MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE: Be accountable and end gender-based violence

This year 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the global campaign of 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children. It is the longest standing global campaign that seeks to galvanise global support to address the global crisis of gender based violence and femicide.

We officially launched 16 Days of Activism in Soweto, one the biggest townships in South Africa, and is also identified as part of the top 30 GBV Hotspots in the country.

The South African government declared the theme for this year’s 16 Days of Activism Campaign as: “The Year of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke: 16 Days of Activism – moving from awareness to accountability”. This is part of our ongoing 365 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence and Femicide campaign that was launched in December 2019. The campaign calls on South Africa, particularly men to become actively involved in ending all forms of violence.

Gender-based violence and femicide remains the second pandemic in our country and most of our communities have witnessed the devastating impacts of this pandemic. The third quarter crime stats for 2021 released by the South African Police Services show a significant increase in the number of rape, domestic violence, and child murders. The prevalence of Gender-Based Violence and Femicide remains a societal challenge and it is likely to happen in any context, from the church, to home, to school, or taxi rank.

Under the leadership of His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa, our Government remains committed and determined to eradicate the pandemic of Gender-Based Violence and Femicide.

Accountability is key to addressing the scourge of Gender-Based Violence and Femicide.

In the spirit of moving from awareness to accountability, we are pleased that there has been interventions in place to address the scourge of gender based violence and femicide. At the heart of these interventions is the need for collaborative approaches at societal level through strengthening partnerships across all networks and communities.

The National Strategic Plan on Gender Based Violence and Femicide was adopted by cabinet in 2020 as a blue print to decisively tackle this pandemic. The National Strategic Plan (NSP) provides coordinated interventions to address the challenges that continue to threaten the livelihoods of women. This includes inequality, and a lack of women’s economic inclusion. This leads to increased vulnerability to violence including Gender-Based Violence and Femicide.

At the start of this year’s Women’s Month, President Cyril Ramaphosa released the Year 1 Rollout Report on the National Strategic Plan on Gender Based Violence and Femicide. The report revealed the need for greater accountability from key stakeholders including government departments.

The Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) which I lead and comprising of the Ministers of Police; Finance; Justice and Correctional Services; Social Development; Public Service and Administration is responsible for coordinating Government’s response to Gender-Based Violence and Femicide. In this regard, the IMC is hard at work in accelerating the implementation of the National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide. However, government cannot do it alone. We need all social partners including civil society, private sector and community organisations.

Accountability must be viewed as a transformative approach to ensuring the full and effective implementation of the NSP.

The establishment and operation of the National Council on Gender Based Violence and Femicide seeks to use institutional and legislative tools to ensure the effective implementation of the NSP. The Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities is conducting multi-sectoral consultations with communities across all nine provinces as part of building ownership on the establishment of this council. As a result, part of our commitment to strengthening partnerships with civil society, the establishment of the National Council on GBVF is paramount in promoting collaboration in influencing policy and implementing the NSP.

Article 5 of the 2019 GBVF Declaration representing government and civil society calls for the review of existing laws and policies to identify gaps and ensure they are victim centred and responsive. Accordingly, the adoption of the three GBV-related bills by cabinet in 2020 seek to ensure the criminal justice system is responsive to GBVF-related matters and that the human dignity and safety of victims of violence is protected at all times.

The reality is that Gender-Based Violence and Femicide is a manifestation of gender inequalities in society. Beyond the slogans and policy documents, we need to see a drastic change in norms and values of our communities. This is a complex social problem, with a foundation in inequality, historical oppression and persistent, harmful and discriminatory social norms around gender, race and culture.

Equally, communities are at the core of ensuring the implementation of interventions aimed at addressing gender based violence and femicide. Communities become instrumental in promoting prevention as a long-term solution to addressing violence.

During 16 Days of Activism Campaign, we must emphasize collaboration across sectors. On Saturday, the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities in partnership with the South African Police Services and civil society organizations hosted extensive community engagements and site visits across Mamelodi in Pretoria to promote accountability of in providing services for women and persons with disabilities.

Civil society and community based organizations continue to fuel the fight against gender based violence. The NSP is a result of the commitment and resilience of women to uphold their right to dignity and humanity. The same resilience and determination is demonstrated in the NSP Collaborative, a co-creation forum between government and civil society organisations to ensure implementation of NSP whilst the council is being established.

South Africa continues to strengthen solidarity with global actors in government, business, civil society, donor community and developmental agency to drive the transformative agenda of the Generation Equality Forum to accelerate gender equality. Three of the Twelve commitments made by the South African government are under the Action Coalition on Gender Based Violence. These commitments continue to drive the country’s national and regional agenda towards ending gender-based violence and femicide.

In addition, keeping true to the country’s commitment to monitoring international developments and advice government on foreign policy and related domestic matters, I led the South African delegation that presented South Africa’s 5th Periodic Report to the Committee under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in October to the session of the CEDAW Committee.

We seek to build a global network of exchanging best practices to ensure that the global phenomena of GBVF and all enabling systems are eradicated.

Women make up 52% of the South African population, yet women-owned businesses still account for 1% of public procurement.

South Africa is also the co-leader of the Action Coalition on Economic Justice and Rights at the Generation Equality Forum. Therefore, as government, we have committed to taking tangible actions to ensure that by 2026, economic justice and rights are guaranteed for women and girls.

Women’s effective economic participation is integral in ending the scourge of gender based violence. Therefore, this year we launched Women’s Economic Assembly, which is a platform to mobilise private sector to partner with government to enable women owned enterprises to participate in procurement opportunities within industry supply chains.

The realisation of a violence-free South Africa requires different stakeholders of society including business, religious and traditional sectors, developmental agencies and broader civil society to give the issue of Gender-Based Violence and Femicide the urgency it needs. This also requires a consolidated political commitment across Ministries and across political parties.

Most importantly, over the next 16 days let our individual and collective actions be guided by the wise teachings of Mme Charlotte Mannya Maxeke, a pioneer for gender equality.

In order to achieve the vision of a South Africa free from violence, we must remember “This work is not for yourselves – kill that spirit of self, and do not live above your people but live with them. If you can rise, bring someone with you”. Let us all be accountable.

- Maite Nkoana-Mashabane is Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities