16 Days of Activism 2020

16 Days of Activism 2020: Conversations for men, by men – Unpacking the GBVF theme: If I could whisper into my son’s ear

Over the years during December, South Africa has observed 16 Days of Activism specifically to address violence against women and children. Latest statistics released by the World Health Organisation indicate that South Africa ranks fourth out of 183 countries in the rate of femicide. To address this problem, civil society organisations, academics and advocacy groups have called for a multipronged approach to gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF).

This year, because of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown regulations, action around the issue has proven to be even more difficult than usual. Violence against women and young girls has become its own pandemic, with more than 243 million women globally having been abused by their partners over the past few months. According to researchers at the Social Policy Network, more than 120 000 GBVF cases were reported at the South African government’s femicide command centre during the first three weeks of lockdown.

But how do men view the GBVF pandemic and how, in their opinion, should it be addressed?

During this year’s 16 Days of Activism, Mail & Guardian invites all South African men to engage in a candid conversation on the subject with themselves and the next generation of men. As we’ve recognised the need for audiences to understand that women and children are searching for answers and accountability from men, the conversation needs to be driven from a male perspective in full support of a multipronged approach to combatting GBVF. We invite men to participate in heart-to-heart conversations among themselves to find viable solutions to the problem and discuss how things could have been done differently.

Nationally, great strides have been made to address GBVF. In November 2018, the presidency hosted the first-ever GBVF summit after civil society groups took to the streets demanding action against the onslaught. Delegates at the summit concluded that a multisectoral committee – comprising government, civil society, business and labour representatives – should be constituted to coordinate and implement interventions aimed at addressing the challenges faced by women and children.

An interim steering committee, which was established in April 2019, has since developed the national strategic plan on GBVF. The aim of the plan is to create “a South Africa free from violence directed at women, children and the LGBTQIA+ community”. In March this year, cabinet approved the establishment of a national council, mandated to oversee and ensure the implementation of the national strategic plan. The council will be a non-partisan body and, besides fulfilling its core mandate, will monitor and evaluate the progress of the national strategic plan across government departments.

Thus far, government departments have sourced R1.6 billion through budget reprioritisations for the implementation of the national strategic plan. Although the national council has not yet been established, a call for nominations for board members from civil society organisations closed on 20 October 2020.

As we observe the 16 Days of Activism, three sexual violence bills have been amended and tabled before Parliament. The documents have been through public hearings and are expected to be promulgated after presentation to the National Council of Provinces.

The Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Bill extends the ambit of the offence of incest, and extends the reporting duty of persons who suspect a sexual offence has been committed against a child. The National Register for Sex Offenders will include the particulars of all sex offenders, and will be made publicly available. In the case of parole, a complainant or a relative of a deceased victim must be able to make representation to the parole board. Complainants will also be able to apply for protection orders online.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has taken a firm stance against GBVF. On the role men should play in combatting the problem, he was recently quoted as saying: “As South African men, let us take responsibility for our actions. We must treat the women and girls of our country with care and respect.”

Mail & Guardian thus invites you, men of South Africa, to endorse our message for this 16 Days of Activism campaign and participate in the conversation.