Working together we can end the cycle of abuse against women and children!

Are you in a relationship where you feel trapped and are often either physically or emotionally abused by your partner? Often it’s a case of the cycle of abuse repeating itself, many men abuse their partners because this is what they have seen and experienced in their homes when they were young.

It is also common for the abused in a relationship to ‘condone’ their partner’s behaviour, believing that is the role of a woman. When you speak to members of your family they may advise you to be tough, to stick it out and persevere.

Society too has taught you to keep our family problems at home or to ourselves, and you begin to learn to accept physical and psychological abuse. An important lesson every woman needs to learn, is that your silence is ‘killing’ you and your family. Like the South Africans who marched and picketed in the wake of recent incidents of violence against women and children, it is up to every abused person to stand up and say, "NO MORE"!

Given our history of a deeply entrenched patriarchal culture it is not uncommon to find women in this predicament, as they are easy targets of abuse and violence. It is not uncommon to only hear about these cases once they escalate to the level of murder or suicide. This is precisely because the majority of such cases of abuse are not reported, which may be due to a variety of reasons. The reality however is that the problems of violence and abuse are deep-seated in our society.

Violence takes different forms such as sexual harassment, abuse, assault, rape, domestic violence and other cultural practices that are cruel to women and children such as child muti killings. The common denominator among all forms of abuse is often not only the act of violence itself, but the abuser’s desire to exercise total control over the abused.

Incidents of such violence becomes even more deadly when guns – legal or illegal - are present in the home, because they can be used to threaten, injure or kill women and children.

A 2009 report by the Medical Research Council (MRC) indicates that fifty seven per cent (57%) of murders of women are committed by intimate partners. In a study released last year the MRC shows that “homicide in South Africa is declining, but gender-based homicides are disproportionately resistant to the change while rape homicides have proportionately increased”. These findings are undoubtedly also a wake-up call for all of us and underscore the seriousness of the issues at hand.

We are concerned about the increase of rapes and violence against women and children in the country. This scourge is a threat to our hard-earned freedom, for it condemns women and children to a life of fear and prevents them from becoming productive members of society. While South Africa has one of the best gun control laws in the world, stricter gun control is essential.

Statistics show that our gun control laws have significantly reduced the frequency of firearms-related homicides in the country since coming into effect in 2004.

Our government has been at the forefront of fighting the scourge of women abuse through various initiatives. Top among these is a series of legislative and other initiatives specifically aimed at protecting women and children. Just last week I welcomed the re-establishment of the sexual offences courts which will help in the speedy prosecution of gender-based violence.

In addition, the Minister of Health’s announcement to recruit and train more forensic technicians to staff a fourth forensic laboratory bears testimony to our commitment to rooting out this scourge and prosecute the perpetrators. In addition, our government last year established the National Council on Gender Based Violence which comprises of government, non-governmental organisations, research institutions, men’s and women’s groupings, and various other stakeholders.

The National Council Against Gender-Based Violence will focus on the following key pillars to end violence, namely prevention, response, support, co-ordination and communications, advocacy, awareness-raising and social campaigns. However, government alone cannot eradicate this scourge that threatens to destroy our communities and the fabric of our vibrant culture and society.

We need to join hands in establishing a new culture in which women are valued and respected. We call on all South Africans to partner with us to create a safer and healthier space for our communities to thrive. Change must happen in the minds and hearts of all of us. We need to commit to stand up against women abuse and violence and the unacceptable practice of blaming the victim.

On Thursday 28 February 2013, government, through the partnership between the Department of Basic Education and LEAD SA launched the Stop Rape Campaign. The campaign opposes sexual violence against women and children. Speaking at the launch of the Stop Rape Campaign President Jacob Zuma stated: “No woman or child should be beaten, raped, stabbed, shot or attacked in any manner anywhere in our country, whether by known or unknown attackers”.

The President further urged all of us to use institutions tasked with the protection of all citizens and to report cases of violence or attacks. We all have a crucial role to play in eradicating violence against women and children and entrenching a culture of respect among all South Africans. Above all we should continue to honour our women considering the significant role they have played in the establishment of a truly free and democratic South Africa.

Lulu Xingwana is the Minister of Women, Children & People with Disabilities

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