It is in Our Hands

Mark the dates: 24 November (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Children) through to International Human Rights Day on 10 December. In total: 16 Days! Imagine if, but if for only 16 days, there would have been no rape, no child abuse, no sexual harassment and no emotional abuse. Within the South African context, 16 Days of Activism has been declared against this scourge, which is hastingly eroding our very social fabric.

Without doubt, there have been engagements by government as well as select civil society groupings to heighten awareness around these issues: with galore pledges after pledges to renew the now almost stale annual commitment to recognising women and children as equal shareholders in our social, political and economic thresholds.

It is perhaps time to, once and for all take a sober look at the significance of women and children abuse and therefore begin to introspectively ask ourselves brutally honest questions about how we propose to sustainably arrest this cancer.

A story is told of a blind old man who was revered in a community for his wisdom, spirit and deep of thought. He was counted on for dispensing impartial and where necessary bellicose opinions on matters seeking resolution. One day doubting young people hedged a plot to blemish his popularity by intending to ask him a double-edged question. "Grand Pa", they said, “One of us is holding a butterfly in his hands, please tell us whether it is alive or dead”.

After all long thoughtful while, the Old blind man replied, “Young men, you are aware that I cannot see. Therefore if I say the butterfly is alive, you will squeeze the life out of it, and if say it is dead, you will let it loose to fly and so ridicule my opinion”. Sensing their bewilderment as they exchanged shocked gazes, he concluded, “The life or death of that butterfly is in your hands!”

In communities that we live in, it is 'generally' perceived that woman and children are lesser mortals who could, without much circumspection, be exposed to all manner of abuse and maltreatment: economic, biological, psychological etc. Olive Shisana, chief executive officer at the Human Sciences Research Council, confirms that “South Africa is a constitutional Democracy with a strong human rights bias to be a developmental state”.

She further notes that “government legislation, policies and administration should be evaluated in terms of its abilities to deliver on issues of citizenship, ethical standards in public life, and race and gender equity”.

A distressed call to a popular talk-radio station by a woman who claims being a professional, decrying emotional, financial and physical abuse at the hands of her spouse, aptly demonstrates the stereotypical walls, akin to the Chinese one, that have to be demolished by a proverbial army of sledge-hammers.

Indeed we are not doing badly in as far as policy direction but need to cascade these strides to all spheres of the social strata. While we pat ourselves on the back for creating enabling structures to give effect to policy ideals, we should equally question why women who are raped are not keen to report such ghastly deeds to police for fear of perceived repulses and retributions.

Numerous media reports contend that these victims are accompanied on guilty trips by their families and peers right up to the justice system - and remain remorsefully scared for the rest of their life’s,  while statistics on such occurrences remain staggeringly unclear.

Shattering accounts of inter and intra country women trafficking are a startling reminder of the work that still has to be done in arresting what could soon turn into a human crisis. A friend who is intimately involved in a justice programme that deals with human (and women involved in drug) trafficking informs me that it is mightier than Sodom and Gomorrah: castles money laundering, drugs, extortion and all manner of ills too incomprehensible to contemplate.

While it is a statistical fact that 42 percent of young people between the ages of 18 and 29 are unemployed, the comparison between disabled and non-disabled persons with regard to employment indicates that about 18 percent of people with disabilities were employed, compared to 35 percent for the rest of the population.

Not only are people with disabilities less likely to be employed than their non-disabled counterparts, but within the disabled population women are consistently less likely to be employed. This is possibly a reflection of the double disadvantage which faces women with disabilities - being disabled and female.

An SABC series on women languishing in prison, serving long sentences for allegedly killing their abusive spouses sent a chilling wave down my spine: the emotion with which they individually narrated their ordeals in the hands of those they loved nearly collapsed me to chronic depression.

The establishment of the Ministry that deals with Women, Children and Persons living with Disabilities should be applauded and supported. Those who purport that the Ministry does not have enough teeth should be taking a bit of a look inward and appreciate the fact that the challenges that beset these sectors are so deep-rooted by decades of stereotypes that it would take a while to even scratch their surface.

Changing laws can be swift, but giving them effect, and changing the mindsets that often render them ineffective, is a much more demanding task. The most fashionable argument, I propose, would be for us to be jostling for practical ideas on how to refurbish our own prejudices and cast the same spell upon our compatriots.

There is a lot of abuse that women and children living with disabilities suffer, even to the extent of children with mental disabilities being chained and locked up in backyard houses. We cannot keep quite when we know that these things are happening in our communities. We need to expose these horrible deeds and in that way we can be proud that we are indeed making a contribution in acting against the abuses.

Gala dinners, conferences and pledges that enjoy a 16 day, or so memory span should be discarded in favour of sustainable pursuits that work on the practicalities of getting things fixed for the betterment of womenfolk and children, if we are to survive the harsh wrath of history. Fortunately it is not too late to awaken to the stark reality that: It’s in our hands!
    - Edwin Sipho Rihlamvu, Managing Director, Simphiwe Communications, Mobile: +27 78 077 9449 / +27 79 045 1630, Email:

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