Local government vanguard in ending gender violence

Date: January 1, 1970
  • SHARE:

At no other level are the stark realities of violence against women and children more evident than at local government. At a recent workshop organised by the Gender Advocacy Programme (GAP), a group of participants from rural communities, local councils and community media discussed a range of issues including women in the media, local government and citizen participation.

When the discussion moved talking about violence against women and children and drug abuse in their communities, the women became animated, passionate, angry and frustrated, raising many questions.  Why is nothing being done?  Why are the police not responding as they should?  Why do the media perpetuate gender stereotypes by using derogatory language and explicit images? 
However, my question is, what are communities doing, and what are local councils doing to address the violence that affects the lives of so many women in local communities. What can local government, the level closest to the people on the ground, do about this issue?  
Chapter seven of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa places the responsibility of promoting social and economic development as well as a safe and healthy environment, amongst others, in the sphere of local government.   So, how can local councils start addressing this issue in creative ways?
The role of local government in ending gender violence, this was the topic of a recent cyber dialogue held as part of the sixteen days campaign, hosted by Gender Links and GEMSA (Gender and Media Southern Africa Network).  The cyber dialogue is a real time online discussion through a moderated chat room, which gives participants the opportunity to share views and ideas on a specific topic. 
During this online discussion, participants, mostly local government councillors, spoke of some of the ways in which they can be involved in fighting gender violence.  “We have to deal with poverty head-on,” said one cyber chatter. One of the reasons some women stay in abusive relationships is because they are poor and have little formal education.  This points to a need for capacity building and empowerment of women to participate in the economic mainstream. 
Municipalities should start implementing policies that would see women benefiting from job creation opportunities. For example, obliging service provider contracts to employ a certain percentage women and by setting procurement targets for women-owned business to benefit equally from tenders.  Linked to this should be training, capacity building and skills development programmes.
Forming gender forums and support groups for women who are in abusive relationships as well as encouraging women to speak out were further suggestions for local councils by cyber chatters.
Embarking on public education and awareness programmes was a central suggestion coming out of the dialogues, and these programmes should involve men and all other relevant stakeholders including churches, traditional authorities and community based organisations (CBO’s).  While it is important to target women in these campaigns, changing the mindsets of men and people who still hold patriarchal views and condone violence against women continues to be a big challenge. 
This year the City of Joburg’s theme for the Sixteen Days Campaign is “Joburg men take charge and make a stand against gender violence.” Activities for the campaign have included the Million Men March and a Joburg Men Indaba being hosted by the City on the 10 December.  Ekurhuleni Municipality, in partnership with Gender Links, hosted the Take Back the Night march on the eve of the campaign, which is about women reclaiming spaces that have become unsafe for them.
Another important target group is schools. Some councils are doing good work in this area. At a follow up meeting to evaluate the 365 Days of Action, with SALGA Gauteng and their member municipalities, West Rand District council presented a learners campaign that they initiated in two rural schools in the area to educate learners about abuse and their rights and responsibilities. 
Other initiatives in councils include self-defence training for girls and boys in schools and holding domestic violence workshops with magistrates and women in communities.  In Port St Johns, children led a march to the Magistrates Court demanding the fast tracking of cases of abuse and denial of bail to known abusers.
Yet, challenges in local councils persist. In many instances, there is still no budget allocation for gender programmes and where budget exists, it is limited and usually events based.  While municipalities are happy to spend money on high profile campaigns, they are more reluctant to allocate specific long-term budgets.
We can continue talking about education and raising awareness, but if we are neither implementing programmes that are targeted and relevant nor putting in mechanisms to measure their effectiveness, we will continue singing the same tune with no visible results.
There are, however, pockets of good practice.  Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality is one of the local councils that have made a concerted effort to develop a year-ong action plan with clear goals and objectives, and budget, as to how to deal with gender violence.
The City of Joburg has developed a Women Development Strategy, which seeks to improve the status of women in the City by setting out strategies to address a range of issues that affect them in their everyday lives, as well as innovative strategies for women to benefit from the World Cup in 2010, amongst others. 
One crucial aspect is around the safety of women in the City and the strategy sets out very practical ways in which it plans to address this issue.  For example developing and implementing a lighting master plan, which will include regular maintenance and monitoring, safety improvements to transport termini, naming streets, using hawkers to promote a safer-street environment and compiling a database of exiting services and facilities available to survivors of GBV.
What is clear is that we have to start moving away from events and start addressing gender based violence in a consistent and sustainable manner by moving from 16 to 365 days.  While the campaigns are a very important aspect of awareness raising and conscientisation, more effort and resources are needed for long-term solutions that will actually make a difference to the lives of women.
“We have taken the position of being the vanguards of the community,” said one of the cyber chatters.  This succinctly places the responsibility for these issues at the forefront of councils’ agendas.  It is the responsibility of local government to ensure that women’s fundamental rights to a safe and healthy environment are upheld. 
Susan Tolmay the gender and governance manager at Gender Links. This article is part of a series produced by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence.

Comment on Local government vanguard in ending gender violence

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *