South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa dedicated the most recent edition of his weekly newsletter to highlighting the impact that gender-based violence (GBV) has on the country, ahead of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign.
The global campaign starts this week and will bring awareness to an international crisis that needs to be eradicated.
In 2019, President Ramaphosa was faced with a country in mourning after the deaths of three women as a result of GBV: University of the Western Cape student Jesse Hess; local boxing champion Leighandre Jegels; and University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana.
The last of these made international headlines, spurred public protests across the country, and put the spotlight on the issues of GBV and femicide in South Africa.
South African women marched to parliament after Mrwetyana’s death to emphasise that enough was enough, and as GBV was one of the first major crises in Ramaphosa's presidency following his reelection in 2019, his reaction to the issue has since been closely watched by the public.
In response to the call for an end to GBV in the country last year, Ramaphosa took action by allocating a budget specifically to deal with the issue, and initiated a national strategic plan aimed at eradicating GBV in the next five years.
President Ramaphosa has since continued to condemn the acts of sexual violence, abuse, and femicide, and has on a number of occasions this year referred to GBV as the “second pandemic” that the country is facing.
Earlier this month, the president called for a national period of mourning to commemorate the lives lost to GBV and COVID-19 for this year’s 16 Days of Activism campaign. To further the sentiment, on Monday he used his newsletter to highlight the importance of the campaign and note the ways in which GBV affects the country.
1. Legislature and policy changes cannot solve the problem alone
At the beginning of his newsletter, Ramaphosa outlined the reality of dealing with an issue as massive as gender-based violence.
He explained that despite the efforts of national and international governments, the problem still persists and requires more than just changes in legislation and policy to be truly eradicated.
“The 16 Days of Activism campaign affirms the need for all sectors of society to play their part in the fight against gender-based violence,” he stated.
He went on to say that it is also up to all of us as individuals and in communities to take on the actions needed and bring about change.
“It is about driving fundamental change in societal attitudes that allow sexism, chauvinism, and patriarchy to thrive,” he continued.
2. We need to salute the work done by those outside the government
Ramaphosa spent a good portion of his newsletter thanking those outside of government who have dedicated their time to fighting the issue and assisting those in need on different levels.
From volunteers at local shelters, to rape crisis support centres, to frontline workers, and to social workers at both national and grassroots levels, the president made an effort to thank them and highlight the importance of their work.
He then commended everyday people, and the people whose work is not publicised, those who take it upon themselves to help survivors.
“Above all, we salute the neighbour who opens her home to a vulnerable mother and her children; the co-worker who accompanies a survivor of violence to the hospital, police station, or a shelter; and the friend who does not stand by and watch a woman or a child being abused, but intervenes,” he said.
3. The fields that are essential for the care of survivors are often unpaid
One of the issues that Ramaphosa raised is the unpaid nature of jobs that are based on caring for victims, especially since most people working these positions are women.
He said: “Women form the majority of those engaged in care work and it is in the main unpaid. Acknowledging its important contribution, not just to the economy but to society, is key to advancing gender equality.”
With this acknowledgement, he went on to explain that their work is vital in fighting the crisis, and pointed out that multiple NGOs and community workers have assisted the government in dealing with the crisis this year.
4. GBV has serious social, political, and economic impacts on the country
Ramaphosa stated that although GBV has an obvious impact on the health and safety of women and girls, the crisis inevitably affects the entire country on a political, social, and economic level.
The president referred to a 2017 study carried out by international accounting firm, KPMG, that indicated that the economic cost of gender-based violence in South Africa sits between R28 billion and R42.4 billion a year.
“This includes the social services, shelter, and health care needed to respond effectively to gender-based violence,” said Ramaphosa.
He went on to explain that the cost of GBV does not just affect the survivor alone, but also their families.
“Individuals and families bear the greatest proportion of costs — from reduced income to replacement of broken property, to transportation to seek care or attend trial,” he said. “Furthermore, the productivity of women in abusive relationships is also negatively affected.”
South African girls and women deserve to live without fear of gender-based violence. For 16 Days of Activism, join Global Citizen in the call for an end to this crisis, by taking action here to help ensure the safety of women and children.
If you or someone you know has experienced gender-based or sexual violence, you can find resources for support here or you can call the SA National GBV helpline on 0800 150 150.