By Susan Shabangu
Yesterday we launched government’s programmes for the month of August, which has come to be dedicated to women’s programmes. Every August, South Africa commemorates Women’s Month as a tribute to the women of 1956 who sent a strong public message, which was that they would not be intimidated and silenced by unjust laws.
This year marks 61 years since about 20 000 women from all walks of life marched to the Union Buildings to protest against the unjust pass laws that restricted their freedom of movement and destabilised families and livelihoods.
This year’s Women’s Month dawns on us in a time when the country’s men and women are under the attack of increased violence in all sectors. Women bear the biggest brunt of this violence for merely being born women.
The increasing brutality and violence against women ranks as the highest form of betrayal because the majority of it is in the hands of those they trust, which is their boyfriends, fathers, husbands and uncles.
Violence against women and children is about power and control over women’s bodies.
This Women’s month we have increased our work with men and men’s groups. This Women’s month our programmes show that despite our many challenges, we are moving forward, together, as a society of both men and women who are concerned about the state of our lives.
As South Africans, we are a vibrant people who have shown many times that when we work together, we can change the world and dismantle systems of oppression. Our collective efforts, from all walks of life, are what brought us the victory against colonialism and apartheid. In the same way, it is our collective efforts, as men and women, that will lead us to victory against the terrible evil of gender based violence.
As government, we are clear in our knowledge that such change cannot happen without the full involvement of the community, including business and religious leaders, civil society organisations, and even individuals acting in their own capacities.
This year our target is also the agents of socialisation.
Agents of socialisation such as families, religious institutions, schools, friends and the media have a central role to play in transforming our society. This is because it is mainly from these institutions that identities and ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman in society are formed.
Peaceful, affirming and loving homes teach girls and boys what it means be a good human being. Likewise, homes where violence is rife raise very violent girls and boys. Friends, places of worship, schools and the media do a similar job. Through these, notions of self are formed and in turn, are replicated in action towards others.
When girls are taught they are weaker than boys from an early age, and boys are taught that they can dominate their sisters, the consequences can sometimes be deadly in adulthood.
From a very early age, we take to structures of domination as normal features of our world.
But it would be an injustice to consider why women continue to be victims of violence without considering our own role as women in that violence.
What is the psychological impact of being born into a world which is structured in such a way that everyone who looks like you is a victim of violence?
We can no longer afford to be inattentive to the psychological impact of domination.
This year the Department of Women is embarking on a dialoguing programme with communities to have honest conversations about how we, as women, have internalised the roles that have been taught to us from birth in our families, in schools, by our friends, in our places of worship, and in the media. Everywhere we look, we are told to submit.
The dialogues are also going to scrutinise the effects of how families reserve the biggest piece of meat for men, our churches are led by men, the majority of schoolbooks are written by men, and the media is dominated by men. These realities contribute to how men are positioned as more important than women in society.
If we are to critically address these systems of oppression, the first point of call to address these structures and to dismantle them.
We have to also question our cultural and traditional systems and beliefs, which teach us about the power dynamics of gender. In many traditions, women who speak out or challenge patriarchy are punished in the name of culture or tradition. This punishment is served by both men and women. Women and men who comply with these systems are also often rewarded generously. We have to start questioning these systems, which we have come to adopt and believe to be true.
Many times, those who challenge these power structures are labelled as wanting to pollute and to cause trouble for women who are happy where they are.
There are also many people who argue that by focussing on women in our efforts against gendered oppression, we are leaving men behind. This cannot be further from the truth.
Working with men through strategic partnerships is a necessary contribution towards transforming our society.
However, we are also aware of many men who join our struggle against gender-based violence in public yet continue to emotionally and physically abuse their female partners in private. This must stop!
Freedom from domination is only possible if we recognize how these systems are reproduced, and how both men and women contribute to that reproduction. That is why efforts to end gendered violence must include both men and women.
As scholar, Bell Hooks says, until we are all able to accept and recognise the specific ways that systems of domination are maintained, we will continue to act in ways that undermine our quest for collective liberation. The task awaiting the struggle against violence on women is to move from awareness to action.
We are encouraged that some men have answered the call to work together to end violence on women.
These men have launched campaigns that recognise that it is not enough for men to be silent when their sisters, cousins, partners, friends, wives, neighbours and mothers are violated and in live in fear. This is testimony that there are good men who care.
However, we need to see and hear more men speaking out and acting against the abuse of women saying – “Not in their Name.” Let us therefore support their campaign #NotInMyName.
We are pleased that various faith based organisations have joined the fight for No violence against women and children. We call on other faith based organisations and traditional leaders, community leaders, women’s organisations, and even stokvels to stand up against violence, drug abuse and other social ills 365 days of the year.
We believe that forging partnerships with communities, business, faith based organisations & traditional leadership will give women first hand opportunity to directly influence government programmes and ensure the mainstreaming of gender issues through National Dialogues programme.
This year, Women’s Month coincides with the centenary of our esteemed leader OR Tambo, who was a strong advocate for gender equality. During the Conference of the Women in Luanda in 1981, he said:
“The mobilisation of women is the task, not only of women alone, or of men alone, but of all of us, men and women alike, comrades in struggle. The mobilisation of the people into active resistance and struggle for liberation demands the energies of women no less than of men”.
OR Tambo was in the forefront of the emancipation of women.
The National Women’s Day will be observed on 9 August, in Galeshewe Stadium, Kimberley, under the theme: “The Year of OR Tambo: Women united in moving South Africa forward”.
Let’s make a commitment to work together in making sure that violence against women is ended in our society.
It starts with breaking the chains of patriarchy whenever it manifests itself, be it in our homes and in our communities.
To this end, a wide range of government programmes pay special attention to addressing the needs of women with priority given to promoting women’s access to economic opportunities. Women are key beneficiaries in the development of skills. The department is also hard at work developing Sanitary Dignity, Gender Responsive Budgeting and Women Financial Inclusion Frameworks which will further engender the women socio-economic agenda in the country.
We urge you to report acts of violence against women whenever it happens. You are in partnership with perpetrators if you stay silent in the face of violence.
Let’s build a society wherein men and women will not be measured based on gender but as equal human beings.
We call upon all men and men formations to be part of the solution in the fight against femicide. This will contribute to building on the legacy of the women of 1956, who envisaged men and women working together as set out in the Women’s Charter of 1954.
Our activities for Women’s Month will include National Dialogues in the Northern Cape on Violence against Women and Children, to help combat the continued scourge of violent attacks and abuse against women and children.
While women have made some important gains, there is a lot more work to be done before we can say that we have truly achieved gender equality in our country. Women are still faced with challenges of poverty, unemployment, abuse and violence.
Comrade Susan Shabangu is a member of the ANC NEC and Minister of Women
The Women’s Month dialogue programme will take place as follows:
- 15 August 2017 – Kimberley, Francis Baard District;
- 17 August 2017 – Kuruman, John Taolo Gaetsewe District;
- 21 August 2017 – Petrusville – Pixley ka Seme District;
- 22 August 2017 – De Aar – Pixley ka Seme District
- 23 August 2017 – Phokwane – Francis Baard District
- 24 August 2017 – Barkey – Francis Baard District;
- 28 August 2017 – Augrabies – ZF Mgcawu District
- 29 August 2017 – Upington – ZF Mgcawu District
- 30 August 2017- Springbok – Namakwa District
- 31 August 2017 – Frazerburg – Namakwa