Alarming anti-feminist rhetoric at Ministry of Women

Yesterday the Ministry of Women in the Presidency held a meeting in Lakefield to announce their plans for the international 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children campaign. While civil society was invited to a “consultation,” we arrived to find a plan for 16 Days that was already finalised and approved by Cabinet. This plan will focus on engaging men to stand up and support the campaign against violence by saying, “Count Me In.”

We acknowledge and support the need to engage men in the fight against gender-based violence and applaud the Ministry’s desire to broaden the movement as widely as possible. Unfortunately, the Ministry’s language in launching this campaign reinforced a range of patriarchal ideas that we, as the women’s movement and organisations that support a gender-equal society, have fought against for years.

Minister Shabangu opened the session explaining her desire to focus on mobilising men during these 16 Days because, “Men are supposed to be protectors of society. Men are supposed to be protectors of families. We need to bring back these protectors of society. We need to mobilise our protectors.” She went on to say that women cannot be victims any more and need to “get their confidence back.”

As Nandi Msezani from ESSET expressed directly to the Minister, “We need to be aware of the language used as it comes from a very patriarchal standpoint. Men need to protect us? With language such as this, women are being infantilized and moving the women’s movement backwards.” She also went on to note “What about women in same-sex relationships? LGBTI individuals? Are we not women too?”

The Minister then invited Mpumalanga Chief Moses Mahlangu to share his comments. The Chief spoke passionately about his belief that women must be submissive to their husbands. Princess Dineo, from the Northwest Province, then stood up to tell us that feminism is un-African and encouraged the Minister to cut all funds for centres for abused women and children, as they should be dealing with these issues at home. Both speakers received nods from the Minister on the dais and applause from the audience. Others followed, decrying women’s abuse of men and women’s aggression as the biggest challenges. These were deeply discriminatory statements that continue to fuel the very gender-based violence that the meeting sought to address.

The Minister closed the opening session noting the diversity of opinions expressed and that we must value diversity as it is protected in the South African Constitution. Although diversity should be respected, the Minister has an obligation to ensure that diverse views expressed at an official government event do not promote the violation of rights of women and children. Diversity, in other words, cannot be upheld above the right to equality.

In the midst of an epidemic of gender-based violence, unparalleled almost anywhere else in the world, in a moment when we are desperate for leadership, for vision and strategy, we instead are delivered destructive discourse and no clear roadmap for progress. Participating civil society organisations that have been fighting for gender-equality, safety and security for over 20 years, were highly disappointed that what should have been a safe space to develop positive, progressive actions for women’s rights, was left open and unprotected by the Department of Women for highly negative and oppressive input from traditionally conservative institutions and individuals.

This concerns us as activists. Patriarchy has been brought back to the mainstream and seems to be supported, if not promoted by the State agenda, ironically, through a campaign that is designed to highlight the scourge of patriarchal violence. Patriarchy is not an abstraction or a theoretical concern as stated by the Minister. It directly feeds our epidemic of sexual and intimate partner violence. A South African women murdered by an intimate partner every 8 hours is not an abstraction. Tens of thousands of brutal rapes per year are not theoretical concerns.

Activists at the meeting also reminded Minister Shabangu of the Department’s previous commitments on designing a national strategic plan on gender-based violence. Jabu Tugwana of People Opposing Women Abuse, read a brief statement, from 13 organizations from across the country, demanding the resumption of the National Strategic Plan process. But we received no response, no answers on the status of the National Council on Gender-Based Violence, which has been “under review” for 6 months. We received no public commitment on the National Strategic Plan, which will be essential in stemming our country’s epidemic of violence.

We wish to state that our presence at the meeting should in no way be inferred to mean that we approve of the 16 Days Campaign or the strategy employed by the Ministry. The meeting in no way reflected the spirit of consultative engagement. We, therefore, call on all sectors of South African society to challenge this neo-patriarchal framing, and to demand a plan from government.

To this end, we will host a National Day of Action on 25 November to launch our own 16 Days campaign to demand a national plan to end gender-based violence from government. Join us by signing this petition and by coming out to participate in actions nation wide demanding an NSP on 25 November.

Signed by:

  • Centre for Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR)
  • Eastern Cape Rape Crisis
  • Ecumenical Service for Socio-Economic Transformation (ESSET) Justice and Women
  • Sonke Gender Justice
  • People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA)
  • Project Empower
  • Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme (TVEP) Tswaranang Legal Advice Centre


For media inquiries, please contact:

Jabu Tugwana POWA 083 400 4509

Nondumiso Nsibande Tshwaranang Legal Advice Centre
011 403 4267

Katie Bolbach
Sonke Gender Justice 011 339 3589