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Deputy Minister Reginah Mhaule: Role of culture in child protection and prevention of gender-based violence

2 Oct 2020

Keynote Address by Deputy Minister Mhaule delivered at the Webinar Exploring the Role of Culture in Child Protection and Prevention of Gender-Based Violence, 29 September 2020 

Programme Director

MEC for Education in Limpopo, Hon Polly Boshielo

MEC for Sports, Arts and Culture in Limpopo, Hon Thandi Moraka

National and Provincials Officials

Representatives from Social Partners such as
GIZ
UNICEF
Agape Youth Movement and
Media Monitoring Africa 
Educators, Learners, Parents,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Sanibonani

It is my honour and privilege to participate in this Webinar Series yet again. In the last session of this series that I attended with learners in June, we focused on youth resilience as a protective factor in combating Gender-based Violence (GBV) and other societal ills.

Today, we are focussing on the role of culture in child protection and prevention of Gender-based Violence (GBV) in all its manifestation.

Today's session aims to critically reflect on the aspects of our cultures that make it difficult for us to succeed in our efforts to protect children from sexual violation and abuse. We want to look at what can be done to adjust these aspects for the greater good. We are also keen to explore the positive spaces in our cultures that provide a fertile opportunity for violence prevention and child protection in the spirit of celebrating our diverse cultural identities. For instance, in Zululand a man who physically abused his wife was frowned upon as “akudoda yalutho eshaya umfazi.”

In his address on heritage day, President Cyril Ramaphosa, underpinned this point when he said, “our indigenous knowledge systems preserved by our elders and traditional healers are a vital part of our heritage.” Thus, we need to weed through our cultural archives so as to highlight the best of our customs that are aligned with our new society.  We must be bold as to discard any cultural practise that promotes wittingly or unwittingly any aspect of Gender-based violence including the phrase of, “indoda ayikhali njengomfazi” as in a man doesn’t cry like a woman.

Programme Director; the matter of GBV as you know has been in the public domain recently due to the police reports that since the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown incidents of Gender-based Violence have increased exponentially. As a matter of fact, South Africa has a high prevalence of sexual abuse and harassment perpetrated against learners. Sexual violence at schools not only compromises the learning and teaching environment but carries long-term negative mental and sexual health consequences for the victim. Recent academic research shows that more than a third of girls and boys (35.4%) experience sexual violence before the age of 17. 

We have developed and deployed a Protocol for the Management and Reporting of Sexual Abuse and Harassment in Schools. The Protocol provides a guide to the management and reporting of sexual abuse, ensuring an appropriate and timely response to cases of sexual abuse and harassment. Over the years, we have developed and distributed a handbook for learners on how to prevent sexual abuse in public schools, titled, ‘Speak Out - Youth Report Sexual Abuse.’ The purpose of the handbook is to equip learners with knowledge and understanding of sexual harassment and sexual violence, its implications, ways to protect themselves from perpetrators, and where to report.  The handbook also provides handy contact details of national and provincial organisations that can assist.

However, as a responsible Basic Education department, we believe that long-term behavioural change happens through teaching. Knowledge, as we know, mitigates against myths and misleading information.

In a nutshell, we are dealing head-on with dangerous notions of sexuality carried through cultural practices that seek to subjugate women. Through the subject aptly titled, Life Orientation, we deliver to all our learners in public schools, what we call, Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE).  Comprehensive Sexuality Education has been part of the curriculum since the year 2000. The aim of the Comprehensive Sexuality Education is to ensure that we help learners to build an understanding of concepts, content, values and attitudes related to sexuality while in the safe space at school.

As Government, we extend condolences to families and friends of women/girl learners who have suffered at the hands of men. Gender-based violence is a man-made problem. For it to stop, men must rediscover what makes them human---born of a woman. Our common humanity binds us together. We must reach out to the boy child before reaching puberty so that we instil in him the better notion of masculinities that are underpinned by respect for women and sanctity of life and dignity for all.

It is timely that we discourse on this matter during September, which as we know is the Heritage Month in our country. The Heritage Month always serves as a catalyst for nation-building. We call on all South Africans to use Heritage Month to foster greater social cohesion, nation-building and a shared national identity. This year's theme is "Celebrating South Africa's living human treasures". The question of living human treasures is very relevant since it's acknowledged that most of what still needs to be excavated, coded and stored is available from the many living archives. Furthermore, we must respect and promote our national symbols, including the coat of arms as they are a crucial part of our heritage. They form part of our national identity and create nationhood as well as social cohesion.

As part of nation-building efforts, Government and civil society, we can no longer be silent anymore as the scourge of Gender-based violence continues unabated. We have a responsibility as activists and leaders to move the narrative beyond being shocked and horrified every time a woman or child is raped or killed. All citizens have to report cases of gender-based violence.

In terms of the new amendments to the GBV laws, non-reporting will constitute a crime mainly because silence can often mean a death sentence for a woman or child.  We are saying let's be each other's keeper if you see something say something to the proper authorities such as the police and organisations that fight in the corner of women and children.

We must harmonise various macro and micro initiatives around the country aimed at dealing with the scourge of gender-based violence, racism, and sexism as part of nation-building efforts. These are the terrible threes of our time. The spike in gender-based violence (GBV) in recent weeks is one of the most significant issues facing South Africa today. It is a cause for concern for policymakers, children, women, and many communities. It hurts almost all aspects of family life as well as on the broader society. Gender-based violence tends to affect women disproportionately in a systematic way as it is deeply entrenched in the workplace, societal institutions such as churches, different cultures, and traditions in the country.

Thus as a country, we have a moral obligation to work towards the end of this scourge. We must report on and spread information about GBV preventative measures, and propagate available resources to help victims and survivors of this scourge as it rages in our society decimating women and children’s lives and livelihoods. We must never tire of telling our stories of heartache and pain. We must never underestimate the power of dialogue through storytelling. More importantly, our people need to see action on the ground, arrests and convictions must become a prominent feature through which the justice cluster demonstrates its willingness to nip this culture of impunity in the bud. In the end, consequence management is an essential pillar of prevention. However, as a society, we need a new value system that puts women’s health, comfort and lives at the centre of our humanity. We must value the sanctity of the life of women as they are the original enablers of life.

In the same breath, we call upon news media to increase its coverage of GBV cases. The media has an important role to play in spreading GBV related information and shining the spotlight on the scourge so that it remains in the public domain. We rely on news media to publish resources on where women can go to seek help, and sometimes the coverage and public outrage jolts the authorities into action and assist in apprehending the perpetrators.  The news media coverage may also help to educate men about the dire consequences of gender-based violence. The news media can play an essential role in explaining court procedures so that survivors are better prepared to fight for their justice in the courts.

We have to use all available legal instruments and spare neither strength nor expense in our efforts to a stem the tide of gender-based violence.

At the high level of Government, plans are afoot to deal with the prevalence of gender-based violence, sexism and racism at its roots. In 2015, we did a review of some of our textbooks/workbooks to test if they aligned with the values of our Constitution. Our desktop analysis showed a litany of discriminatory language and lack of respect for women.  It was against this background that a Ministerial Task Team was appointed to evaluate a broad sample of existing textbooks and Learning and Teaching Support Material (LTSMs). We aim to align what is taught at our schools with our constitutional values of openness, freedom and liberty.

We concluded that some of these negative attitudes against women are perpetuated in the text found in our schools' literature and textbooks. Some vestiges of cultural practise that enables men of today to assume that they are entitled to women bodies also need to be dealt with as part of our broader nation-building effort. This is a first step, part of a larger national project to reengineer all written basic education texts throughout the sector to advance the notion of nationhood. 

As a country, we must take firm and decisive action to rid our country of all vestiges of apartheid: racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and bigotry of any kind that is inimical to the values of our Constitution. Our Minister of Basic Education, launched the final Ministerial Task Team Report last year on this matter. As a result, work to remedy all defects found in the various texts is underway. As a sector, we have already planted a new seed.

Programme Director, another ongoing high-level intervention to build a new society on the ashes of apartheid is to correct the History that being taught in our schools. In pursuit of this, we appointed a Ministerial Task Team (MTT) on 04th June 2015 to look into the matter. In presenting the final report of the MTT in 2018, Minister Motshekga said the new and revitalised History curriculum wasn’t an attempt to rewrite history for the benefit of the new ruling elites.

We are working flat out to ensure that as a country; we have a nuanced view of our past to build a future together, united in our diversity.  I can assure all of you that once the new history curriculum and textbooks are written, this subject will be compulsory for all our learners in our effort to build this modern society ushered by the 1994 Breakthrough. We remain convinced that History as a school subject is one of the critical instrument in advancing the ideals of a democratic South Africa, fostering social understanding, and social cohesion.

Ladies and Gentlemen, while all structural issues are being attended to, we need to have a conversation amongst ourselves about some of the cultural practises imported from our colonial past.

It is important to note that we are not suggesting that our cultures are the leading cause of the scourge of GBV ravaging our land. At best, we are asking if our forebears had a better way to deal with the crisis we face today.

For us to succeed in birthing a new season of hope in our land, we will require sacrifice and harnessing the productive capacity of all our people, both black and white. We must push back against the use of certain cultural practises as social capital to commit crimes such as GBV against women and children. There's no rational basis cultural or otherwise to engage in various forms of abuse such as rape, murder, economic abuse, emotional abuse and physical abuse against women and children. It must stop today.

Ngiyabonga.

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