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16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

Sixteen Days of No Violence - time to take stock

Loveness Jambaya

2008-11-28, Issue 408

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During this year’s Sixteen Days of No Violence Against Women and Children, Southern Africa has quite a bit to celebrate, though with some caution, as there is still much work to do to address the high levels of gender violence in the region. Though we all dream of a day when we have 365 days of no violence, Sixteen Days is an opportunity to see how far we have come, and what we need to do next.

During this year’s Sixteen Days of No Violence Against Women and Children, Southern Africa has quite a bit to celebrate, though with some caution, as there is still much work to do to address the high levels of gender violence in the region. Though we all dream of a day when we have 365 days of no violence, Sixteen Days is an opportunity to see how far we have come, and what we need to do next.

The reason for celebration is that this year’s campaign comes just over three months after regional Heads of State signed the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development, which included six (out of a total twenty-three) targets specifically addressing gender based violence. One of the commitments is to half current levels of gender-based violence by 2015.

When it comes to making sure this is not just a paper promise, many questions arise about how we will gauge progress to ensure leaders meet these targets. Do we even know what the current levels of gender violence are? What are the indicators and baseline data to measure progress, and how do we standardise these to make information comparable across countries in the region?

The Protocol requires that states, by 2015, review and reform criminal laws and procedures applicable to cases of sexual offences and gender based violence. This includes eliminating gender bias and ensuring justice and fairness to survivors in a manner that ensures dignity, protection and respect.

There are a number of positive moves by countries in the right direction, yet there is still far to go. For example, Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa and Zimbabwe (or about half the SADC countries) have domestic violence laws. Yet, only five countries (Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe) have sexual offences legislation in place. At least eight countries do not recognise marital rape as an offence.

Only Mozambique has passed specific legislation on human trafficking, while other countries are either drafting or have included trafficking as part of other legislation. There is particular need to quicken the process to pass relevant legislation in South Africa. With World Cup 2010 drawing closer, there are fears that South Africa, as the host country, could experience increased rates of trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation.

Statistics are an important part of measuring the impact of legislation. According to the South Africa Police Service (SAPS), rape statistics decreased by 7.9% when comparing the 2006/7 to 2007/8 financial years. However, pressure is mounting for SAPS to also publicise domestic violence statistics when they release annual crime statistics.

The roll out of South Africa’s Thuthuzela is a model for the region for one-stop centres for survivors of sexual violence, where all services - health, police, courts, counselling and shelter - are under one roof. The government plans to roll out 80 Thuthuzela centres by 2010. At the same time, other countries, such Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe have developed specialised “Victim Support Units.”

Even with government affirmative programmes in place, cultural, social and economic practices that entrench patriarchal systems still make women more vulnerable to gender based violence. Economic disparities mean that women may stay in abusive relationships for economic reasons.

Many SADC countries are putting in place strategies to extend the Sixteen Days campaign to a multi-sector 365 Days of Action. The yearlong campaign makes every day is an opportunity to act against abuse, recasting the 16 Days campaign as time of heightened awareness and time to take stock of progress.

During this year’s Sixteen Days, many activities are lined up around the region, including the need to reflect on emerging issues such as the gender implications of xenophobia, violence within public transport, and gender violence within elections and governance.

In South Africa, Gender Links is working with Ekurhuleni Metro to produce an audio CD for distribution to taxi drivers to promote an end to gender violence. Take Back the Night, an annual event inspired by the global campaign started in Latin America, is an opportunity for organisations, local government, and individuals to take to the streets to stand again violence. Women and men march during the evening to reclaim spaces usually deemed unsafe, in a bid to make the point that everyone should feel safe to move at any time of day or night without fear.

Information technologies (IT) will be an important feature of this year’s campaign as part of efforts to “Make IT work for gender justice” and break down geographical boundaries through linking SADC countries in cyber space. Gender Links is working with Gender and Media Southern Africa and its country chapters, Ekurhuleni Metro and Government Communication Information System (GCIS) in South Africa, and other partners to host cyber dialogues. These are real time online chats will focus on such themes as human trafficking, speaking out by survivors, xenophobia, gender violence and elections, and Human Rights Day, to mention a few.

The launching of a 365-Day no violence calendar aims to highlight the need to stretch 16 Days to 365 days of Action. Another important launch is the “I” Stories publication, a collection of first hand accounts of survivors of gender violence. This year “I” Stories books are launching in South Africa, Namibia, Swaziland, and Mauritius.

As these activities take place, there is a need for reflection. Civil society and government need to coordinate better, strengthen partnerships, and integrate the key Protocol targets into national action plans if progress is going to be accelerated. There is also a need for strong monitoring and evaluation and a clear strategy to deal with emerging issues.

Another key challenge how to move from a reactive approach to a more proactive approach – that is, primary prevention of gender based violence. While legislation to prosecute perpetrators and services to survivors are vital, preventing violence in the first place is the obvious ideal.

For that, we must have an integrated approach that includes changing social attitudes. In a world where one in two women is likely to be raped in their lifetime, and one in three women experience violence at the hands of their intimate partners, this is urgent.

* Loveness Jambaya Nyakujarah is the Gender Justice Manager and Assistant Director at Gender Links. This article is part of a series produced by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism.

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