16 Days of Activism means nothing without Action

Mbali Ntuli, MPL

Member of the DA Caucus in the KZN Legislature

Today marks the end of 16 days of Activism – a period in which, given the statistics of abuse against women and children in this country, should be extended to a full 365 day programme.

These figures, released by our own police commissioner tell us that in KZN one in three of the women in this room have either been victims of or know somebody who has been physically abused. These statistics tell us that at least one in three of the women in this room will be raped.

KZN’s incidents of rape of the elderly and infant rape are shockingly high.  Yet, looking at our nation’s official programme of events for this period, one does not get the feeling that the government understands the urgency of this threat to our women and children.

Prayer services, vigils, film festivals and internal meetings which dominate the agenda do not make women in this country believe everything possible is being done to ensure their safety and severity – even during the very small number of days specifically dedicated to us.

How can we expect this nation and our province to prosper when so many of our women and children have to worry about their survival before dealing with the systemic difficulties of breaking down a patriarchal society.  The truth is we cannot. We cannot do it alone and so we need the people in this room to send a strong message to the women and children of KZN. That message needs to emphasize that we support them and we will do anything to make them feel safe. Then we need to back up these words with real actions.

The DA in KZN launched a campaign aimed at breaking the silence around abuse as part of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children, the purpose of which was to ensure that cases of abuse were brought to the attention of the relevant authorities.  This campaign formed part of the DA’s quest to stop the talk and start real action to end the cycle of abuse.

During our campaign it has become incredibly clear that the scourge of violence against women and children is so great that all political parties must put aside their differences and unite for an integrated strategy against it.

Violence and abuse towards women and children is the biggest indictment of our democracy. That so many women and children are still the most vulnerable and easiest targets for crime, poverty, inequality, poor education and a lack of any opportunities to better their lives is testament to a society that cannot possible succeed.

We all know the problems. We live in a patriarchal society which has placed women and children at the lowest rung of the country. Poverty, rape, crime, domestic abuse, poor education and misogyny are the main issues facing many women and children in KZN.

Not a week goes by without a horrific report of abuse towards women and children.  Whilst easy to condemn the perpetrators one needs to also take a closer look at how our own government and lack of safety and security contribute to exacerbating problems caused by social ills.

If government cannot guarantee that cases of abuse, such as this, will be treated with the utmost seriousness then it sends a message to abusers that they will not be punished and to victims that they have nowhere to turn.

Our country needs better institutions to deal with the abuse women and children have to endure.  Just yesterday Shrien Dewani went home a free man after the NPA, which has become an embattled political institution, failed to do its job properly.

Here in KZN we need more police trained to deal with issues of abuse.  We need more social workers especially in rural areas where women are most marginalised. We need to ensure that our vulnerable children, orphans and street children are taken in to more shelters.  We need dialogues happening in schools and community programs that all create awareness.  We also need to instil a culture where women and children are not afraid to report incidents of violence. Lastly we need swift and just action from our courts to ensure abusers are punished so that they are not allowed to destroy any more lives.

Violence against women and children is everybody’s problem. It will take an integrated strategy across government, communities, civil society and political parties to stop this scourge.

Unless real interventions are going to be made to curb the amount of Gender based violence, as evidenced by the hundreds of cases in KZN of women being killed by their partners or the scourge or rapes inflicted upon children and the elderly, we will be failing our mandate as leaders.

As a country and province we will be judged by our ability to ensure the safety and real freedom of those who are the most marginalised.

Let this 16 days of Activism be the last that is merely a talk shop.  Let us see shelters, rehabs, orphanages, opportunity centres and police improvement that are so desperately needed to really end violence against woman and children.

Finally,  if we truly want to ensure a legacy of a generation that will understand that violence against women and children is wrong, then it is up to the leaders in this room to reject any forms of culture that seek to perpetuate it such as ukuthwala.

In your homes bring up both your girls and boys to know they are valued in society. As young women we watch how our fathers treat our mothers and we watch how our mothers respond. This is how we learn what we are worth and how we should expect men to treat us.

If you do not make us believe we deserve better then you condemn us to life of expecting love to be shown through abuse. Often these lessons are couched in culture but that culture may just be killing our women and children. This country will not be free until its women are truly free.

The time is now. Our country’s future depends on it because no nation can succeed when half its population does not have real freedom.