What’s an everyday campaign on GBV?

Date: February 18, 2013
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South Africa, 18 February 13: This year’s State of the Nation address occurred amid a national outcry and introspection on gender-based violence (GBV). Public debate around the murder of Anene Booysen had not yet abated, when South Africa awoke to news of the murder of another woman, Reeva Steenkamp, allegedly shot dead by her sports celebrity boyfriend Oscar Pistorious. Amid the raging public debate about rape and GBV Jacob Zuma stepped up to give his State of the Nation address last Thursday.

His speech also occurred against the backdrop of the pink fluffiness that characterises Valentine’s Day with all its messages of romantic love and harmony which sound hollow when viewed alongside the news stories of the violence and bloodshed that characterise many “romantic” relationships.

What should a president say about GBV in such a context?

What the president did say amounted to very little. The President touched on several themes: infrastructure, education, youth unemployment, tourism, land reform, and so on. As he moved through this “shopping list” of themes, two focused particularly on women: improving the status of women generally, and GBV. The latter received far greater attention, perhaps in the light of the Anene Booysen case, which Zuma mentioned.

In this short section of his speech, Zuma focused on the need for new laws and better law enforcement. Amid talk of legalistic and institutional responses to GBV, Zuma made a small, but important comment – he spoke about the violence against women campaign being “an everyday campaign”. What does this mean?

We know that violence against women is an everyday phenomenon. While a handful of incidents attract significant media attention, GBV is mundane in South Africa. Women are raped, beaten, threatened and belittled all the time, often without the knowledge of those around them and often without the condemnation of those who do know of the abuse.

Because violence is an everyday phenomenon, we do indeed need an everyday campaign against it. But what is the nature of the necessary everyday campaign? It is not at all clear that the new laws and stricter law enforcement Zuma highlights in his speech will actually reduce violence against women.

Many call for harsher sentences for rapists and murderers, but there is little evidence that such sentences actually act as a deterrent for such crimes. Others respond to GBV by renaming Valentine’s Day “V-day” and dancing in protest against rape, but many feel that such trendy forms of protest are nothing more than “slacktivism” – actions, which make us feel better, but have little actual influence.

Some look to the establishment of new institutions, such as the National Council on Gender-Based Violence which Zuma mentions will change things, but the creation of such institutions may do nothing more than make government appear to be doing something.

All of the above – stronger laws, stricter sentences, protest events and new institutions – may well form a part of such an “everyday campaign”, but for such a campaign to be effective, we also need to think carefully about the everyday actions and attitudes that form the foundation upon which GBV is built.

As many commentators have pointed out, the men who rape and kill are not strange monsters with a different constitutional make up to other people. There is no murder or rape gene which drives some to kill or rape while the rest of us look on in horror. Rather, the attitudes that help make such behaviours possible are present in many.

The belief that a woman is a passive creature, to be seduced, pampered and looked after may result in high sales of furry pink teddy bears on Valentine’s Day, but may also conceivably play a part in some men’s inability to believe that a woman’s “NO” ought to be heeded.

If a woman is passive, weak and infantile, can she really know her own mind? The belief that a woman’s unfaithfulness is to be blamed upon the man who “stole” her implies a view of women as both unable to take action independently and as being possessions that can be destroyed should their owners no longer need or want them.

The belief that a woman ought to be looked after by a male “breadwinner” can make a man think that if he cannot provide for his family he is entitled to take not only his own life, but those of his family members as well. The belief that a woman is primarily a wife and a mother may make us treasure “good” women on mothers’ day, but may also play a role in making some men think it appropriate to discipline or despise women who refuse to define themselves in this way.

Of course, my point here is not to suggest that buying women infantile toys for Valentine’s Day or thinking a man must be the “breadwinner” is akin to raping or murdering. However, it is to suggest that many actions and attitudes we find acceptable, even commendable, are attitudes also used to justify the abuse and murder of women.

Thus, if we are to take seriously this throwaway phrase in Zuma’s speech – the idea of an “everyday campaign” – we need to think seriously about everyday ideas and practices that fan the flames of gender-based violence.

Sally Matthews is a senior lecturer at the Rhodes University Politics Department, with research and teaching interests in comparative politics, African studies and development studies. She writes in her personal capacity.

0 thoughts on “What’s an everyday campaign on GBV?”

Alemu Mammo says:

Dealing with the GBV in our Society
One of the cross-cutting problems has been disparity between statutory law and traditional law, in particular, in rural areas. The former is poorly enforced in many rural areas, while the urban based citizens benefit largely from the latter. The traditional laws are naturally discriminatory to girl children and women at large, and amendments and new laws enacted by the countries are poorly, inadequately and unequally enforced in rural areas.
For example, a male perpetrator, who might have committed rape and other domestic violence is sheltered by the relatives or rural based traditional leaders and at times, can run away to a neighboring country as a fugitive. This type of practice and tolerance rather encourages potential perpetrator from ceasing committing similar acts in the future and setting a warning to others, who have been committing such acts for a long time.
This shows a failure of the system and shared responsibility of the government and the society at large. Our culture also indirectly encourages a perpetrator, because women and relatives often hide the incident and they are ashamed more than the perpetrator. This in a way encourages potential perpetrators to commit similar acts unabated.
The issue needs to be supported by institutionalized training comprising of: rural school teachers and administrators, law enforcement agents, rural chiefs and opinion /religious leaders, youth leaders, women groups, and personnel from judiciary and legislative and executive branches.
The government and the society as a whole must help the girl children and women in the following areas:
Review and amend the existing statutory law of the land and amend based on the context of 21st century.
The review and amendment must be done in the context of where the country is now than where it was, because the GBV is not only hurting women but also it is hurting the nation as a whole in its endeavor in socioeconomic development and global position. The country could be any country on our Continent, not limited to RSA alone.
Remove those traditional value systems harmful to girl children and women, because they are equally harmful to the society at large. No one with a right mind will enjoy witnessing an abuse of their daughters, aunts, mothers, nieces, wives and sister.
Invest in girl children education in the rural areas and make sure their education is not interrupted by unconsented and premature marriage, precipitated by outdated cultural practices. Narrow the urban –rural disparity in education, enforcing statutory laws enforcement, and emancipate girl- children and women from unhealthy and outdated cultural practices.
Ensure that women have access to economic opportunities including: at all level professional employment opportunities, economic entrepreneurship, and equal pay for equal qualification and performance.
Increase women participation in political system across the spectrum: Legislative, Executive and Judiciary stems. These efforts should not be seen as donations/contributions to women but intentional and just steps to be taken by the countries in their endeavor to national development in the 21st century.
Improve communication between the urban women and rural women through joint forums, and holding key meetings in rural areas where the rural women will be encouraged to participate and with a minimum inconvenience to urban participants, maximizing the rural women participation in key forums of national importance.
Those activities committed to this process, should work hard with their male counter parts in dialogue to overcome the problem than focusing on criticism. GL has a mechanism in place and capacity to work with male counter parts. This issue or problem should not be seen as their (women) problem, as such, but it is our problem, locally, nationally and regionally, as a society.
This is a process and what matter most is the process is set on the right course and communication is improving. “Step by step an egg can walk”

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