Women’s day in South Africa is celebrated to commemorate the great women’s march of 1956, where over 20 000 women marched to the Union Buildings to protest against the carrying of passbooks. The passbook was similar to a passport as it contained additional information such as; a person’s name, photograph, fingerprint, personal details of employment and permission from the government to be in a particular part of the country. The Apartheid government restricted the movement of people of colour and designated specific areas for them to live, work and travel. Today, South African women are battling with the scourge of gender-based violence. South Africa has one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world; women are in crisis and there’s nothing to celebrate about Women’s Day.
Just a day before Women’s month, the police department released the statistics of gender-based violence and the figures were alarming. In 2019/20, 2,695 women were murdered in South Africa. This means a woman is murdered every three hours. The police recorded 42,289 rapes in 2019/20, which means the police recorded an average of 116 rapes each day and reported sexual offences increased to 53,293 in 2019/20.
According to People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) an average of 360 incidences of physical and sexual abuse against women take place in South Africa daily. This means that a woman is physically abused every four minutes.
I understand that Women’s month is not about gender-based violence, but it is the reality that women face daily; it can’t be ignored. It is a women’s nightmare and has left many women vulnerable and miserable. Regardless of many attempts and initiatives by government and civil rights groups to stop gender-based violence, many women continue to experience it.
The month of August also marks a year since the death of Uyinene Mrwetyana, the 19-year-old University of Cape Town (UCT) student who was raped and bludgeoned to death on the 8th of August 2019 at the Clarenreich Post Office, where she had gone to collect a parcel.
Gender inequality can be seen to be one of the causes of gender-based violence. Men use violence to display how powerful they are and to prove their strength. Some men believe that they should be leaders rather than women and that they don’t need mental health care.
Men are not born sexual offenders and murderers, but their upbringing, environments and situations that they encounter all play a role in changing them to become violent. Men need to speak out when they are going through problems. There are NGO’s like MenEngage Alliance that assist men with counselling. In order to win the fight against gender-based violence, we as a society need to heal men and correct false beliefs of what masculinity is. Normal men don’t abuse or kill women, instead, they protect them.
Gender-based violence is a devastating and deep-rooted problem in South Africa. Women are victimised by the people who are supposed to protect them. One of the solutions to gender-based violence is to speak openly about it and engage men in discussions.
This Women’s Day we remember women who have lost their lives to gender-based violence. Tshegofatso Pule, Naledi Phangindawo, Nompumelelo Tshaka, Nomfazi Gabada, Nwabisa Mgwandela, Altecia Kortjie and Lindelwa Peni – all these women died in the hands of men and their names will never be forgotten.