Command Council has asked for love, compassion and solidarity during this difficult time. At the same time, the Emergency Action Implementation programme of government has made significant strides, with its impact felt in all police stations, expanded sexual offences courts, Thuthuzela Care Centres, the provision of shelters.

The machinery is yielding positive results which women appreciate. Women would not like to lose such gains, even during this period when our government is fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

The Emergency Action Implementation programme talks to strengthening the criminal justice system, enhancing legal and regulatory reforms, ensuring adequate care, support and healing for victims, improving economic power of women and the prevention of gender-based violence.

I call upon all civil society structures to condemn these criminal acts, the command council to use its authority to send a clear message that acts of gender-based violence, including violence against children, are a serious transgression, and show the perpetrators that consequences will be severe.

Hlengiwe Mkhize is the Deputy Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities.

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