A little over a month has passed since the end of the 16 Days Campaign, a United Nations-led annual program that promotes No Violence against Women and Children. In the case of South Africa, the grim reality that gender-based violence (GBV) is one of our greatest challenges has once again been emphasised. With a new year upon us, it important that we once again commit ourselves to the fight against this scourge, for which the gravity of the South African problem far exceeds anything that can be achieved in 16 days annually. We have to approach the campaign against GBV as an ever-present obligation, in the greater scheme of our rights and responsibilities as citizens.
In acting upon the resolve to add my voice to the rising chorus of anti-Gender-Based-Violence pleas, my first instinct was to approach it from the angle of Human Resource Management, my particular field of expertise. The more I thought about it, however, the more apparent it became that it is impossible to compartmentalise the myriad issues that GBV throws into sharp relief. While it is true that work forms a major part of our adult lives, and the workplace is indeed the site of many a struggle, the alarmingly widespread incidence of violence against women and children in South Africa today, mark it out as a pressing human rights issue.
As we amplify our voices and intensify our efforts in the fight against the societal scourge that is GBV, it will be important to realise that the sheer scale of the problem means that we cannot defeat this foe by fighting in silos. The foundation we must build upon is one that prioritises solidarity, singularity of purpose, and compassion as the cornerstones of our movement towards restoration.
In recent months, we have seen how the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a noticeable spike in the preponderance of violence against women and children. Often, it has felt like we are faced with two pandemics, with the more vulnerable lives in our midst caught between a twin-pronged assault on their safety and wellbeing. Often, in the justifiable outrage over the mindboggling violence that GBV entails, it becomes tempting to lose sight of the fact that there is no possibility of building a wall between victims and perpetrators. The building blocks of the human family, the natural human need for companionship, the inextricable ways in which, as a social species, our collective welfare is bound up together, mean that the solution lies only in finding each other again.
There is a great and pressing work to be done, in addressing the root causes of GBV. There can be no doubt that toxic masculinity, that unavoidable consequence of centuries of unchecked patriarchy, is a driving force behind this most unacceptable state of affairs; a world where women and children must forever live in the shadow of violent domination and emotional abuse. The undeniable necessity for legislative, punitive measures and social safety nets in our systemic fabric will not go away, but neither will the need to engage in a movement that seeks to find, once again, the dignity of our shared humanity. This means that, in the family as well as in the workplace, the idea that one gender is superior to another must end.
The obsession with power must give way to a renewed appreciation of our common humanity. Our differences must once again, as intended, give rise to cooperation and collaboration, not cutthroat competition and domination. The girl child must be rescued from her long relegation into the margins of potential and possibility, and the boy child must be socialised into accepting equality as a given. In the workplace, the interactions between colleagues must be divested of dynamics that have no place in professional environments. Women and children must be safe, both in the home and beyond its walls. The fight against GBV, in this country which bears the living scars of a painful, incredibly violent past, we must understand that there has to be a dedicated calling-in, tied to the calling out of harmful and destructive behaviour.
The present is no time for despair, so great is the scourge of GBV in our communities. It is important to remember the sacrifices of those who have gone before, titans who lived their lives in earnest pursuit of justice. To these selfless pioneers of struggle, heroic women who fought to liberate this country, we owe a continued striving towards their vision. The present is also a place that demands our active participation, just as future generations can only inherit the world we strive to create.
The fight against GBV is one that calls for each and every one of us to find again that spirit of activism that has pulled our nation back from the brink before. We must believe, because we cannot surrender to the eventuality of being a society where women and children know danger, violence and subjugation as the bare facts of their lives. We must believe that those amongst us who would rather build than destroy, who lean towards good and away from evil, greatly outnumber those whose guiding creed is violence.
I have heeded the President’s call for 365 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children, and would urge us all to become vocal and active agents against these social evils. I ask that you join me in pledging that, for every year going forward, we will commit to the eradication of gender-based violence. The commitment towards building a society free of GBV is one that we are all duty-bound and capable of making. We must all commit. We must all believe, and act.