“The murder of womxn* in this country is corroding the soul of our nation,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said. He was addressing a room filled with members from civil society and government, and gender activists who gathered at the St George’s Hotel in Pretoria to find solutions to the pandemic of gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa.
Day one of the two-day National Gender Summit against GBV and femicide took place on November 1. The Summit was one of the 24 demands the intersectional womxns* movement The Total Shutdown put to government.
As part of The Total Shutdown, thousands of womxn marched around South Africa in August demanding that government take decisive action against the scourge of gender-based violence plaguing womxn in the country.
The introduction of the summit gave a platform to both ministers in government and survivors of gender-based violence who addressed the room.
Survivors of GBV told harrowing tales of the sexual violence they suffered at the hands of men. These included the responses by police, nurses and their communities when they sought healthcare and justice.
Most importantly, the survivors outlined the responses that they wanted from the government.
Hearing the stories of the survivors, Ramaphosa said he’s filled with a great deal of sadness and deep sense of shame as a man in South Africa. The president delivered the keynote address of the summit. “That activism was borne from pain and anger,” Ramaphosa said.
“We must never have gender-based violence in South Africa, we must root it out,” Ramaphosa said, adding that we cannot tolerate it at all, not even on a small scale. “We must bring an end to patriarchy,” he said. It is patriarchy that allows men and boys to treat womxn as property, he said.
The president said South Africa’s inability to implement its laws is doing a disservice to the womxn of the country. He voiced the commitment of government to fight gender-based violence with money and resources if need be.
While he was speaking, gender activists held up panties stained red chanting ‘No more silence’ and ‘My body is not a crime scene’.
— fatima (@fatimamoosa17) November 1, 2018
The president also commended the work The Total Shutdown has done by bringing gender-based violence onto the national agenda.
“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that campaign that saw women of the country marching and saying ‘enough is enough’,” speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete said when she addressed the crowd.
The existing policies should not be scrapped, but that the problem lies with the implementation of the GBV policies, she said.
“We need to fix that which is wrong, including corruption,” Mbete said.
A number of other ministers also took the podium to speak on the safety of womxn from gender-based violence. Among them was the minister of social development Susan Shabangu who delivered the opening remarks.
“Why are we still here today even with all the laws that were passed? We are gathering here to say ‘what solutions do we need over and above the ones we have’,” she said. Shabangu said at the end of the summit, delegates must be able tell South Africans that there are tangible solutions to GBV – and bring hope to South African womxn.
When the minister of justice and correctional services Michael Masutha went up to speak, he asked the room to observe a moment of silence for all survivors of GBV. There needs to be an examination of patriarchy and its impact on gender roles, he continued.
“With all these negative social consciousness, we have to show we are not tolerant to those social practises. As with racism and race, gender studies needs to occupy a place in social studies research, ” he said.
Government is set to release a five-year national plan of action against gender-based violence and femicide building on the resolutions expected to come from the summit.
Six themed focus discussions – as specified by The Total Shutdown movement – that tackle gender-based violence are set to take place over the rest of the summit.
*the term womxn is used to be inclusive of all femme-identifying bodies, not just cis-gendered women.
Reporting by Shaazia Ebrahim and Fatima Moosa
Featured image by the GCIS