Are we in a mess or what?

Comment by: Ray McCauley

10 September 2019 – Last week we witnessed horrific attacks against women, children and foreign nationals. This behaviour cannot be justified whatsoever. This kind of brutality and violent behaviour does not represent the South African Spirit of Ubuntu or the Legacy of our Late Former President Nelson Mandela.
The brutal rape and murder of 19-year old University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana, the murder of South African Boxing Champion Leandre Jegels by her boyfriend, and many other victims – amongst them Janika Mallo, Jesse Hess, Meghan Cremer, Nontobeko Kheswa, Demisha Naik and Sihle Sigwili – have traumatized the nation.

No women deserve such cruelty. As parents, our children remain our babies and to be told your baby has been murdered must be the most painful experience ever. My heart goes out to all parents who must deal with such trauma. No parent should go through such pain.

These cases once more demonstrate the depravity of some of our men. There are many crimes committed against women and children: murders, kidnappings and disappearances in the context of what seems to be an acceptance of gender-based violence. We cannot allow violence against women and children to be the norm in our society.
The reality is that gender-based violence is a crime of power – one that seeks to uphold patriarchal laws and control the female body in the framework of historically unequal power structures between men and women. It is a problem that belongs to society and therefore a crime by society. We all must face up to this crime and address it in our different spheres of operation – in education, the workplace, in our religious institutions, in our homes, in our laws and in just about every sphere of society.

But that will need to be preceded by the creation of awareness in society as a whole as to the severity of the problem. This is not a problem of women; it is a problem of men in our society and it has reached crisis proportions.

According to Statistics SA – South Africa is becoming an increasingly unsafe place for women. The Crime Against Women in South Africa Report shows that Femicide (the murder of women on the basis of their gender) is five times higher than the global average. This means that in South Africa, women are five times more likely to be killed due to gender-based violence committed by men. Horrendous tales of young girls and women going missing are reported on social media daily.

This not only challenges societal attitudes of patriarchy and chauvinism, but also the effectiveness of government systems and laws. The anger of women against government seen in protest marches last week is understandable. Are government laws effective and can women and children look up to government to protect. It seems not.

Urgent sector dialogues on this issue and sector specific interventions are needed. For example, there needs to be an appreciation of how the school curriculum, both overt and hidden, may be contributing to gender discrimination. The education sector must re-evaluate some of its content and practices. There are schools where girls are not safe by reason of behaviour by male students and teachers. We have seen how even universities have at times failed to be safe spaces for female staff and students. There needs to be a dialogue in that sector.

What about the portrayal of women in the media and communications industry in general? The objectification of women’s bodies is still prevalent in our mass media. To what extent does such portrayal contribute to men feeling a woman’s body is to be owned or controlled? We need a gender sensitive communication and marketing industry. The messages that advertisers use to market products can fuel gender norms. For such a ubiquitous industry, gender sensitivity cannot be a by-the-way.

And then there is the issue of religion and gender. Religions all over the world are known for opposing women’s autonomy and any space for change, resulting in direct or indirect controls over gender and the curbing of women’s rights. They normalize the inequalities within their institutions and doctrines and give their patriarchal policies divine justification by quoting from their holy texts. As the religious sector, we need our own dialogue about the negative impacts that some of our beliefs have had on women, at times contributing to the violence they suffer in society.

Such sector specific dialogues, perhaps culminating in a national cross sector summit, might be the beginning of society addressing this problem with the seriousness it deserves.

We also condemn the attacks on foreign nationals and their businesses. This too is an act of brutal criminality and we call upon our Government and the Police to take decisive action against such violent behaviour. We further call upon all South Africans, all churches and faith-based communities to unite and take a stand against the abuse and murder of women, children and foreign nationals.

As Religious Leaders we welcome the measures announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa and stand ready to partner with our Government to overcome this scourge, but measures alone are not enough – we want to see action.

We extend our sincerest condolences and our prayers are with the families and friends of those who have lost their loved ones.

In conclusion we agree with #EnoughIsEnough #NotinMyName #LetsStandWithOurWomen
Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika


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