Women Empowerment
Hands Off Women!

After 19 years of democracy and the birth of the new Rainbow nation, South Africa still struggles with the scourge of women and child abuse. While the statistics are still unreliable, to say the least, the trend is disturbingly growing. When the statistics are quoted, two questions spring to mind. Is the women abuse reporting increasing or is the actual trend of women abuse increasing? If it is the former, then the picture is less alarming albeit still gravely concerning. If however it is the latter, we must ask ourselves this one crucial question: What is wrong with our society?

Is it in our nature to pounce on the vulnerable in our society or there is some underlying malaise that we have failed to tackle as a nation? What is more deplorable is the abuse of much older women (our grannies!) which puts an even more disturbing trend of attack on members of society that are unable to defend themselves because of age and physical strength. The sickening thought is also the abuse of mentally/physically challenged women in our communities where the problem is exacerbated by their inability to report such cases, especially the mentally challenged women.Could we then be dealing with the tip of the iceberg in terms of women and children abuse?


Lamenting the scourge is not enough as the society is gradually getting desensitised despite the gruesomeness of these violations. What can society do to ensure proper statistics are kept and reported? If the current campaigns by ‘real’ men against women and children abuse are anything to go by, what can these ‘real’ men do to curb these atrocities? Do advertising campaigns work or do we need more continuous dialogues in all social circles to sensitise society on these issues? It is my fervent opinion that all hands must be put on deck to address these issues. Social networks and platforms like Twitter and Facebook should be used more to address these issues. Cellphone penetration in South Africa and indeed the continent is much higher than any other technology medium. Instead of advertising products or mindless blabber about unimportant events, these social media platforms must increasingly start broadcasting messages on women abuse. Our cellular networks can also play a big role in these campaigns. While these campaigns may not be palatable as they don’t increase advertising revenue, there is a social responsibility angle that networks can spin in stopping the abuse.

Abuse is not only rape, but also the antecedents of rape which may include abusive language, behaviour and attitudes towards women. Rape is about power dynamics and the enemy of power abuse is public humiliation and open discourse about these crimes against our weaker members of society. The fight should be about encouraging women to speak up on these issues by providing safe avenues to do so. Our police stations where these cases are reported and our courts where these cases play out must be conducive towards encouraging reporting of such abominable and deplorable incidents. These efforts must be underlined by very definitive and decisive actions against women who defeat the ends of the campaign by falsely accusing people of abuse or those who withdraw charges when coerced or when their nefarious demands have been met. Abuse is abuse and must be punishable by law. The seriousness of offences must be emphasised for victims and perpetrators.
It should be made clear that all cases reported must be followed up to their logical conclusion and perpetrators punished when found guilty. The bungling of investigations of cases by police officials must also be dealt with decisively to avoid poor prosecution which results in offenders being released. Convicted offenders must be put on the national register as provided by law and published for all to see. Nothing like naming and shaming warn would-be perpetrators of the gravity of their deeds and clearly spell out the consequences of their actions. As a democracy, we are bound by our laws to ensure that all rights are protected, but it must be clear that society will not tolerate the further victimisation of victims by our courts and law enforcement agencies, which has been cited as some of the reasons some cases remain unreported.

Although not reported as often, the laws of our country must also start to report abuse of women by other women. It is not enough to report victimisation in the case of men against women. Cases on women-on-women abuse are arguably also on the rise as anecdotal evidence suggests. The question that we should be asking ourselves as a nation regards the origins of this propensity towards violence. It seems that abuse does not discriminate according to race, level of education, social class or background. When talking to women in my line of work, stories abound that abuse happens as much behind high walls of our leafy suburbs as it does in our squatter camps.Although drugs and alcohol are involved in most of these cases, I would suggest that a more insidious trend also exists in cases that do not involve drugs or alcohol. Anecdotally, every woman I know either knows of someone who is abused or are themselves victims.

Why are we, as South Africans, so violent compared to other nations? Why do we resort to violence in order to get our way? As abuse is mostly about power dynamics (usually due to money), the problem threatens to increase even further as we become the most unequal country in the world in terms of income. Shouldn’t we start educating our children from a young age that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable? I believe that there much more ingenious ways to fight the scourge than merely attributing it to drugs, alcohol and other such ills. The propensity towards violence, especially towards people weaker than ourselves, is only exacerbated by drugs and alcohol but definitely not solely caused by these things. The statistics are quite shocking and have been reported ad infinitum. One more woman that is abused is one too many. It doesn’t matter whether it is by a familiar face or not. It shouldn’t happen in our time! Period!

The Department of Justice estimates that 1 in 4 South African women are survivors of domestic violence. According to POWA (People Opposed to Women Abuse), 1 in every 6 women who die in Gauteng are killed by an intimate partner.

Although dated, a study by the Institute of Security Studies in 1999 found that:

• 90% of the women interviewed had experienced emotional abuse: being humiliated in front of others was most commonly reported.
• 90% had also experienced physical abuse: being pushed or shoved and being slapped or hit were highlighted.
• 71% had experienced sexual abuse: attempts to kiss or touch followed by forced sexual intercourse occurred most often.
• 58% experienced economic abuse: money taken without consent was most common.
• 42.5% of women had experienced all forms of abuse.
• 60% of all cases of abuse were committed by partners, lovers or spouses.
• Emotional abuse-either as a category on its own or in combination with other types of abuse was referred to by 63% of women as being the most serious.
• According to a Medical Research Council study, young women are more subjected to assault (ranging from slapping to beating with objects and stabbing) and sexual coercion by partners and others.

I shudder to think what the latest research would reveal about our society as the gap between the haves’ and the have-nots increase. Especially considering that most of the have-nots, and consequently victims, are largely women! The fight against abuse starts with our re-education as a society. The campaign against women abuse must start within families, schools, churches, society groupings and finally government. From a young age, girl children must be taught that their worth is a virtue worth protecting. Young men must be taught to respect girls and taught different ways to resolve conflict, even amongst themselves let alone with girls. We can turn the tide against this scourge by assisting our law enforcement and prosecution agencies in ensuring that women are protected from abuse.

This is not the country that our struggle heroes fought and died for! This is not the country that Nelson Mandela envisaged as he and countless others spent the greater part of their existence in jail or in exile. The way that a country treats its most vulnerable is an indication of its psyche and level of civilisation. By the look of things, we are a sick nation and fall far short of the ideals that are the founding principles of our constitution and our democracy. If we can’t protect the most vulnerable amongst us, we are failing as a nation. In the lyrics of a song by one of the sons of our soil, Dr Caiphus Semenya, “Women have a right to be!” We must all stand together and collectively condemn women abuse in all its forms.

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