Every year we celebrate National Women’s Day on 9 August; do we know the significance of this day? If you answered no, continue reading as we take a look at what Women’s Day presently seeks to address. However, let us take a look back into 1956, when South African women from all walks of life marched to the Union Buildings, seeking justice not to carry pass books also known as dom-pas. That year, 20 000 women went to petition against the apartheid government to stop the enforcement of the dom-pas laws, especially for black women. This act of unity of women, regardless of race or political association was the beginning of the legacy that we currently call Women’s Day. In South Africa today, we are witnessing the impact of the common interest of 1956 being reincarnated through various womXn activism.
On 1 August 2018, ordinary womXn activists marched across nine provinces in the #TotalShutDownMovement and handed a memorandum to the president of the Republic of South Africa calling for a gender summit. This significant action resulted in the Presidential Summit Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and Femicide, which was held on the 1st and 2nd of November 2018. At the summit, gender and social justice activists, civil society, government ministers and the President of the Republic made a declaration to employ access to justice reforms for GBV and femicide cases in South Africa. The summit was a platform to acknowledge and deeply recognize the GBV and femicide epidemic and to provide support and action to womXn.
The immediate outcome of the summit was that there must be an interim gender-based violence and femicide committee that will uphold the constitution of the country to duly ensure that all women of all orientation are protected. In this way, the rule of law could be upheld by giving the right legal representation to victims and survivors, with perpetrators charged with the appropriate sentences. The fight against Gender Based Violence has been going on for a while, between 2012 and 2014, the government plugged GBV at the center of the national discourse, even formulating the National Council on Gender- Based Violence (NCBGV) intended for drafting a national strategy to combat GBV. However, in 2014 the council was met by some political challenges, they witnessed “financial capture”, and they ran out of funds to fulfill the mandate to provide access to justice for womXn.
In 2014, non-profit organizations, civil society and corporate companies such as KPMG the accounting firm, raised funds to continue the legacy of the NCBGV, but it was under a different name and by 2016 they came up with ‘Stop Gender Violence: A National Campaign’. The latter was later combined as an action plan for 16 Days of Activism- an International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women by uniting the forces of law, politics and policy to fight injustices against womXn. Moreover, organizations such as The Soul City Institute, an intersectional feminist organization, have further propelled the fight against GBV by localising it for communities. Establishing campaigns such as #SafeTaxisNow creating awareness and demanding action for the protection of South African women and the LGBTQI+ society as they often face sexual violation when using public transportation.
While a lot of work and efforts have been made to fight GBV, recent and reported cases highlight a need for more practical work and implementation of these established programs and campaigns by government, stakeholders and communities at large. As CJN, on July 11 2019, we attended a GBV workshop in Mfeka in the Eastern Cape where horrible stories and cases of violence and abuse of elderly and widowed women were shared. These women are the most targeted with a lack of support; even from community leaders who are said to be part of a bigger syndicate responsible for lost dockets and unfruitful cases at the police station and courts. We gave the attendees support and capacitated the local paralegal with information on how to access justice from organizations outside of the government within their area.
Written by: Ntombikayise Gijana
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