Gender violence is not a private matter

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"404766","attributes":{"alt":"Phumla Williams","class":"media-image","id":"1","style":"float: right; margin-left: 3px; margin-right: 3px;;","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]The silence of the night is shattered by a barrage of abusive language, loud banging, glass breaking and pleading cries coming from the next door neighbour.

With shock you keep on listening as unspeakable violence and abuse takes place behind closed doors.

You have two choices: rationalise that it is a private matter and none of your business, or take immediate action and call the police.

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, speaking at the launch the 16 Days of Activism Campaign last year, said every incident of abuse suffered by a woman or child reflects our failure to respond to the cries of the vulnerable.

He said: “It is in our power and within our means as individuals, even in the smallest of ways, to contribute to the fight against the abuse of women and children on a daily basis.”

It could be your actions this Women’s Month that help end the cycle of violence and abuse that many women experience.

While incidents of battery, domestic violence and child abuse often go undetected or under reported, statistics over the years continue to show disturbing trends.  Particularly disturbing are figures on the rape of women and children.

These high rates of violence and abuse are a clear indication that more still needs to be done. In the now famous words of philosopher Edmund Burke “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Every South African can do something; we all have an important role to play in rooting out the scourge of gender-based violence.

First, gender violence and abuse can no longer be treated as a ‘private matter’. It is a crime and must be reported to the police so that victims can be helped and perpetrators can be brought to book.

Moreover, it is a crime that not only affects the person who has experienced the violence and abuse, but it also scars an entire community.

Second, the onus of reporting violence and abuse is not the victim’s responsibility alone; it falls on all of us, as these incidents often taken place within our homes and communities.

When such crimes are reported, our legislation enables us to ensure that the rights of affected women and children are protected.

Our progressive legislation such as the Domestic Violence Act; the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act and Equality Act deal with all forms of abuse, violence and discrimination.

The government, through the justice, crime prevention and security cluster (JCPS), has committed itself to build a victim-centred criminal justice system that deals firmly with gender-based violence.

In a bid to stem sexual violence against women and children, the government last week re-established the Sexual Offences Courts, dedicated to try sexual violence crimes against these vulnerable groups.

Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Jeff Radebe said: "We have seen a rise in sexual violence against women and children and we cannot remain unmoved as government, but we can take steps to ensure that all those perpetrators of these heinous crimes must be brought to book and this is one of the ways of dealing with it."

The re-establishment of the Sexual Offences Courts will ensure our court system deals more promptly, responsively and effectively of sexual violence. Research by the Department Justice and Constitutional Development found that these courts reduce secondary victimisation and contribute to the efficient prosecution and adjudication of sexual offence cases.

When the first Sexual Offences Court was piloted in 1993, it proved a huge success, with a conviction rate of up to 80 per cent over a year.

Some 57 Regional Courts have been identified for upgrading to operate as Sexual Offences Courts. The plan is to have 22 courts fully operational by the end of this year; the remaining 35 will be set up within the next three years.

Our fight against women and child abuse has also been strengthened by the re-establishment of the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units on June 30 last year.

During the last financial year, the units secured more than 363 life sentences, with conviction rate of 73 per cent for crimes against women above 18 years of age and 70 per cent for crimes against children under 18.

Moreover, our Thuthuzela Care Centres, situated in hospitals, are one-stop facilities that provide rape victims with the necessary support. They also work closely with the police on evidence gathering to ensure that perpetrators of sexual violence face the consequences.

Last year the government established a high- level Inter-Ministerial Committee on Violence against Women and Children to intensify our efforts against gender-based violence.

The committee focuses on preventing violence against women and children, holding perpetrators accountable for their actions and ensuring that women and children who experience violence receive support.

The establishment of the National Council Against Gender-Based Violence last year also takes the war against gender violence to a higher level. The Council is implementing a 365 Days Action Plan and is working on strengthening our policy and intervention programmes.

More needs to be done to ensure that women in our society feel safe. We need to work with our communities, especially men and boys, to change the culture of violence.

We call on men across all sectors of our society to honour our hard fought for freedoms and human rights by protecting and respecting the rights of women and children.

In celebration of Women’s Month, let us renew our pledge to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all women in our society.

Phumla Williams is acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)

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