President Cyril Ramaphosa made some lofty promises in his address at the National Gender Summit held in Pretoria on November 1. Gender activists, civil society organisations and government convened at the Summit to put forward solutions to the pandemic of gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa. “Our objective must be to bring these high rates to zero, we must aim for a femicide rate of zero per 100 000 women,” the President said. Gender activists were not exactly convinced.
Catherine Busisiwe Seabe from the Black Womxn Caucus said she felt like the proceedings of the first day was a display of power from government, rather than any genuine engagement between government and civil society. “The entire first day is about government responding to the demands but they haven’t responded – and are not taking us seriously. I want to see resolutions that have time stamps and have people who will take responsibility,” Seabe said.
Seabe said it was very encouraging to hear the accounts from women as this showed that gender-based violence is something that is very real. As part of the programme survivors of GBV told harrowing tales of the sexual violence they had suffered at the hands of men.
One of the women who presented for the survivors, Martha is currently incarcerated after she killed her abusive husband. There were call from the activists for the government to free her. “If we can set one women free who was wrongly imprisoned for defending herself against GBV, then I would believe this Summit has done its job.” Seabe said.
Former Economic Freedom Fighters National Student Command spokesperson and gender activist Naledi Chirwa said she felt “disgruntled” at the way Ramaphosa handled his keynote address.
She felt that the president had not done enough to address each of the 24 demands laid out by The Total Shutdown. The summit was one of the demands made by the intersectional womxns movement, under whose banner thousands of womxn marched on August 1.
“Cyril Ramaphosa got the demands on August 1, he’s coming back on November 1 but not even telling us how far along he is implementing them,” she said. The president failed to mention the demand for a state of emergency, for example.
In his address Ramaphosa mentioned that government would increase government-funded shelters Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCCs) and increase funding. However TCCs are being closed down because of funding. “This shows he is not aware of what’s happening in the country,” Chirwa said.
However, Chirwa also said she was pleased to be in a space where black womxn had organised themselves. “This Summit is not a Presidential Summit, it’s the womxn’s summit which we demanded and brought. This was a reaction to our demands. Black womxn keep organising and agitating and these are the results. We will continue to demand a free and just society for ourselves, for our children and for each other,” Chirwa said.
Gender activist Nyiko Lebogang Shikwambane called the government to go beyond the words and actually work towards eradicating gender-based violence. “How many centimeters is the political will to bring an end to gender based violence? What is required here is patriarchal suicide to bring an end to gender-based violence? ” Shikwambane asked of those present.
Sandile Ndlelu, a gender activist and candidate attorney at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), a civil society organisation based at the School of Law at Wits University said she’s “cautiously optimistic” about the Gender Summit.
“I’m cautious because many of us have been in setups such as this in the past and these setups have not by and large yielded the results we’ve wanted. That’s because of various forces ranging from government, capital, frictions within the ground forces. I’m optimistic because I know that there’s been really good people doing a lot of work to prepare and make sure this moment counts,” Ndlelu said.
However, some civil society activists were completely dissatisfied with the way government organised the Summit. Several members of the Gauteng Community Healthcare Forum along with the Simunye Women’s Forum picketed outside the main venue.
The Forum’s Lillian Nhlapo said they think the summit shouldn’t have happened as it is excluding women in the rural areas and townships. “We are being violated. I know what it is violence. We are here and we crying out because we want to be heard. You can’t have a Summit and say it’s national but it’s excluding people,” said Nhlapo.
Day two of the Summit will take place on November 2. Here, government and civil society organisations are expected to present a way forward to tackle gender-based violence and femicide in South Africa.
*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 Siyabulela Duda (GCIS)