Opinion editorial: Ongoing gender-based violence knocks back progress on human rights
By Lindi Dlamini
CEO of the Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) Response Fund1
We have just commemorated Human Rights Day – a day that reflects on events that took place in Sharpeville in 1960, where 69 people died during a peaceful protest against the Pass laws. It is important to recognise the sacrifices that accompanied the struggle for the attainment of democracy and basic human rights in South Africa, and in many other countries around the world.
As we celebrate hard-won achievements in this regard each year, it is equally important to not lose sight of the new human rights struggle in our midst – the very real fight against the persistent levels of gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) running riot across our land.
It is important to remember that GBVF is a direct, illegal infringement of hard-won rights that every human being is entitled to. The human rights impacted include the right to life, gender equality, prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sex, protection of physical integrity, the right to health. These rights are all safeguarded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights.
South Africa’s Constitution also recognises and protects them, with the Equality Court, Human Rights Commission and Constitutional Court, among others, forming a powerful buttress against infringement. However, when it comes to GBVF, enforcement and protection is only one aspect – and at that stage it is a clear indication it is already too late. If we are to truly end this scourge, behavioural shifts, community awareness and targeted support initiatives, among others, become more critical. The only way to end GBVF is to focus on prevention as well as cure, and this will require all citizens to play their role in putting an end to this “second pandemic” afflicting society so badly today.
The long-term impact cuts even deeper than this, however. The United Nations, for instance, points out that people who experience gender violence may be subjected to grave human rights violations – for example being deprived of the right to life and freedom from torture; enduring degrading treatment, being discriminated against and not experiencing the right to safety and security. Additionally, there is a growing economic cost when the impact on families, children and the workplace is tallied up.
It is important, however, to recognise that South Africa and many other nations have begun the process of implementing stronger measures to combat GBVF. These are very important steps in helping drive a multi-sectoral and multi-dimensional response that moves to cut it out at its core.
South Africa has fortunately heeded the call for change and has set up an extremely strong legal and policy framework in the past year. The Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBFV) Response Fund1, set up a year ago, is now one of the key role-players in driving the multi-sectoral response needed to make a real difference, as it includes powerful and actionable government, civil society and private sector commitments.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has expressed his sincere appreciation to the private sector for the millions of rands pledged (now just over R200m) by companies and organised business since the launch of the Fund just over a year ago. Since then, the Fund is hard at work supporting 110 grant partners who are receiving their shares of R69m received from donor partners. The disbursement of critical support funding to four high-impact grant partners by the GBVF Response Fund 1 this year is another major leap forward to end the ongoing litany of violence against women and children in South Africa.
A range of governmental, non-governmental and private sector entities are proudly participating by supporting and endorsing this work, which is ultimately aimed at driving the implementation of the National Strategic Plan (NSP) on Gender-based Violence and Femicide. This plan is South Africa’s roadmap to ending GBVF. These are extremely positive steps.
Another major leap was made recently when President Ramaphosa signed into law, three pieces of legislation aimed at strengthening efforts to end GBVF, with a victim-centred focus on combating this dehumanising pandemic.
The President assented to:
(i) the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act Amendment Bill;
(ii) the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill; and
(iii) the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill.
The enacted legislation is a deliverable from the NSP, which was called for at the November 2018 Presidential Summit against GBVF and launched in April 2020. The progress is definitely impressive, yet we now need to see results.
It is crucial, for instance, to teach boys and men that women and girls are not inferior to them. In this regard, it is important to instil greater value in our constitution, which protects rights to dignity, freedom and equality, among many others. We need to see a human rights ethos permeate society broadly. We are not there yet.
However, once we begin to get the message out there and awareness improves and behaviour shifts, we can expect immense benefits, ultimately leading to greater social cohesion and a better country for all.
In conclusion, it is important to emphasise the words of our President when he launched the strategic plan: It has been said that the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members. The South Africa we want is a country where all its citizens are able to lead lives of dignity and freedom, and where the vulnerable and marginalised are protected by our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Truer words were never spoken, and it is important that we all join together to continue with the progress and commitment to date. We have set ourselves a course from which we must not falter.